Collaboration is a fundamental, yet often, ambiguous operation in many organisations. Dr Gero Decker, founder and CEO of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio, simplifies things for us.
More than just the odd brainstorming session or team group-chat, the true meaning of collaboration refers to the continuous sharing of knowledge across enterprise-wide functions to create better business outcomes – and it has never been more important than in a post-COVID era.
2020’s global health crisis led to the world’s largest remote-work experiment in history. Cloud-based services allowed some workforces to disperse with almost no disruption to business as usual, while for others, remote-work revealed process inefficiencies, preventing smooth end-to-end outcomes.
Research by Gartner reveals that once COVID-19 is contained, almost half of the global workforce is expected to work remotely at least some of the time; a proposal supported by over 80 per cent of business leaders.
Now that decentralised teams are set to become the norm, how can organisations maintain collaboration across functions, geographies and timezones with limited face-to-face interaction? By establishing business critical infrastructure to support collaboration. This could include:
- The ‘single source of truth’: a set of guidelines or steps for how a process should be carried out. Based on data-driven insights, this aims to create standardised workflows, so that a process can be executed in the same way, every time.
- Business Process Management (BPM): referring to several activities including analysis, testing, documentation, collaboration, and potentially, automation, of specific processes. A process is defined as a series of tasks or activities that are linked by numerous people or systems. For example, employee onboarding is a business ‘process’ because it requires the sharing of information between multiple employees, and involves various administrative duties.
To ensure collaboration is at the core of your business, you must build a solid foundation for what that looks like – ultimately, embedding it into your business culture.
Transparency across every touchpoint
When team members or functions are siloed, it means that everyone is carrying out individual processes without knowing how they impact the end-to-end execution. In a crisis scenario or dispersed workforce, this can be detrimental.
As an example, when lockdown forced many retailers to close, imagine if your purchasing officers continued buying stock as usual. Being unable to trade, you would end up with an excess of product, and potentially deadstock, due to collaboration inefficiencies and communication gaps.
Had a ‘single source of truth’ been in play, each team member would have had transparency over every upstream and downstream process, as well as quick access to decision-makers. This would have significantly reduced the administration time spent coordinating functions, and minimised errors like over-ordering.
A ‘single source of truth’ reinforces a robust process management framework, as all business activities are clearly modelled and understood by staff, despite disruptions. This means you will be able to maintain as close to business as usual, even under challenging circumstances.
Standardisation creates smooth workflows
In any workforce, you must remember that each employee has a unique working style and interprets tasks differently. Having a diverse range of talent is valuable to innovation and creative workflows; however, when it comes to repetitive tasks, larger teams can see inconsistencies on a macro-level unless they have specific guidelines in place.
The solution? Standardised workflows that free employees from repetitive or mundane tasks, enabling them to focus on strategic or creative work.
Standardisation links back to the importance of a ‘single source of truth’; when we have a set of guidelines or instructions for how a process should be carried out, it creates uniformity and consistent outcomes. Not only does this empower employees to be confident in their work and decision making, it also offers customers reliability that your service will be delivered at the same quality every time.
Standardisation can be applied to both simple and complex processes, and relies heavily on collaboration for a successful outcome. When each employee contributes their experience or interpretation, including challenges and efficiencies, it leaves you with a holistic view of what needs to be improved within the process, and how it can be carried out most efficiently. The next step is to document this clearly, and ensure that it is accessible to everyone within your organisation.
Future-proofing your business with knowledge sharing
Siloed information – that is, knowledge limited to one employee or function – can easily create ‘bottlenecks’ when workflows slow down or stop along the process chain.
Collaboration through knowledge sharing is critical to business continuity because, naturally, people need holidays, take sick leave and change jobs. If they retain siloed information that is valuable to your business, that knowledge becomes lost over time.
A collaborative culture means opening up communications channels to provide a clear snapshot of end-to-end process execution. This also promotes individual accountability, as everyone’s tasks are defined, yet that knowledge is transferable across all team members. In a remote-work context, this is especially important to ensure cross-functional teams have access to the essential workflows that keep your business running, no matter where they are in the world.
Collaboration is not only more efficient; it is business smart, protecting the longevity of ‘business as usual’ through a continuous exchange of information.
Dr Gero Decker is the founder and CEO of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio.