Collaborating for success: A leadership imperative

The concept of collaborating with others to be successful in business may seem counter-intuitive in our individualistic society. If I help others to succeed, will I get ahead?

According to the Business Dictionary, “collaboration” has three parameters:

  • In general, it refers to a cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly toward a common goal.
  • It is an effective method of transferring “know how” among individuals.
  • In conflict resolution strategy, both assertiveness and cooperation are used to seek solutions advantageous to all parties.

Today, collaboration is essential for business success as data and information move almost instantaneously in a highly networked world. There is usually a narrow window for those who seek competitive advantage.

Unleash the power

The world is an electronic village in which the power of small groups to disrupt the status quo is soaring and response times are fast-approaching zero, according to Zachary Tumin and William Bratton in their article “The Four Traits of Collaborative Leaders” on

Bratton and Tumin contend that companies and organizations that want to out-innovate and out-perform the competition must collaborate to unleash assets. This allows companies to reuse, recombine and transform resources to reduce costs and improve performance.

Successful collaboration, however, requires there be something for everyone — “whether it is glory and honor, money and power, latitude and position, or a chance to do the job they showed up to do; whatever the currency, collaboration needs to pay for those who will be with you on the journey,” they write in their book “Collaborate or Perish: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World.”

Among the 12 habits of highly collaborative organizations identified by Jacob Morgan are these critical components: focus on the why before the how; and make sure employees know how collaborating will improve their lives and make their jobs easier. This advice is important, whether it’s applied to departments and program teams or strategic alliances between competitor companies.

Do more together

In a 1989 Harvard Business Review article “Collaborate with Your Competitors — and Win,” Gary Hamel, Yves Doz and C.K. Prahalad pointed to alliances between General Motors and Toyota, Siemens and Philips, and others as collaborative strategies that spurred these companies to develop new products, penetrate new markets and improve production efficiency and quality control that would be much more difficult to do when “going it alone.”

The authors stressed that learning from partners is paramount. Using an alliance with a competitor to acquire new technologies or skills reflects a commitment and capacity of participants to absorb the skills of the other.

Leadership is evolving into a broad-based team-building approach. Internal “crowd-sourcing” opens new paths to corporate growth and gives employees more ownership of their work, according to blog post, “Eight Differences between Traditional and Collaborative Leaders.” By encouraging equal participation across all levels, collaborative leaders allow solutions to develop from the best ideas of the group. (But competition is still essential.)


Let us use our varied educational preparation, life experiences, knowledge bases, skill sets and cultures to build collaborations for smart business results in all sectors.


Barb Smoot is the President and CEO of WELD, Women for Economic and Leadership Development, desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio. Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee.