The Collaboration Quotient (CQ): Why Working And Communicating Across Functions Is A Strategic Imperative For All Businesses

Many of the companies we work in were designed off of a hierarchical structure that evolved from the industrial revolution’s many factories and their assembly line approach to production. Fast forward a century and we still see that hierarchical structure driving how business is done today.

However, for more than two decades, the technological revolution has pushed organizations to begin working more collaboratively. The speed of change has disrupted our sense of order and structure. Layer on recent events, and we have completely imploded on the older, siloed approach to working.

All companies have needed to examine and develop their Collaboration Quotient (CQ). A Collaboration Quotient is how effective an organization is at bringing together the talent across the organization to innovate, sharing information in a way that enables more efficient decision making and using both to be agile and proactively impact their industries.

To develop your organization’s Collaboration Quotient, consider the following tips:

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Examine the culture that exists in your organization. Before putting resources after collaboration skill development, check your culture. If fear reigns supreme experiences of collaboration will be warped and people’s efforts towards doing it will be thwarted. Mike Ettling, CEO of Unit4, a global software provider, advises, “A people-first culture and mindset is the most important thing, including a focus on customer success. Everyone should be pulling in the same direction.”

Lisa Dodman, Unit4’s Chief People Officer, added that, “Open communication, surveys and management training across functions ensures the best outcome for our people which will keep morale high and people effective. Even in crisis, you can gain positive communication and engagement outcomes.”

Ensure company values and the customer life cycle are driving decisions and behaviors. Ettling shared that, “Despite significant change in our world over the past four months, we’ve remained focused on our values by putting our people, their families, our customers and partners first. Beyond technology, organizations will need to change their culture and mindset to really elevate communication and move toward a business model that works in the modern world. Companies need to tap into the power of their entire workforce and create a people-first culture focused on delighting customers at every opportunity. Aligning the organization with the customer lifecycle is critical.”

Assess your Collaboration Quotient across all lines. This means examining how well people work up and down the lines of hierarchy, across different teams and functions, between different geographical locations and connecting outside of the organization with vendors and customers. Dodman emphasized that, “Our “Decision-Making for the Future Business” international research paper shows that companies need to put people first and look beyond the C-suite for insight, making better decisions by tapping into the skills of the entire workforce through a better organized, more democratic organizational structure.”

Ideally, leaders should work to build a workforce that operates more and more like the agile team model described in the book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,” by General Stanley McChrystal. In his book, General McChrystal outlines the evolution of teams from the command and control, top-down model, to a more organic one. This is where more work is done by projects and the teams build and organize based on the goal of the work vs. some pre-established organizational structure. This ensures a more agile workforce.

Leverage technology to enable better information sharing and decision making. Ettling recommends using cloud-based and integrated resource planning, financial planning and analysis and human resource solutions to help address the cross-functional communication issues. Creating a modern technology environment across the customer journey is also critical for creating an agile cross-function customer success team.

This includes the recent jump in meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. During the Covid-19 pandemic, almost everyone has grown more intimate with virtual meeting. Leaders can use these tools to also run pulse checks on how their staff is handling the stressors of our new reality and whether collaboration efforts are effective or not. Dodman advises that, “Managers can compare engagement levels against those of other teams which is helpful.”

Realize that times of crisis are critical for getting the Collaboration Quotient right. As mentioned, the technological revolution has been pushing organizations to get better at collaborating. However, many have left this topic as a nice to have soft skill vs. viewing it as a strategic imperative. During this tumultuous time of the pandemic, civil rights unrest and economic uncertainty it is the glue that will keep an organization together and resilient enough to get through this storm. All hands on deck has never been more of an imperative for business success.

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