Collaborating is an essential part of most modern day business operations. It can occur internally amongst departments, functional teams, divisions,and individuals, and externally between service providers, development partners, investors, consultants, etc.
One place where collaboration is especially important is in the high-tech and biotech/pharma industries where success often depends upon an external partner fulfilling a key component (or even all) of the product development process. In a recent workshop that focused on boosting collaboration skills, we asked a group of senior research team leaders to complete a self-assessment rating how well they demonstrated behaviors and practices that lead to more effective collaboration*. These included: 1) sharing power and influence, 2) building trust, 3) assessing the environment, 4) visioning (a purpose) and mobilizing people, 5) developing people, and 6) self-reflection.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the practice these leaders reported using least was self-reflection. When we discussed this outcome as a group, participants reported that they were too busy running from meeting to meeting, putting out fires, and just trying to keep up with their daily responsibilities, to stop and take time to self-reflect. Sound familiar?
In the context of collaborating, what does self-reflection mean and why is it important? Quite simply, it means pausing from “doing” the collaborative work and acting as an observer of yourself within the relationship with your collaborator. Then from this external perspective, ask the following self-reflecting questions:
- Am I using my strengths effectively and as often as I could? Which are needed now?
- What are my weaknesses? What impact are they having on the collaboration?
- Do I understand the other party’s perspective – what is their goal and what is most important to them right now?
- Have I been actively listening to our business partner? Or have I been listening through a filter of what only matters to me/us?
- Have I asked for feedback on my behaviors/actions from members of my team? From the other team?
As with any relationship, collaborating requires attention, care, and effort. If the sole focus becomes the technical process of reaching the collaborative goal and the relationship is neglected, the goal will be at risk. As we explored these questions as a group, the cost of NOT taking time and asking these questions emerged quickly and included: increased conflict and frustration, longer delays, confusion, wasted resources (time and money), and mistrust. Ultimately – the timely and successful fulfillment of the mutually set goal that was the impetus for forming the collaboration.
In my own experience working in biotechnology, I served as the Alliance Manager of several collaborations (with a large pharmaceutical company, a large biotechnology company, a non-profit, several licensors, etc). In this role, it was my responsibility to be introspective and ask these self-reflecting questions for our team regularly to ensure that we were being an effective partner and that the relationship was healthy and productive. Most collaborations don’t have someone with this specific focus and responsibility. Perhaps they should.
I challenge you to consider your current collaboration(s), take time to self-reflect and see what immediate actions you or your team can take. What do you see?