4 Tips for Successful Cross-Company Collaboration
High quality relationships lie at the heart of most successful companies. That holds true when it comes to the relationships between employees within the company, as well as with customers and external partners. Cultivating the relationships necessary for these partnerships to thrive is essential. Remote work has thrown a wrench into the collaboration works that make it happen.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, "firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts."
In practical terms, that means remote work has concentrated the way workers communicate and collaborate and limited their exposure to other groups outside their immediate team. The lack of these so-called "weak ties" in the organization is a growing problem and can lead to siloed thinking that impairs innovation and organizational creativity. Here's how companies can improve their collaboration efforts and help ensure strategic partnerships succeed.
What Is Cross-Company Collaboration?
Cross-company collaboration is "the alignment between teams, departments and leaders in strategic planning, allowing for all arms of the company to work toward the same goal," said David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of Canadian technology company Voices, an online marketplace for voice actors.
In other words, when it's done right cross-company collaboration helps ensure employees share a vision and contribute to the same objectives. It can also refer to partnerships between different companies.
"This is particularly common with creative and marketing agencies, who collaborate with their clients plus other specialists like video production companies or web development agencies," said Maël Frize, CPO and co-founder at Stuttgart, Germany-based software company Filestage.
Organizations regularly need to collaborate with one another in some capacity, for various reasons. In many situations, this involves employees from different companies coming together at a specific location for a few weeks to coordinate shared activities.
"It involves daily interactions, [in] real-time, as work is taking place," said TJ Hoffman, COO of online video coaching company Sibme. "It might involve formal meetings that take place either virtually or in-person to generate ideas."
While managing virtual meetings may not seem like a problem in today's remote and hybrid workplace, Hoffman said the challenge is turning the ideas generated from collaboration into action. He believes companies need to find better ways to work asynchronously in the hybrid workplace to achieve success with their strategic partnerships.
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The Golden Rules of Asynchronous Collaboration
Many organizations are only now adapting to the new way of work. While remote work has been around for a long time, having a hybrid workforce is a novelty for the majority of companies. And whether a company operates remotely, in a hybrid model, or fully in-person, the need for asynchronous collaboration has become clear.
Here are two golden rules for making asynchronous collaboration work in today's digital workplace:
1. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Today, work already occurs asynchronously in most cases, with teams distributed across different regions and time zones. Facilitating alignment of goals between these dispersed team members or members of different organizations requires frequent communication.
"Keeping open lines of communication is imperative in the pursuit of successful strategic alignment," said Ciccarelli. "Ensuring the continuation of dialogue and asking questions is a big part of triumphant asynchronous working and collaboration."
2. Show Empathy
Another key factor of successful asynchronous work is showing empathy for partners. "This could be as simple as sharing a screen recording to guide them through a piece of content you've created or creating a guide in your company Notion to help people find answers when you're offline," Frize said.
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4 Tips for Making Cross-Company Collaboration Work
Every person is different, and so are companies. Making cross-company collaboration work requires some expert guidance to navigate the different ways of accomplishing tasks. Here are some tips:
1. Block Time for Planning
If you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Without a solid plan to ensure collaboration happens properly, partnerships risk running into trouble. Ciccarelli recommended blocking time to ensure that proper planning occurs and everyone is on the same page.
"If you're in leadership, it's your responsibility to be consistently looking ahead and planning for this," he said.
2. Mediate Differences to Find Common Ground
Internal tension and dysfunction are common in any team, but they can occur more frequently in partner companies that don't necessarily have the same workflows and styles. When this happens to a degree where collaboration may fail, Ciccarelli said it's best to take a step back.
"Try to get an external facilitator or moderator to keep the agenda moving along, push through disagreements, and keep productivity going," he said.
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3. Communicate Availability
It's impossible to coordinate asynchronous work without both scheduled and impromptu meetings. It's therefore critical for all partners to ensure their calendars are up to date and visible to the rest of the team. Not only does this facilitate real-time exchanges, it also minimizes the stress of being double-booked or called in a meeting when outside the office.
4. Put Everything in Writing
Things can sometimes get lost in translation, or someone might forget what was said during a meeting. Taking notes or minutes can prevent disagreements or miscommunication from derailing joint projects down the road.
"Use written and recorded communication as often as possible. So if someone's offline and you can't remember exactly what they said, you can go back and check instead of putting things off until the next day," said Frize.