Despite the hoopla about always-on, social connectivity, workers at many companies are falling victim to collaborative overload. Results from a global survey of over 4,000 executives and employees found most companies lack the management skills, organizational culture, and technology to make collaboration pay off at scale.
Conducted by Oxford Economics, the SAP SuccessFactors-sponsored study found a direct correlation between an elite group of respondents from high-performing companies – called “Digital Winners” − and organizational practices and results. Oxford Economics also incorporated the research data into a benchmarking survey companies can use to compare their performance with “Digital Winners.” These companies are distinguished by how they manage three aspects of the business: leadership, diversity and technology.
Collaboration starts at the top
Employees of Digital Winners said management was more proficient in facilitating collaboration inside the organization (62 percent, vs. 47 percent of others). What’s more, the most satisfied workers from this survey rated their organization’s collaboration capabilities higher ─ leaders at their organizations were more responsive to requests on meaningful decisions, providing more feedback, and discouraging complexity and bureaucracy, and were better at fostering internal partnerships.
Looking ahead, just 24 percent of executives and 20 percent of employees said their organization considered collaboration a top capability for a manager of the future. Additionally, they rated related behaviors low, including openness to new ideas from others and approachability. While Digital Winners already report stronger collaboration skills among management compared to peers, they were also more likely to be actively building this skill set among managers over the next three years (74 percent vs. 53 percent of others).
Transparency, diversity build collaborative culture
Executives from Digital Winners were more likely to say decisions were transparent to those affected by them (58 percent) and distributed across the organization (62 percent), and employees at these companies tended to agree.
Diversity also looms large in creating a collaborative culture. This goes beyond scorekeeping employee demographics. Organizations have to foster respect and communication allowing people to work well together. Surveyed Digital Winners were likelier to report increases in diversity among the general workforce and mid-level leadership—and were more likely to report a positive impact on both culture (66 percent, vs. 47 percent of others) and financial performance (37 percent vs. 29 percent).
Using technology effectively
Despite the proliferation of social networking and other digital tools, most companies lack the technology to foster effective collaboration. This may be because they tend to prioritize process improvement, innovation, data analytics, and the customer experience over initiatives like collaboration, real-time decision-making, and communication. However, Digital Winners were more likely to use collaboration platforms to determine employee wants and needs (60 percent vs. 40 percent of others).
The collaborative way forward
This study shows that collaboration isn’t a guaranteed outcome of the hyper-connected workplace. Collaboration has to be woven into processes, workflows, and the organizational culture. Leadership has to make partnerships and teamwork important corporate values, empowering mid-management appropriately. Workers need not only the technology, but the ability to take full advantage of it for information sharing and innovation. Companies have to figure out how to manage diverse, global workforces so they can bring fresh perspectives to hard problems, for better overall market performance.