A path to innovation

For me, enterprise leadership is the single most important aspect of executive leadership philosophy – and this applies to Bentleys as much as it does to our clients throughout the world.

In brief, enterprise leadership is a philosophy that encourages an organisation’s leaders to focus on organisation-wide outcomes, and working on behalf of the organisation as a whole, rather than just focusing on its own business unit (often described as a silo approach).

I strongly believe that building a collaborative mindset – driven by an innovative culture – is key to enabling enterprise leadership. It is this innovative culture that will help organisations be robust enough for the future.

A deliberate strategy

Creating a collaborative mindset and developing what is known as a ‘collaborative community’ within an organisation requires a great deal of focus, and more often than not, a breakdown of preexisting frameworks of operation.

A collaborative community model is vastly different to other historical models adopted by organisations, like the ‘traditional industrial’ model or ‘free-agent’ model.

The ‘traditional industrial model’, which is most commonly adopted, has a developed sense of structure, a high sense of loyalty to the firm (and its individual teams) but also a deep bureaucratic structure which restricts organisational flexibility and makes firms slow to innovate.

The ‘free-agent model’ encourages innovation and flexibility by foregoing traditional rules and procedures which larger organisations often require. These models are typically good for project-based work, but lack the requisite ties to build the required team structure to enable the betterment of the firm through knowledge-based innovative work.

On the other hand, the ‘collaborative community model’ is organised around a sense of shared purpose, and is coordinated via carefully documented procedures, which are repeated and enacted to foster collaboration.

Members of these collaborative teams honestly believe that diversity of capability stimulates the requisite knowledge for the development of firm-wide knowledge, while supporting innovation.

Collaborative communities encourage people to bring their unique talents, experience and business perspective to the wider group and,most importantly, develop a sense of purpose to a supportive infrastructure.

These teams provide organisations with more opportunities for innovation by leveraging the skills of various team members to support growth. At Bentleys, the typical outcomes from collaborative communities include enhanced firm-wide efficiency, great scalability, deeper revenue verticals and a stronger sense of belonging within the organisation.

Creating collaborative communities

So, how can we create these collaborative communities and make them work?

At Bentleys, we have 14 collaborative teams supporting our underlying businesses throughout Australia and New Zealand. There are four key aspects required to make these teams function:

  1. Each group needs a clearly defined shared purpose.
  2. A culture of contribution needs to be encouraged.
  3. Processes are required to enable  people to successfully work together on various projects.
  4. A supportive infrastructure is required, where collaboration is honestly valued and people can see the rewards.

I will briefly outline each of these four elements.

Shared purpose

By developing a shared sense of purpose, collaborative teams create a foundation of mutual trust and firm-wide cohesion. At Bentleys, our collaborative teams have a shared purpose, which is either orientated to support our customers, or staff.

Industry specific teams support our customers, by developing thought leadership principles in key industries. Teams that focus on staff create the necessary infrastructure that supports them to be able to provide a leading service to our customers via people, technology, or industry specific skill development.

A culture of contribution

A mindset that is contribution-focused must exist. This mindset places real value on those who contribute to the common purpose, regardless oft their role in the organisation. As these collaborative teams are somewhat organic, you can find they give people the scope to show their capabilities on a scale that is bigger than their ‘day job’.

Philosophically, this ethic of working in a group is a rejection of the strong individualism found in the traditional industrial model.

Interdependent processes

It is critical that interdependent processes are established to support collaborative teams, so that they can exist, have their own identity, have their own procedural policies and actually meet to do the role they were designed to do.

Innovation does not just happen by accident. You need to take the time to plan your thinking. As the saying goes, no one plans to fail, but many people fail to plan.

The nature of the meetings, and the underlying topic, will change regularly. Team members need to be flexible, but they also require the discipline to accept that this flexibility is very different to their day-to-day roles. Leaders and drivers of these collaborative teams will change from time to time, sometimes formally, other times informally. The important concept to grasp is that due to the innovative work performed by these teams, an organic structure will develop. This must be embraced, so that rigorous discussion leads to the requisite innovative output.

Supportive infrastructure

As your valued employees work across their ‘day jobs’ plus a myriad of ‘collaborative teams’, it is important to accept that titles and seniority will not always maintain their status.

Thus, a need for a new type of authority structure arises, one that ignores titles and status. Remember – all that is relevant in collaborative teams is the work. The participation of all members should be equal (at least considered equal), and yet someone, or a collective group, will be tasked with a coordinated execution of the plan. Therefore, the infrastructure must be present to capture the collective ideas whilst also being able to take a concept and begin execution on behalf of the group.

It is through this execution that your collaborative teams will start delivering on their goals, and developing new and innovative solutions to your customers. It means that the business will begin to be greater than the sum of its individual parts, because teams are no longer working in isolation. Instead there is a cross-pollination of ideas that are focused on creating value to the firm and its customers.

Join the collaborative revolution

This collaborative revolution isn’t easy.

At Bentleys it takes lots of hard work, and the team members within our 14 collaborative teams are to be applauded. The effort required to set and align processes that connect people throughout our firm are significant, and require constant attention. Often, some people won’t want to participate. This is okay. They cannot be made to do so, as that goes against the very spirit of a collaborative mind set.

It is important to keep your end goal in mind. To be able to innovate quickly enough to keep up with your competitors – while trying to meet customer demand – a constant stream of ideas to improve efficiencies and approach new markets is needed, requiring the active engagement of a multitude of employees with different skills and experiences across the organisation.

Managing this process requires a lot more than just minimal cooperation among teams. It requires individuals and teams to think outside their own area of influence, think of the organisation’s goals as a whole, and embrace thinking as a team to do things better, faster, cheaper and more efficiently.

Innovation and enterprise leadership are not possible without true collaboration.

For assistance with improving productivity and collaboration in your business, contact your local Bentleys advisor.

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