Businesses that have successfully pivoted from a traditional model to a digital model have done so through massive amounts of collaboration at all levels. The collaboration starts at the top. Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) and Chief Information Officers (CIO) have realized the need to collaborate at a higher rate than ever before. The most successful digital businesses like Axel Springer and Google commit to a collaborative culture that permeates even to the lowest levels of their businesses. The leaders of successful digital businesses realize, “The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation”(1). As a result, businesses have been moving away from the traditional hierarchy structure (Figure 1), to a more blended approach (Figure 2).
In the collaborative approach, traditional silos are eliminated. According to Carol Goman, silo mentality “will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture” (2). Instead, a collaborative knowledge management-based system is implemented that involves employees at all levels (Figure 3). Why? Collaboration naturally leads to innovation, which eventually helps digital businesses pivot into more lucrative segments of the market. Employees on the ground level are pivotal in the transition from a hierarchical system to a more collaborative system. “Success dictates that the individuals impacted by change be involved in the change from the very beginning” (3).
The collaborative approach is fantastic for moving a business forward, but it can lead to some unwanted consequences, that business leaders need to consider. The following clip from the movie Office Space (filmed in 1999) demonstrates one of the challenges that organizations still face today:
“Without defined collaboration,” Carol Goman warns, “your people can become confused about how decisions are made, and this can erode trust” (4). To avoid this pitfall, it is critical for digital organizations structure their collaborative efforts with a defined leader who has the authority to make a clear decision when needed. The chosen leader must consider a diverse set of voices and opinions when collaborating, as it is vital not to fall into a groupthink mentality. This will also help to mitigate situations where too many strong-minded people cannot agree upon a decision when needed.
The implementation of a decision-maker will also help to keep organizations on course. One of the major pitfalls of collaborating at a high level is overuse. Collaboration is an excellent cornerstone for any business, but like all things, it is best in moderation. “Collaboration works when you are in an exploration phase, have time, or have an environment where people feel safe to share. Collaboration doesn’t work as well when you are in crisis, decisiveness is needed, or there is a lack of time or safety” (5).
As technology increasingly changes the way businesses operate, it is crucial for digital businesses to try to stay ahead of the curve by collaborating on all levels. Organizations are moving away from traditional hierarchies and business silos toward less structured collaborative systems. Those collaborative organizations need to have a defined leader. This decision-maker must be able to guide the collaborative efforts, define clear goals, avoid groupthink mentality, and ensure that collaboration is used in situations where a resolution is needed. In doing so, businesses will be able to provide a collaborative environment that utilizes its employees diversity and extensive knowledge base that is adequately structured, but avoids the downfalls of a siloed organization.
(1,2,3,4) Goman, Carol Kinsey. “8 Tips For Collaborative Leadership.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 June 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2014/02/13/8-tips-for-collaborative-leadership/#71346acf5fd9.
Judge, Mike, director. Office Space. YouTube / Office Space, 31 Jan. 2012, youtu.be/IwlZQJyKZ2A.
Cornet, Manu. “Organizational Structures of Some of Tech’s Biggest Companies.” Bonkers World, 2018, bonkersworld.net.
(5,6) Council, Forbes Coaches. “Seven Downsides To The Collaborative Culture Boom.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 15 Nov. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2016/11/15/seven-downsides-to-the-collaborative-culture-boom/#54556e602c3a.