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The Huge Idle Asset

An impressive golf score by a single player will be eclipsed by the score earned by a team in a best ball tournament. This impact of collaboration is understood by golfers. Can businesses similarly leverage the talents of their leaders to get the most of their human capital investment?

Every successful leader knows their industry, operation and strategy. But most miss a huge idle asset – collaboration.

Collaboration is not a matter of science, technology, finance, or business acumen. It’s a function of culture: “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” (Merriam-Webster, Inc.) Among these elements, “shared” is the keystone for substantive collaboration.

The first requisite to build a collaborative team is to identify and develop great people – the right people. That means people with those always sought-after talents. Now bolster those talents with the ability to build on colleagues’ ideas; the capability and predisposition for mutual respect and appreciation; a capacity to share the limelight; an ease to support, help and applaud colleagues; and a willingness to openly and scrupulously communicate constructive criticism.

When bringing in new talent you’re still looking for technical, business and leadership acumen, and a fit with the company’s culture and direction. But now you must also be hiring for a fit with the coalescing collaboration. In evaluating candidates for their capacity to collaborate, they must have an appreciation for how others have contributed to their success. Also assess, how does the candidate get the best from their co-workers. To miss these assets is to miss a rare opportunity, or even to flirt with dysfunction.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen; the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey team (The Miracle on Ice); Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger; the 2004, 2008 and 2012 US Women’s Olympic Soccer Teams…are just a few who’ve made it happen.

In their focusing on the creation of a formidable collaboration, senior leaders of a company are more than just cheerleaders. They cannot abdicate their responsibility to measure results, and to continue setting organization goals and norms as the guardrails for the business.

Traditional command and control structures are relatively easy to manage. Collaborative environments are far more difficult to launch and sustain. But, again, the inevitable reward is a better business. Hire right and stay committed to your collaborators.

Where you have five colleagues, each with 20 years of experience, a decision by one will draw on the 20 years of experience. A collaborative decision by the group will draw on 100 years of experience.

Don’t miss the opportunity!


Stan Davis is the Founding Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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