We, in the finance industry, need to learn to work more collaboratively. It speeds up access to information and expertise we need to get the job done, it drives innovation and it increases staff engagement. All of those things drive value straight to the bottom line. Collaboration is not 'soft stuff'; the more we dig into research on highly collaborative organisations, the clearer the link between collaboration and productivity becomes.
Collaboration speeds up access to content expertise
Roughly 43% of workers will send information to clients in any given week that is simply wrong. This is the result of massive information overload and filter failure in our businesses, and deals break down, trust is lost and revenue is left on table because of our inability to access the info we need.
Collaboration is about finding ways to connect people with other people who can help them, and is vital to making our organisations more productive.
I was recently in the IBM offices in Sydney and witnessed a great case study in this regard.
A Sydney IBMer who had little experience in the airline industry was trying to secure a deal with an aircraft vendor, but lacked the industry experience to close the sale. He needed help.
Using an internal social network rolled out inside IBM (basically nothing more than Facebook for the organisation) he was able to search for 'airline experience' and pull up a list of people inside IBM that had the answers to his questions.
Hooking up directly with an airline expert in the New York IBM office, the sales rep was able to ask this person a set of questions and receive, within 24 hours, not only the relevant answers but also a set of technical documentation from a near-identical deal closed by the New York rep just a month before.
IBM Sydney and IBM New York may as well be different planets; but using a technology infrastructure to facilitate collaboration the sales rep was able to get straight to the person that had the answers.
We need a worldwide water-cooler
One global petrochemical and pharmaceutical company we profiled recently had their global senior executives turn up at their annual conference only to find that they had invented the same tin of paint in four different offices worldwide. Whoops.
Collaboration is not just about a group of people in a room brainstorming on the walls and 'thinking outside the square', it is also about having our teams work closely enough that we know what is going on in the rest of the organisation and not doubling up on work.
So much opportunity is lost and inefficiency created by digging so deep within our silos that we forget to look across at what others are doing.
Ask yourself: how does Sony, the company that owned music and film content, production and distribution (and invented portable music devices such as the Walkman and Discman) not invent the iPod!?
There are a few reasons, but key among them is that different silos of the business not only didn't communicate well (Sony Pictures didn't talk to Music didn't talk to Digital didn't talk to Distribution etc), but were actually even competitive in some regards.
That lack of communication was enough to prevent massive market breakthroughs.
In banks that have grown too big for staff to know what's going on simply by bumping into each other and chatting around the water-cooler (which is most financial institutions), we need to create a worldwide water-cooler where our people are constantly connected and hooked in to what's happening in the organisation.
Collaboration drives innovation
A study analyzing the origins of dollar productive innovation in organisations recently found that only 20% of innovation comes from deliberate R&D; the rest - 80% - comes from collaboration between staff and customers.
Not all innovation has to be sexy, product-side innovation that comes wearing white iPod headphones and armed with a Wii remote control. A hugely important type of innovation today is business process innovation that reduces time between meetings, drives down costs & sky rockets client satisfaction.
For that innovation, an ideal source is the people who run our daily processes, work with our customers, use our systems etc. There is much untapped wisdom in our crowds of people and giving them a space to share can drives innovation.
That's how Best Buy tapped the female consumer market, it's how Rockport shoes invented a whole new line of business shoe, and through the Innovation Jam, it is how IBM tap into the smarts of 300,000 plus staff.
The 'soft stuff' can be the 'hard stuff'
There is nothing 'soft' about collaboration. Facilitating a highly collaborative environment where people can easily identify and connect with subject matter experts, where they understand what is going on across the business and where they can drive innovation produces real business results. The Finance & Banking sector would do well to invest in connecting their people and collaborating and work.