Why We Need to Play Well with Others in Business

Collaborative Mindset

“That’s not my job.”

Have you ever entered a mall and stuck your head into the watch store to ask directions to the coffee shop? Have you called your local airline/cable guy/newspaper for help and been passed between people or asked to dial another number to get your problem solved?

Now think about the person who answered your call and found a solution despite it not being their job. You were delighted and surprised, weren’t you? It’s definitely not business as usual for them to go out of their way and find the right person to make sure you are happy.

We are taught to “play well with others,” but working beyond your specific realm of expertise or obligation is not a given. In the not-so-distant past, “minding your own business” was considered an asset. Hierarchies were clear and narrowly defined. We could start off on a predetermined track decided as early as in our teens and, depending on the industry, climb the career ladder with virtual blinders on. No one had to talk to each other.

Evolving Expectations

As a consultant in my twenties, I recall we were paid handsomely in part because of the failure of departments to work together. When we looked for solutions to a company’s problems, we proceeded by interviewing people from across the company. Unsurprisingly, the best ideas and solutions often came from the staff themselves. I didn’t quite understand why they needed to pay $400 an hour to hire someone as unfamiliar with their business as I was to collate their answers into a PowerPoint document, when the solution resided within the company’s own ranks. Wouldn’t it be less expensive to take all of their staff to the Bahamas for a weekend?

Older and wiser, I appreciate the power of an outsider with time and perspective to collect and collate internal wisdom but still believe too little is spent gathering staff to work on the company as a whole.

This is evolving, and companies are moving away from bringing in consultants to tell them what they already know or would know if only they asked their own people. Now, specialists are brought in to help define problems and then create the capacity internally for teams to collaborate and perform. Specialist consultants can be brought on for specific expertise. Corporations commonly call in freelancers with specialized skills or bring in outside consultants to see challenges in a new light or generate ideas. Mature companies like GE engage the wisdom of the crowd by testing new products on Kickstarter to determine demand[1]. New technology such as LinkedIn, Slack or Asana enables the formation of new kinds of groups for connecting or sharing information and projects.

Playing Well with Others

Fostering cooperation within a company requires senior leaders to change from an executive mindset to a collaborative mindset. Joseph Tcheng, Chairman of the Board at Clear Media Limited, described his surprise to me when he went from a CEO role to board director as a challenge, and opportunity, to transition from an alpha leader role to one of coaching and collaboration.[2]

Not every executive, accustomed to being rewarded for making decisions, is able to make the move quite as gracefully.

This requires a mindset shift and skills in recruiting key people to work with, having a sense of your own personal user’s manual, and facilitating a team to succeed.

Adapted from Future Proof.

[1] Jeremy Kaplan, “Nugget Ice is Just the Tip of the Chewable Iceberg for GE’s Crazed FirstBuild Labs,” Digital Trends, July 24, 2015, accessed September 29, 2018,https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/firstbuild-nugget-icemaker.

[2] Diana Wu David, “Chairing a Turnaround in China,” LinkedIn, October 21, 2016, accessed October 28, 2018, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/chairing-turnaround-china-diana-wu-david.