Careers or Collaboration: Can you have the best of both worlds?

This article was published on LinkedIn Pulse by Director and Co-founder Dave Harrison earlier today:

There’s something very important changing within the organisations that I speak to every day. It’s a greater awareness of the benefits of a more collaborative approach to leadership, learning and working. It’s something that we believe in with a passion at 10Eighty. Even so, we are sometimes told that a more collaborative approach just won’t work in their organisation. Why? Because of the insidious presence of “personal agendas”. This view, though understandable, is wrong – our experiences show us the opposite can be true. Collaboration and career advancement can, when handled well, have far more in common than many yet realise.

We all like to think of ourselves as collaborative, yet we miss opportunities to do exactly this every day. There are three main reasons. Firstly, collaboration is simply a learnable habit. If colleagues work on a project they may learn from it as a group but, as a matter of habit, do they instinctively think to share what they know with others who could benefit?

Secondly, we know that formal, functional barriers get in the way. It sometimes feels easier to share information within your own tribe of HR, marketing or finance professionals – and let those “down the corridor” sort themselves out. Again, this is quite solvable with a different approach. We often like to encourage clients to adopt a more intra-disciplinary project mentality to challenges – and in one of our surveys of HR and L&D professionals earlier this year, we found that nearly 8 in 10 believed that sharing knowledge across functions brings major benefits to the organisation.

The third, largely invisible barrier, is that of the personal agenda. This lurks silently as the hardest challenge, as it can’t be solved without reconciling unspoken individual motivations with organisational need. Intellectually, some people will understand the business case for collaboration – and still not embrace it. And emotionally, they will readily see that closer collaboration makes everyone feel more engaged with the task at hand – and yet they will still hesitate to share.


There is nothing intrinsically wrong about personal ambition – and we are often talking here about otherwise good people working in not-so-good cultures. The only thing that will change their behaviour is to turn around their perspective on what personal ambition really is. This means that organisations have to help their people understand that the future is not just bright, but positively radiant, for those who collaborate. Being seen as a great collaborative leader needs to come across as the new rocket fuel for reputation and career.

Fortunately, the challenges of many market places are driving collaboration up the organisational agenda. The days of “all-seeing, all-knowing” leaders and managers who carved a lonely pathway to the top are disappearing fast. In an increasingly complex world, no one person can have the monopoly on knowledge. There is a new era emerging, one in which leaders don’t even try to pretend that they have all the answers – because we and they know that no one has.

Instead, leaders and managers are becoming catalytic collaborators. They lead a conversation with their views, but their real value lies in challenging others to come forward with ideas. We rightly look to them for a sense of direction, but the best actively seek the collaboration of others in return. Great ideas these days only happen when collaborative teams get together to bring them alive. For this to happen, HR and L&D policies need to be aimed at not only encouraging tomorrow’s leaders to think beyond their own agendas but also towards rewarding collaborative excellence.

Most importantly of all, if employers want to move beyond the invisible “personal agenda” barrier, they need to send a clear message. Careers today and tomorrow are greatly strengthened, not weakened, by a positive attitude to collaboration.

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Michael Moran – CEO 10Eighty

A blog about career and talent management, things that might help you with your career and in your job.


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