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Foster cooperation across organizational boundaries

Foster cooperation across organizational boundaries

Rather than a question of ill will or indiscipline, lack of cooperation is often a result of the need for belonging that governs our interpersonal relationships. How can we take this into account to boost collaboration?

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Almost all senior executives agree that lack of cooperation is a major obstacle to the performance of their organization. They intone repeatedly, “We need more cross-pollination.” “We must break down silos.” A survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership is helpful to understand the scale of this phenomenon. The survey found that 91 percent of senior executives feel that working across organizational boundaries is important at the middle management level, yet only 19 percent believe that this is actually happening! This gap reveals a great deal about expectations on this issue.

This observation certainly comes as no surprise to organizational dynamics experts. Social science research has long established the difficulty of getting existing teams to cooperate effectively with one another. Parochial reflexes naturally generate rivalry more than the desire to collaborate. This is why exhortations by many senior executives to “put differences aside to work together for our collective success” often fall on deaf ears. Indeed, few people are willing to see their uniqueness challenged without reacting.

Convincing the various units of a company to join forces for the common good is a real challenge, which can be surmounted only if management consciously addresses power relationships:

- Protect the various employee populations from threats to their identity. People need to feel safe in the team to which they belong. Otherwise, their territorial defense reflexes will naturally come to the fore.

- Work to build trust. Trust does not come naturally. Deliberate initiatives must be taken to help people form the bonds which are the prerequisites to collaboration.

- Organize interdependence. People will make the effort to cooperate only if they clearly perceive the unique contribution others can bring them.

Synopsis n.202a


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