This article originally appeared at Forbes.
Let’s begin with a story.
Five people were working together on an information-gathering project. They decided it would be most efficient if they each took one-fifth of the work and then combined their results at the end. One of the people had always felt the company didn’t pay enough attention to what he feels is most important. While working on his portion of the project, he purposely excluded some of the key data points he discovered to ensure his pet issue stood out more.
When the results were combined, three results, including the one he’d manipulated, stood out as core issues to address. The whole organization then realigned itself to address these issues. Every year moving forward, the team continued to add new data to the cumulative results and use them as the basis for its decisions. So the misaligned information skewed the behavior of the company for not just one year, but for every year from then on.
This story illustrates a behavior that is all too common in businesses. Everyone has their own agenda, and they frequently let their personal opinions influence their work, even when their success depends on the accuracy and integrity of their cumulative work. A great question to ask ourselves from time to time is: “Am I working for the best interest of the organization or to further my own personal interests?”
Like a rocket ship altering its course by a single degree, a tiny misalignment in Year 1 could become a significant change of course by Years 2 and 3. Imagine what would happen by Year 10.
In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched with a mirror that was just two microns too flat. One micron is one millionth of a meter in width. For comparison, the smallest object visible to the human eye is 40 microns. When dealing with interstellar distances, those two microns made a huge difference in how light from faraway stars was reflected into the telescope. The result was a blurry mess. It took a lot of time, resources, and delicate repair work to correct the problem three years later. But after a new mirror was installed, everything became focused and clear.
In business collaboration, the critical commodity is trust
In a collaborative environment, if someone does a poor job, they risk ruining the results of all the related work of others, whether it is data mining, construction, software development, assembly in a factory, etc.
If someone’s work can’t be trusted, others can’t build on top of it. If they try, the flawed results of their work could undermine everything else related to it in the future.
People must put their personal feelings aside and work for the good of the team in order to be successful and help others succeed.
Building a legacy of trust
One of the greatest examples of someone who always worked for the greater good of his team is LaVell Edwards. He was the head coach of Brigham Young University’s football team from 1972 to 2000.
According to one of his former players, Timothy R. Scott, “Coach Edwards made it abundantly clear that it’s impossible to build an organization and summon its institutional will if you don’t really like people. You may get lucky and win a championship, but you’ll end up leaving a landfill, not a legacy.”
Edwards always showed great concern for his players both on and off the field. He wasn’t just interested in using their abilities. If someone got injured, he would visit them and share words of encouragement on their path to recovery.
What results did his service-oriented approach to team-building lead to? He and his team won a national championship in 1984, scored 257 victories over his career, launched the careers of several prominent quarterbacks, and left a lasting legacy on a stadium that bears his name.
Being your best
Collaboration, at its best, is one of the most effective ways to accomplish big tasks in the quickest amount of time. The larger and more diverse a group is (in terms of its perspectives and ideas), the greater its potential results. While a like-minded group usually works together easily, it may not come up with the most creative solutions. It’s essential for group members who have different backgrounds, personalities, etc., to develop trust with each other.
If someone does something really well on their own — that is, they are honest and trustworthy in their work — they create something that others can then build upon. If another person uses the first person’s work and adds to it with the same level of honesty and integrity, then the pattern can repeat itself over and over as others build on top of that new solid foundation.
It is sad that this simple, common-sense concept is becoming increasingly rare in a business environment. While the scientific community and many other scholarly communities strive to uphold the integrity of their research decisions, greed, ambition and selfishness tend to undermine its implementation in many business environments. Agenda pushing and a cavalier attitude to the integrity of results are common byproducts.
That doesn’t have to be the case in your business. What kinds of things are you doing to encourage collaboration in your teams? What results have you seen as your teams have learned to trust each other more?
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