Dharmesh Acharya is the COO of Radixweb, a global tech consultation and bespoke software service provider.
Collaboration and co-creation are two broadly abused terms of modern business.
Yes, I made a huge statement right there. This might even seem like a very unpopular opinion because, in the digital world, where almost every interaction is virtual, you’ll find everyone collaborating and co-creating.
I would rather call this aspect of the digital world “connectivity.” Your employees log in to work, virtually connect with each other, complete their assigned tasks and leave. In a larger context, you might communicate with your client about the development of an ongoing project. Most businesses end their efforts right at this juncture.
I have chaired a C-suite position for over two decades now. With my breadth of experience, I can say that a commitment to collaboration can take a business to a different level of collective growth.
A Culture Of Collaboration
Let’s start with what a culture of collaboration isn’t: The true essence of collaboration and co-creation isn’t in being prescriptive.
A culture of innovation is one where all stakeholders within a business or project have equal access to information, feel valued and heard, are encouraged to express their ideas and arrive at the most feasible solutions.
In order to foster a truly collaborative business, a C-suite leader must secure two ends—the in-house team and the client side—for seamless co-creation.
How? Here’s the catch.
Promoting Collaboration In-House
I’d say the toughest part for a business leader is navigating the dynamics of teams with distinct roles and responsibilities, with each member contributing their unique skills. In the corporate world, most individuals reach a period of “thaw and saturation” within a couple of years into their profession.
This is largely because after gaining considerable experience in their skills, most professionals develop a mental block or a resistance to learning new things. This is where a culture of continuous learning comes into play. As business leaders, you must always encourage your workforce to keep themselves updated with the relevant industry skills pertaining to their domain.
As a leader of my teams, I practice what I preach. I believe in being continuously connected with market developments and requirements. I push myself to learn about new technology or business strategies every couple of months, and I have experienced wonderful results with this. When my teams witness my zeal to learn, even in my position, that softly nudges them to explore new avenues as well.
This is how you can build a foundation for effective cross-functional teams—people who are ready with new capabilities to beat the disruptions of the market. In essence, a cross-functional team requires ample access to information and communication with other teams, leading to a broader sense of collaboration.
Let me give you an example here.
Say your sales team is preparing a customer-facing document to win a client bid. Now, because their expertise lies in selling your service or product, you cannot expect them to churn out a document that speaks the language the client wants to hear. If, in this case, you would bring in marketing experts to have a closer look at the document. They can easily manage the information overload and communicate the brand voice effectively.
Experiments like these not only enhance your responsiveness to client demands but also bring your teams closer together, eliminating existing silos. I can’t think of a better example of co-creation.
However, when we talk about client-side collaboration, it is a different ball game altogether.
Mastering The Art Of Being True Partners For Clients
When we talk about collaborating with clients, a business leader needs to move beyond his intuition and look at real data.
For most software outsourcing firms, the process follows a linear path. Clients come with a requirement, and more often than not, they already have a pre-conceived solution in mind. A regular software vendor then builds on the client’s idea and delivers according to their demands.
However, this is where I ask you to stop and reflect. Your decision-making abilities and strategic understanding of your client’s business concern have the potential to take you from a software vendor to a trusted software partner.
As a long-standing practice, I try to look at things a bit differently. When a client approaches us with a certain business concern, we take a good look at their existing tech infrastructure. Keep in mind that a critical part of collaboration is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your stakeholders. I believe that as a software partner, effective collaboration can only be achieved when we assist our stakeholders in enhancing their tech capabilities to seamlessly integrate and support new technologies.
There will be numerous instances when your clients ask for tech upgrades that their existing IT infrastructure cannot support. In such cases, as a software partner, your responsibility is to collaborate, prioritize tasks in favor of your clients, gradually empower them to work with the new technology and assist in developing the skills needed to maintain and upkeep solutions built with emerging technology.
I could share many stories of successful collaborations that we have strategically orchestrated over time. These clients have transitioned from being mere professional connections to becoming our biggest cheerleaders.
I would say that collaboration and co-creation are two essential components of modern professional relationships. As a business, a significant responsibility rests on our shoulders in terms of how we drive this to our advantage, both with our in-house teams and external stakeholders.