Published: Feb. 1, 2021 By

Leeds student orientation team working together

Collaboration is good for business. Cross-functional teams allow people to share best practices, problem solve from different points of view, and understand the larger context and potential impacts of their actions on the company as a whole. It also allows each team member to focus on their strengths, knowing that colleagues bring complementary skills to the table. Rather than building something new, collaboration allows members to lean on one another and share knowledge which can also accelerate a team’s progress. 

The many benefits of collaboration

As Tracy Jennings, senior instructor and teaching professor in the Organizational Leadership and Information Analytics Division at Leeds, points out, the hardest part of decision making is knowing what your options are. This is especially difficult when we only see things from our area of expertise. 

If you always have people with similar educations or experiences in the room they will agree on what they see. By collaborating with people with different areas of expertiseyou break out of that box,” Jennings says. “There is an idea generating benefit and you learn things.”

This is one reason why innovation thrives on multidisciplinary teams and on diversity. Creativity has been defined as the result of combining seemingly disparate ideas, and “eureka” as a moment of insight into how things could connect. Some people are able to do this naturally, but for most organizations it is useful to bring different disciplines, backgrounds and functional areas together to look for new ways to solve problems.

Sabrina Volpone, assistant professor in the Organizational Leadership division at Leeds, has researched the relationship between collaboration and inclusion, and how businesses benefit from structuring work around diversity.

Specifically, by establishing supportive ‘ecosystems’ (also called ‘pod’ systems) that center around collaboration across employees, all workers - including those who are neurodivergent - can more easily apply their strengths at work and organizations are better set up to realize the benefits of diversity, including potential increases to the bottom-line,” Volpone concludes.

Learning collaboration skills 

Jennings notes that collaboration is easier when the team members have worked on teams before and have highly developed communication skills. She also believes conflict resolution skills that keep disagreements task oriented are critical for success. In addition, Jennings says it is important to know what kind of collaboration a team is tasked with. There are three types: pooled interdependence, sequential interdependence and reciprocal interdependence. Each model structures interaction in different ways. The best teams, Jennings says, are good at giving recognition to each other which she calls “the secret sauce that keeps people happy and motivated.” She adds that while collaboration can be time intensive and challenging, “the best things come out of the constant refinement of ideas.”

In today’s virtual environment, Jennings’ role as faculty director, distance and online learning at Leeds, has given her a unique insight into how technology is impacting collaboration. She believes that teamwork skills among students have improved this year, in part because Google Docs and Zoom are good tools for meeting and working together. She is excited about continuing to incorporate these tools into the student experience even after a return to in-person learning.

Collaboration at Leeds

At CESR, the past ten months of working remotely have been an opportunity to focus on collaboration. We have found new ways to work with students, have strengthened partnerships with other departments, and have grown our network with far-flung stakeholders. These relationships and processes have in turn built our capacity and resulted in greater inclusivity. There are a number of strategies we are currently using that we plan to incorporate into our work in the future. One of these is an emphasis on co-presenting student programs with other Centers and departments including Masters of the Environment, the Office of Diversity Affairs, Diverse Scholars and Women’s and Leadership Programs.

Despite its many benefits, cooperation can be challenging. In Finance, the term “Chinese Wall” is used to describe internal information barriers between departments, whose collaboration would result in conflicts of interest and legal risk. Joint efforts in such cases must be intentional - and even the most well-intended organizations can become siloed.

Organizations are made up of individuals, dealing with enormous amounts of data and needing to make decisions in a timely manner. The same is true with CU and Leeds.” says Matt Fleming, with the Burridge Center for Finance. “At the Center level, we fortunately have the processes in place to work together, as a group, for the benefit of students.”

Jenny Moltz, Program Manager, Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, agrees that the benefits of collaboration are also true for our work at the Centers. 

Working together raises the bar for what we deliver to our students,” Moltz says. “In business and life, collaboration is crucial for long-term success. The more students that we can reach and encourage through partnerships, the bigger the impact that we can make together in our community and world!” 

Upcoming Events

The following are some of the upcoming partnerships and collaborations CESR is working on:

  • Changemakers: Joyce Cacho | Feb. 18 | 12:30-1:30pm - Join CESR and Burridge for a conversation with Joyce Cacho, former CEO and Global Chief Sustainability Officer, whose expertise spans finance, ESG, strategy, fintech, cybersecurity, innovation, and regulatory compliance.

  • Case Competition Training | Feb. 22  | 4:00 pm - Build your presentation and communication skills. Organized by Women's and Leadership Programs in collaboration with FYE and CESR.

  • Impact Investing | Feb. 25 | 12:30-1:30pm - Learn about how to build a socially responsible portfolio that also produces responsible financial returns. This event is a collaboration between CESR and the Burridge Center for Finance.

  • Social Impact in a Consumer Tech Start-Up | March 3 | 12:15-1:45pm - Deming and CESR are co-presenting this session led by the founders of consumer tech company Fairphone which will explore the challenges and opportunities in taking an ESG approach to business. 

  • Changemakers: Annie Ryu | April 14 | 12:30-1:30pm - Join CESR and Deming for this conversation with The Jackfruit Company founder.

  • Anti-Racism Reading Group for Students | Registration will open in April - CESR is teaming up with First Year Experience to expand our anti-racism reading group to incoming students as well as current students. We will offer multiple cohorts.