In today's increasingly complex business world, most work gets done within a matrix of internal teammates and external partners, some of whom report directly to you and other who do not. Gone are the days of traditional functional structures, particularly for businesses with multiple products, services and locations. Today, organizational charts have more dotted lines than Los Angeles freeway. As a result, collaboration is a critical success factor for winning teams. The word says it all: "co-labor," to work together.

A common problem in this area is confusing collaboration with consensus. Consensus is a form of decision-making, whereas collaboration is a way of working together. Business is not a democracy, and everyone does not get to vote on everything. Sliding down the slippery slope of consensus will put the brakes on your business. Morphing collaboration into consensus can start looking like a trial jury--it enables any one person to hit the emergency brake on a decision. As we know, juries are not known for speedy decision-making.

Certainly, there are strategic decisions that you want all team members to buy into before moving forward, but 99% of business decisions within a matrix organization are made with a collaborative process.

To collaborate well, you must clarify four key roles on any team. There are plenty of models and cute acronyms for these roles, but I prefer the clarity of simple language and definitions:

LEAD the team.

This role is the person ultimately responsible for the completion of a project or task, and the one who delegates work. There must be only one lead specified per project or task, and s/he is the one who makes final decisions after considering input from others.

DO the work.

People with this role directly perform the tasks assigned by the lead. Others can be delegated to assist in doing the work. Performers seek input from subject matter experts.

SHARE expertise.

In a consulting role are those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts. There must be two-way communication between the performers and experts about best practices and alternative approaches.


The final role belongs to anyone who is kept up-to-date on progress, often only on completion of milestones. Here, communication is just one way.

Clearly communicate and agree to these roles before you begin any project or initiative. Keep it simple and your effective collaboration will generate fast results!

Oct 10, 2018