Obstacles to collaboration

In laying out its “winning strategies” for global manufacturers at its June conference, ARC Advisory Group keyed in on the theme of collaboration. According to ARC analyst and end user speakers, collaboration among people, processes, and technology is essential to the future of manufacturing.

By Renee Robbins, editorial director July 1, 2007

In laying out its “winning strategies” for global manufacturers at its June conference, ARC Advisory Group keyed in on the theme of collaboration. According to ARC analyst and end user speakers, collaboration among people, processes, and technology is essential to the future of manufacturing. In fact, “[creating] a highly collaborative corporate culture” is first on ARC’s list of top 10 strategies for global manufacturers.

Evidence of the emergence of a collaborative culture is all around us, but we’ve still got a ways to go. Collaboration requires self expression and reflection, speaking and listening, and that can be a challenge when the collaborators are IT and manufacturing, U.S. and non-U.S.-based engineers, or any other historically separate groups.

In the wider society, self expression seems to be at an all-time high, fueled by outlets as diverse as reality TV shows, Wikipedia entries, YouTube videos, and inexpensive book self-publishing services. In professional contexts, webinars, podcasts, and blogs are increasingly used as methods of education and information delivery. Common tools and connectivity technologies enable the interaction of these islands of expression, encouraging, for example, bloggers to trade commentary on the latest book or live event. The next logical and necessary step is collaboration, which the dictionary defines as “to work together , especially in joint intellectual effort” (emphasis added).

The ARC conference was chock full of examples and advice for working together from the likes of Boeing, Nova Chemicals/CIDX, Ford, and others. But most are only at the beginning stages of this communications revolution, and obstacles are plentiful.

“The largest obstacle to collaboration is ego,” said John Wheeler of Nova Chemical/CIDX. When it comes to international collaboration, said Eric Karsten of Ford Motor Company, “language is not the problem. Time is the problem.” But “Web tools can help,” he added.

Dow Chemical’s Jerry Gipson said at his company collaboration is an established best practice that delivers results, with continuing effort. His advice: “Find what you can work on together and commit—commit to forming a strategic relationship.” That may mean checking your ego at the door, and convincing yourself that the second definition of collaboration—“to cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country”—no longer applies.

For more advice from ARC analysts, including strategies for making the most of their 27 manufacturing-related trends, search “collaboration” at www.controleng.com .

renee.robbins@reedbusiness.com