Empowered leaders make collaboration a priority, especially when their industry is being disrupted.
We sat down with Mark Monchek, Founder of The Opportunity Lab and author of Culture of Opportunity: How to Grow Your Business in the Age of Disruption, about the importance of collaboration, and precisely how leaders nurture collaboration at work in an age where the way we work is constantly changing.
How would you define the “Culture of Opportunity”?
During the financial crisis of 2008, I noticed a really fascinating phenomena; while so many companies were failing – either going out of business or shrinking dramatically – some were actually thriving. I knew that there had to be lessons to learn from this seemingly strange dichotomy.
These outlier companies – Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Zappos, and TED to name a few – were actually growing during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. How? Because these companies and the individuals recognized the need to adapt, to build a “culture of opportunity” that is resilient and that can succeed in any economy. This type of culture must be organic and driven primarily by the passion and successful collaboration of the people within the organization.
What is an immediate change that companies can make to boost collaboration among their employees?
Any company that is committed to positive change can make small tweaks to boost collaboration. One change I would recommend is building an “opportunity team” (or braintrust) to help guide ongoing decision making and a constant flow of new ideas. This group should include people from inside and outside the company – employees from various departments and outside customers, clients, industry experts, or investors.
Can you summarize your holistic, step-by-step process for companies and leaders to build a collaborative organization?
My book presents a very detailed process, but I will try and break it down into a few simple steps. First, it’s important to clearly define what your company is committed to and how you’ll measure success. Then, it is recommended to set up this“opportunity team.” Next, look at your five most recent successful projects, as well as project failures, to determine the company’s “Success DNA.” Be sure to analyze the conditions on the team and the marketplace to drove each success and failure, understanding clear patterns to follow or avoid. Lastly, create a resource map of people throughout the organization that are critical to the successful ecosystem of the company. Using these pre-identified tools and resources, you’ll be able to identify and tackle the many opportunities presented to the company moving forward.
Do you have any examples of an organization that has done this well?
The co-founders of Mapos, a sustainable architecture and design firm, wanted to think more consciously about their next stage of growth. In the company’s early years, they took the projects they could get and made the best of them, as many start-ups must do. While this brought in revenue and a list of satisfied clients, it was not always fully aligned with their passions, and did not efficiently leverage their top talents or network of resources.
By defining the Success DNA of Mapos, the co-founders dove into analyzing the five most successful projects that had been accomplished since the founding of Mapos. By looking at the conditions inside the organization and in the marketplace during each project, they were able to understand the conditions under which they excelled. They found they thrived when working with clients who shared their values and were highly responsive and cost-competitive in the most challenging economy. By collaborating with clients and partners that share similar values, Mapos has experienced consistent and substantial growth.
How do space and design contribute to collaboration?
There are both tangible and intangible elements within a space that contribute to collaboration. First, there needs to be a mix of public and private space, and common areas should have plenty of room and different types of seating arrangements for people to share food, talk, and connect with each other. Additionally, the intangible elements – temperature, lighting, and a generous, hospitable environment all contribute to collaboration. These elements can certainly be felt upon entering a space and being mindful of them is critical.
How has the recent growth of the shared economy, freelance workers, and the gig economy influenced collaboration at work?
In order to be resilient, organizations can’t be siloed. We have to rely on other people – both within our organizations and outside of them – for their unique skills, new resources, and outside ideas. Companies succeeding the most today are the most collaborative and receptive to outside partnerships.
What’s your best advice for moving on past a failure?
Failures – people have them and businesses have them. My best advice is to look at what caused you to divert from your success pattern, rather than looking at the failure as a negative. Take Apple as an example, which I’ve always considered a great learning moment: They initially removed the Google Maps app from all iPhone devices, despite consumers complaining about having difficulty using Apple’s own iMaps app. Apple ultimately brought Google Maps back to please their customers, instead of continuing to act in a “closed loop” only mentality. I believe this is a lesson we can all learn from – don’t blame others for your own failures. Assess what went wrong (taking away a great product from your best customers) and determine a plan of action for resolution (be more collaborative by offering more choices which will lead to a longer-term, win-win model).
Mark Monchek is the Founder and Chief Opportunity Officer at The Opportunity Lab. He’s passionate about empowering conscious leaders so they can build great companies that make a difference in the world. Mark has worked with leaders from Google, Apple, Eileen Fisher, Taproot Foundation, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, The New York Times, Wharton, NBC, Time Warner, and the United Nations, to help them take their organizations to the next level of sustainable growth.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity. The Collaboration Champions by Convene is a series that profiles amazing individuals and companies that go above and beyond to bring humans in the workplace together in often game-changing or unorthodox ways. If you would like to be featured or nominate a Collaboration Champion to be featured, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!