From Conflict to Collaboration in Business

Who knew conflict could be so positive?

In today’s business environment, collaboration is of critical importance to achieve desired business results. Collaboration can foster creativity and generate ideas to meet – if not exceed – expectations from increasingly more demanding consumers. In addition, overarching global trends, such as crowded consumer product sectors, continue to shape the packaging landscape – making the need for “stand-out ideas” even more pressing.

Identifying that unique “stand-out idea” is one of the primary goals of collaboration. According to Giles Calver, planning director at London based creative agency Sedley Place, collaboration leverages the expertise, skills, resources, intellect and creativity of the different parties involved in a process that will create something distinctive, ground breaking and innovative. Collective thinking through collaboration helps unlock new opportunities, recognize blind spots (even those we didn’t know existed), remove obstacles and encourages teams to consider all factors from the get-go, thanks to the varying expertise and experience around the table.

While the benefits of collaboration are clear, there are some who challenge the concept, fearful that being collaborative means being less competitive, i.e. giving away ideas, wasting time, money and resources and using up creativity in the process. Taking a few key elements into consideration can help ensure a successful outcome.

“Getting people on board early is crucial. In the majority of projects, once you have a concept, it is critical to have people involved from the very beginning to address all potential technical, manufacturing and production issues from the start,” commented Calver. “In addition, it is important to have the correct framework in place so that everyone understands where each party is coming from. The overall goal is for everyone to keep an open and flexible mindset on how to tackle the core objective and with multiple disciplines around the table this can sometimes mean different things to different people.”

Despite popular opinion, collaboration does not automatically imply that everyone is on the same page at all times. In fact, it can be argued that a degree of friction – in an environment of trust – is necessary in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

Differing opinions can act as the spark for new perspectives and provide access to new information and skills, if they are seen as part of the process and not a barrier to it. There is a huge – and generally untapped – value that lies within these times of tension (generally viewed as disruptive and unhelpful).

“A combination of tension and a willingness to be fluid at the start of any project is positive. Of course, the goal is for people to be open and fresh with their ideas, keeping all avenues exposed,” states Calver. “With such a diverse group of people involved in the collaboration process, it is often the case that a ‘wild card’ idea will end up on the table. This is always a great way to foster new ones."

In order for a project to be successful everyone involved must be fully committed to a fresh, new and innovative outcome. However, it is this very commitment that can lead to friction when alternatives are offered. In order to stand out in the crowd, and produce greatness, all parties should find a way to harness this tension into something positive and successful.

In her 2012 TED Talk, “Dare to Disagree”, businesswoman Margaret Heffernan argued that disagreement is absolutely central to progress. She argues that the best research teams, relationships and businesses provide a platform for people to disagree during the process. In most situations we need partners that are not just “echo partners”, but rather counterparts to bounce ideas off of and see conflict as a thought process.

Heffernan states that we should seek out people with different ways of thinking, different experiences, backgrounds and specialties in order to create innovation. Despite the general consensus, we should not be afraid of conflicting viewpoints and ideas. At the heart of true innovation lies human interaction, tension, argument and debate.

Who knew conflict could be so positive?