How Collaboration Increases Utilization, Efficiency, and Profitability

This article is the first of a three-part series of how collaboration, critical thinking, and communication are essential success enabling skills for high-performing engineering firms.

While taking a sustainable business practices class in my masters studies, an expert in systems management and processing, who specialized in defense industry contracting, visited our class to give a guest lecture. I will never forget what he said, “Any complex problem takes at least six to eight iterations to reach a stable solution.”

Engineering projects vary in size and scope, but it’s safe to say they are complex, that’s why engineers are hired to solve them. It leads to reason, then, iterations are essential to figure out, produce, and deliver a high-quality project to your client. It just so happens that collaboration is a cornerstone of the iterative process to consistently deliver high-quality engineering projects.

According to Forbes, collaboration is the new imperative for high-performance organizations. It accelerates innovation, increases adaptability and resilience, and cuts costs by improving utilization and efficiency. Collaboration enhances personal communication skills, opens opportunities, reveals good ideas, strengthens relationships, and adds value to the process. Finally, a collaborative process returns an average of four times the initial investment.

On the flip side, the biggest enemy of collaboration and reaping the benefits of high performance can be the culture of your organization. How can you tell if your culture is anti-collaborative? Ask yourself if the following narratives live within your organization.

  • Collaboration is either inappropriate or unnecessary, but is certainly inefficient.
  • We build consensus and then get the project done (note consensus is the enemy of collaboration, see below).
  • Internal competition is healthy, that’s how people get ahead.
  • Our senior engineers are the taskmasters and have all the answers, so feedback from subordinates hampers the process, hurts utilization, and reduces productivity.
  • You need to get the right work on the right person’s desk.
  • Learning is best when it hurts.
  • Why should I give my input, it’s not going to make a difference anyway . . .

The Huffington Post reports 38 percent of workers feel there isn’t enough collaboration in the workplace. The same study states the obstacles to collaboration are a lack of positive recognition for input, senior staff discouraging feedback, and difficulty of sharing input with other departments.

So what changes can your engineering firm make to create a success focused collaborative culture?

  1. Break down silos and profit centers. When groups and departments are clear on a common goal, they can work together to reach “win-win” collaborative solutions, instead of consensus driven “win-lose” results created by silos and profit centers.
  2. Establish common language and shared values. Replace the language and values of scarcity, e.g. poor efficiency, low utilization, below average profitability, and a hyper-economic focus, with encouragement and welcoming of input and feedback, respect, commitment towards a common goal, and a people focus.
  3. Ten heads are better than one. Collaboration helps groups and departments get a clear idea of what is possible given the constraints of a project, and significantly increases the odds for successful outcomes.
  4. A collaborative culture must be embodied. A success focused collaborative culture can’t just be a good idea, it has to be modeled and constantly embodied and espoused by owners, executives and managers. The days of having all the answers by virtue of becoming an executive are gone; high-performing organizations operate and thrive upon the creation and constant encouragement of open channels of communication up and down the chain of command.

High-performing engineering firms rely on iterative collaboration to deliver complex projects on time, every time, exactly as promised. Continuous improvement of collaboration over time will result in significant increases in utilization, efficiency, and profitability. Technical tools are essential to project delivery, no doubt, but just as important are the success enabling skills of collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.

Tune into part two of this series and learn how critical thinking, when combined with collaboration, will give the members of your organization the success enabling skills to craft and keep highly-effective promises, both internally with colleagues, and most importantly, externally with clients.

Interested in improving your collaboration, critical thinking, and communication skills in your organization? Contact ELI by clicking here.