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Is Your Firm Ready for Smart Collaboration?

You and your colleagues know you need to collaborate to generate better outcomes, but don’t know how to start. Or you think you know how to proceed, but this approach isn’t grounded in data (our research indicates this is a very common problem). 

To get a firm grip on your collaborative starting point, we recommend conducting a diagnostic (or assessment) to unveil the top barriers to collaboration. Here are three possible layers of this diagnostic:

  • A top-level organizational assessment of smart collaboration strategies, systems and mindsets
  • A leader/midlevel diagnostic
  • An individual diagnostic


The new book, Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work, makes it clear that collaboration is not a “soft topic.” Instead, smarter collaboration is the intentional bringing together of the right people at the right time to achieve better outcomes than anyone could achieve on their own. Based on over a decade of research at Harvard, these results include higher revenue and profit, better talent engagement and retention, faster innovation, deeper client relationships, lower risk and more efficient processes.

To collaborate smarter, leaders and their colleagues need to understand where their problems lie. This can be achieved through a companywide diagnostic, which gives people a clear-eyed, data-driven view of their collaborative starting point. Then they know where to spend their energy — and more importantly, how to direct others to do the same.

In our experience, working in multiple organizations across the globe, this diagnostic sets leaders up for success in six ways:

  • Aligning their efforts to the business strategy
  • Helping leaders diagnose the perceived and actual barriers to collaboration
  • Discovering and analyzing “bright spots” where collaboration already happens
  • Generating compelling evidence about the potential upside of making changes
  • Building in the customer’s perspective
  • Setting priorities based on the findings

Two approaches to the diagnostic are possible: conducting it internally, or using an outside provider who (in some cases) could also perform an official financial analysis of smarter collaboration’s potential monetary advantage.


The diagnostic just described could be applied to a particular department, office or cohort (for example, partners, senior associates or administrators). Another option is running a psychometric assessment to determine the mix of collaborative tendencies within a particular group. Then you will know what kinds of collaboration skills and styles are lacking. Collaboration is most fruitful when an issue is viewed from many different angles — including knowledge domains, life experiences and ways of thinking and behaving.

To understand the balance of predispositions in a group, members might take an assessment like the Smart Collaboration Accelerator. After answering a series of questions, respondents see how they fall along several spectrums; then, these results can be combined into a group report.  

For example, this report might indicate that a team is dominated by trusting individuals and would benefit from some “wary” members who are likely to spot potential risks involved with a new client or partner. The next step is determining how to acquire these resources as well as how to make sure all perspectives are being heard.


A psychometric evaluation can also be applied to individuals — in fact, this is the first step before a team view is compiled. People look at the results of their assessment to pinpoint where they fall in the different dimensions. With this better understanding of their natural inclinations, they can use them as strengths to foster smarter collaboration. The graphic below gives an example of an individual’s profile using the Smart Collaboration Accelerator methodology.

Ideally, one’s leanings provide for comprehensive looks at problems within groups. Knowing them also allows people to avoid taking their tendencies to the extreme. This often happens in times of stress, for example. People find it easier or more efficient to go it alone, and then they over-rely on particular characteristics. (For instance, they become ultra-distant from colleagues versus giving them a healthy dose of space to do their work.)

Legal administrators are well-positioned to drive collaborative initiatives in their organization. They have the opportunity to play a leading role in kickstarting and conducting a collaboration diagnostic — either at the organizational, team or individual level. This lets them diagnose the top barriers to collaboration, engage with the highest level of leadership based on the findings and help launch the needed initiatives.

Heidi Gardner, PhD, recently joined Legal Management Talk to discuss the importance of collaboration, her new book and what qualities make a good leader in the post-pandemic era. Make sure to tune in!