Why Collaboration is Key to a Customer-Centric Culture

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In our work with large corporations around the world we find that many of them are challenged by a siloed internal environment that works against a collaborative customer focused culture. Yet we know how important cross-functional collaboration is to driving value for customers that leads to superior business performance. Nowhere is it more clearly seen than in competitive team sports.

“Aussie Rules” football is a unique brand of football in Australia in which each team fields 18 players. It is so popular you can see more than 50,000 fans watching the game in many venues each week across the country. A study of the Hawthorn football team in 2014 found that they won their football games irrespective of who was in the team. Injuries and team member replacements did not change Hawthorn’s ability to win. Even when the head coach was side-lined through illness and the assistant coach took over for a period, Hawthorn continued to win. Superior teamwork as a culture was embedded in the team and throughout the coaching staff and administration. It showed out when they demolished the Sydney Swans – a team made up of several superstars – in the 2014 grand final. Hawthorn’s collaborative teamwork and versatility of players who could excel in many different positions on the field is legendary and has made them clearly the superior team in the competition in recent years.

In business, Ikea, the Swedish based furniture producer and retailer is one of the most successful global retailers. Ikea’s former CEO, Anders Dahlvig, puts the collaborative culture as central to the company’s success. He says: “As a company grows, the earlier you build cross-functionality, the more effective you will be.” He goes on to say with reference to Ikea’s quest to build a collaborative customer culture:

“I think the key thing was this: You have to be prepared not to promote strong performers who are great alone but not great collaborators. I see that all the time: people who are good at optimizing themselves, but cannot work with others. It’s really tough to say ‘You have to go’. But if you don’t get rid of these people you will never overcome your demons.”[i]

This is key learning from Ikea and shows it can be done in a business that is integrated from production through to retailing and operates in widely dispersed countries around the world.

[i] Ikea’s collaborative approach is reported in The Customer Culture Imperative, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2014, Linden Brown and Chris Brown, pages 148-149.

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