16 Australian Entrepreneurs Share Their Advice On Getting The Most From Collaboration

Collaboration is a hot topic in the business community, in companies big and small.

The collaborative workforce is in its most basic form just employees talking to each other, building on ideas and working as a team.

According to a Deloitte report, Australia’s collaborative economy is worth $46 billion. The figure is made up of productivity and quality improvements less the cost of collaboration which is estimated to be $5.4 billion in wasted time every year.

The report found businesses which focus on collaboration grow at a faster rate compared to companies without a collaboration strategy.

But there are traps. Artificial or unnecessary adherence to collaboration can lead to dilution of ideas or, worse, disagreements over decisions.

Business Insider spoke to a range of successful Australian company founders to determine how to get the most out of collaboration. Here’s what they said.

Make collaborations a win-win

Fiona Anson and Alli Baker Co-Founders of Workible

Collaborations have been a huge part of growing our business. They give us exposure to new clients, markets and introductions - and often with little - or even no - cost involved. We've had collaborations with businesses from large corporates to small businesses all with fantastic benefits for both us and them.

Our tips are:

  1. Aligned demographics are the key to successful collaborations - you need to have the same target market.
  2. The first meeting is always a meet and greet - never a pitch. Use it to discover find out what a collaboration partner wants and what their current marketing challenges are, before assuming you can go into a first meeting with a proposal.
  3. Once you know what they're looking to achieve, work out how you can solve the challenge for them - then propose what you'd like in return. If you can't then exercise the integrity to walk away, but keep the door open to future opportunities.
  4. A collaboration must be a win-win - one-sided relationships just don't work.
  5. Do what you say you're going to do - deliver on what your promise
  6. Honour the relationship - collaborations aren't about raping and pillaging someone else's database or market.
  7. Don't expect that every one will be a winner. Remember the adage, 'Better to have tried and failed than not tried at all'.

Use it to build momentum and community

Dr Catriona Wallace, Founder Flamingo

Collaboration is absolutely essential for the success of Australian start ups, mainly due to the fact that we are miles away from tech hubs like Israel or Silicon Valley. Really we only have each other so its best that we collaborate from day one. And the best collaborations are with other start ups, not with corporates.

Here is what we have done - Flamingo is a customer co-creation and analytics platform. It’s new, it hasn’t been done before so no matter how much user testing we might do – there is nothing like having a real client fully implement the system and tell you where the product ain't working. So we collaborated with two women-led start ups, Her Fashion Box, led by Kath Purkis and Propellher, led by Danielle Fletcher and collaborated on how we would build the Flamingo platform into their businesses.

The learnings for all of us have been monumental and we have a brilliant product because of the collaboration. The women now have free software that enhances their businesses.

And along the way when we had to apologise and say, “So sorry that our fast automated customer journey program took you six hours to program manually”, they say “ No problems, our tech crashes each morning so the six hour programming was a breeze”.

We had tried to do similar collaboration with a number of large tech vendors and it was like sticking needles in our eyes to make anything happen. So we are all about start up collaboration – it’s a gift.

Look for outcomes greater than the sum of the inputs

Rui Rodrigues, Investment Manager Tank Stream Ventures

Despite my quantitative background, I like to think as team work as the best example to contradict maths. We can actually have 1+1=3 given the fact there is a real compounding effect from effective team work.

One of the most surprising things I learned from my Formula One days is that contradictory visions and personalities can actually be more productive and creative than similar ones. Although conflicts can also be difficult to manage, having at least one devil's advocate within a team can actually push the whole team to produce the most amazing results.

It's great for distribution, but be wary of the time trap

Matt Barrie, CEO Freelancer

Collaboration can be good but also it's really good as a startup to also have focus.

Sometimes when you’ve got limited resources it’s better to focus.

There’s heaps of distractions out there.

Nine times out of ten it's better to build the product out and talk to customers.

Partnerships can be better for mass distribution.

When I started Freelancer I had people wanting to collaborate every week.

A lot of the time it’s actually better to just focus on building your product or service and then later down the track you can think about partnerships to get mass distributions.

If you go to early you can waste a lot of time.

Empowerment needs to come with accountability

Stéphane Ibos, CEO Maestrano

Good collaboration in a startup or a small business is absolutely critical for the success of the company. Each of your team members represents a very large percentage of your staff, so you want to be sure that you can rely on them.

I would say that there are two key factors to get the most out of a team: empowerment and accountability. Get every team member to be engaged, committed and in charge of their own perimeter of work. Trust them. Delegate. It’s the best way to have a hyper-motivated team.

And very importantly, make them accountable for the good and the less good. Always encourage and praise the great achievements. And expect the mistakes or shortfalls to be corrected.

Ultimately, collaboration within a team or with partners will be successful if based on open, direct and transparent communications. Face and solve issues if there are any, set the standards for your business, clearly state your expectations and keep every team member updated on the latest developments of your business, the successes and the challenges. They will feel involved and will make your business story their own.

That’s definitely what you want to get an over-performing, motivated and vibrant team.

Collaborating helps you battle-test ideas

Bridget Loudon, co-founder and CEO Expert 360

Start-up founders are particularly prone to confirmation bias - that is that we look out for things that confirm our beliefs about the success of the business. When we collaborate, we break down those self-confirming biases and get fresh perspective which is so essential to make sure you're on the right track. There have been so many times when I would have been 100% confident of a tactic or strategy but it's not until I collaborated with the team that I realised I could never have fully battle-tested an idea or concept without them.

Collaborate if you want something that is built to last. There is a great African Proverb that is: If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

Finally, collaboration is fun!

One watch-out - Collaboration is often wrongly assumed to be the time when you breakdown the structures, let ideas flow freely and openly. I believe that collaboration is the time when you need to place the biggest emphasise on structure to drive actionable outcomes and focus from a melting pot of ideas. As they say - you can do anything but not everything.

Many people can have one purpose

Fred Schebesta, founder and CEO of Finder.com.au

We have a value at finder.com.au called '1 Crew in formation', that value represents collaboration but at the same time our crew know to get into the formation that is strongest.

What that means is that people who are best at a particular skill do that skill in the crew.

I tend to find the best collaboration occurs when people are doing the things they are strongest at with other people who are doing the same, you get a strong level of respect for each other and a great team.

Embrace not being the smartest person in the room

Tim Fung, founder/CEO, Airtasker

To get the most out of working in a team, entrepreneurs should understand and appreciate that you’re not going to be the smartest person in the room in every situation - it’s not possible (although most founders are guilty of thinking they know better more often than they do).

As such, you should let each person in your team be the expert in their own field and give them some freedom to do what they need to do to meet their responsibilities. Sometimes this means that you will have to NOT step in right away when you think that something is going in the wrong direction, but often this will result in either your team member acknowledging an area for improvement or alternatively (and hopefully) finding a new and better way of doing things.

Use it to get people behind an idea

Andy Williamson, founder, Beerbud

At BeerBud.com.au our main management objective is ensuring a collective buy-in to our vision. We clearly describe what we want to achieve and why we’ve set certain strategies in order to reach those goals. We definitely hope that those strategies are the right ones, but things constantly change and even the best made plans can go awry. As long as our team is crystal clear on what we want to achieve, we trust and give them the creative freedom to work out how to get there. We’re certainly not experts on everything and that’s why we hired our employees in the first place. If they can’t work it out, then we’ve failed during our hiring or training processes.

There are useful secondary benefits, including communication

Zoe Pointon, co-founder of OpenAgent

Collaboration is particularly essential for growing businesses when new hires are happening every month and we’re constantly trialling new initiatives and processes. Naturally every member of the team has his or her area of speciality, but it's important that everyone knows what’s going on in the business. The lines of communication should always be open, and they should stay open even as the team expands from five to twenty to two hundred.

Just because you're not sitting at the same table anymore doesn't mean you shouldn't be having those conversations. To be truly collaborative you need to encourage your team to think creatively, come up with fresh ideas, and to own the direction the business is taking. Setting aside regular time in the calendar for this can produce fantastic results when it comes to making team decisions about the priorities of the business and discussing where improvements can be made.

Be careful not to overwhelm people

Ben Duncan, CTO, Atmail

We use a variety of tools at Atmail to collaborate between the staff at our main office in Queensland, including our own email and calendar applications as well as Atlassian’s different management apps. I’ve found, however, that often it’s best not to use too many collaborative tools and productivity apps - one or two is ultimately enough.

Email is still a great collaborative tool, and one we use frequently, but it has to be done well - people often fire off emails unnecessarily that include the whole organisation on the chain, and it becomes a whole lot of noise. Having policies in place to make sure email is used sparingly and properly is the best way to avoid overwhelming everyone.

Get familiar with the tools available

Stewart McGrath, CEO, Squixa

At Squixa we wanted to get away from the idea of employees slogging through peak hour traffic only to communicate with their colleagues down the hall over email or phone.

Our employees work both remotely and in leased offices, and collaborate using a bunch of cheap, cloud-based management tools including Gmail, Hipchat, Zendesk, Jira, Basecamp, Skype, Trello and Nimble. We have tried various other tools along the way and thrown some away where they haven’t worked.

Outsourcing non-critical tasks has also helped, thanks to resources like oDesk. Importantly, we trust each other to get the job the done and don’t measure team productivity by the amount of time they spend 'in the chair'. Every two or three weeks, we do call a 'day in the office' where most of the team will happily make the slog into an office and enjoy face to face interaction followed by a beer or two. Then we have the best of both worlds.

Distance shouldn't be an obstacle

Chris Ridd, MD Australia, Xero

We develop Xero out of seven cities worldwide and it can be challenging to keep everyone on the same page. That’s why we constantly make sure that each team and city are communicating with one another, using development tools, Google Hangouts and in person meetings. We develop concurrently, the tools and processes make it feel like our co-workers are just next door-instead of the other side of the world.

Collaboration can be with customers, too

Simon Foster, MD Shoeboxed

Any business starts networking within its community of interest. Collaboration is about doing more than just 'selling your wares'. Sponsorship enables a successful business like Shoeboxed to collaborate with those around it - we started sponsoring SydStart, and exhibiting at a number of startup, SME and accounting industry events.

I also helped mentor new startups via the PushStart accelerator. From there we attracted younger startups seeking help and in giving them advice we not only improved our brand, but eventually formed a new collaborative community, a co-working space - StartNest.

Collaboration with directors of other cloud providers helped us obtain investment and business partnerships. In another example, we use another company's product in-house, and they are a customer of ours. When they had a potential client looking for receipt scanning & data entry, we were the obvious choice and real business flowed from our relationship.

Know the potential partners in your sector

Alex Pirouz, CEO Linkfluencer

If you study the commercial strategy of some of the most successful brands in the world, you will see one thing they all have in common: the implementation of joint venture partnerships by collaborating with key industry players.

This is the process of finding complimentary businesses that your clients are using before, during and after your service/product and partnering with those businesses to get your message in front of their clients, database or community.

Rather than getting your message in front of one potential client, using this strategy you can broadcast your message in front of hundreds if not thousands of targeted contacts that have already built trust with the business or person you are partnering with.

Using this strategy in our business: Linkfluencer, over the past 8 months we’ve managed to land 180 new clients and build a database of over 4000 leads whilst dramatically cutting down our advertising/marketing spend.

You can build market share with the right partnerships

Tom Wallace, CEO Re-Leased

At Re-Leased we collaborate with like-minded cloud software applications to provide users with comprehensive solutions. One such example of this is our integration with Xero’s online accounting platform. With each company focussing on their specific product and drawing on strengths from the other, our users have access to a wide range of specialist tools to meet their needs.

This collaboration and specialisation allows users to save up to three days of administration time each month, while competitors that attempt to build accounting functions into their applications deliver less user satisfaction and consume more time.

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