Collaboration: a key competency for businesses

Project management is becoming an increasingly critical component of business operations. It requires the right people with the right skills to deliver projects on-time, on-budget, while meeting performance objectives. Southern Cross academic, David Noble discusses the need for ‘collaborative competency’ within businesses of all sizes.

This article originally appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin, 21/11/2016.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are relying more than ever upon collaborative competencies to achieve their goals. These competencies are important within individual businesses themselves, but increasingly between staff-members across different businesses who work together to improve their impact or, as Stephen Covey suggested, use “synergy” to achieve more than they can on their own.

This might be in delivering larger business projects than they could tackle by themselves, or in drawing upon different, but complementary, skills – for example, an air-conditioning company developing an alliance with a software company to develop an environmental control app.


David Noble speaks about the changing business landscape and a project manager’s role in shaping that landscape.

Collaboration comprises a number of interpersonal and professional skills, but broadly speaking it is the ability to interact across organisational, cultural and professional boundaries. People who are good at collaborative competency are also described as “boundary spanners”: people who can bridge differences between people and can relate to others who are often outside their own circle of influence.

Many assume that a person has to be an extrovert to accomplish this. On the contrary, extroverts may be good in a group, but good collaboration relies upon the depth of a relationship, not the shallow ability to wow a crowd.

Good collaborators are people who are not afraid to engage with others from different domains to broaden their horizons, and in doing so learn new skills, ideas, and ways of working.

Importantly, they also forge strong interpersonal relationships that endure, despite perhaps not seeing each for a period of time.

The sales and marketing sector has long known the importance of “networking” to improve their career and sales potential: while collaboration has elements (particularly the relational elements) akin to this type of interaction, the motive is different. Collaborative competency has at its heart a project outcome orientation, rather than a sales, marketing or career intent. It is about harnessing like-minded individuals to achieve things that would ordinarily be beyond an individual on their own.

But what does ‘collaborative competency’ look like? What should business owners be looking for when they recruit new talent? Well, can prospective employees point to examples where they have cooperated with others to achieve an ambitious outcome?

It needn’t be in the employment sphere – it could be in a volunteer capacity in a club or group. Can they point to a time when they did try something ambitious that didn’t reach its target, but nonetheless the relationships developed during that experience have endured? And finally remember, good collaborators may be the individuals who develop quiet, deep relationships rather than the showy extrovert.

About the author

Mr David Noble is an Associate Lecturer, Doctoral Researcher and the online Master of Project Management course coordinator at Southern Cross University.