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5-second summary
  • 83 percent of technology leaders we surveyed in a commissioned study, conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Atlassian, agree that cross-functional collaboration is vital for successful software development.
  • Yet few organizations have the culture, processes, and tools that support effective, “open” collaboration.
  • Agility, innovation, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement are all affected – either positively or negatively – by an organization’s ability to collaborate openly.
  • The collaboration assessment we used in our study is now available to everyone! See how your organization stacks up.

Right now, we technology leaders have a huge opportunity in front of us: to close the gap between what we know about teamwork and what we practice with our teams every day. 83 percent of tech leaders say that interdepartmental collaboration is critical for successful software development, and an equal number say senior leadership should do more to encourage it. Yet only 35 percent of leaders we surveyed say investment in better cross-functional collaboration is a top company priority.

This and many other insights into the current state of collaboration were uncovered by a new report Atlassian is releasing today in partnership with Forrester Research.

We surveyed more than 750 IT and engineering leaders at enterprise-scale companies across a range of industries. What we found is that the culture, processes, and technology that support robust collaboration are often ineffective or inconsistent.

But there are also hopeful signs. Our research revealed major benefits for organizations that emphasize transparency, cross-functional teamwork, and psychological safety – a leadership strategy we’re calling “open collaboration.”


Open collaboration [oh-puhn kuh-lab-uh-rey-shuhn] comp. noun –

A leadership strategy designed to optimize company performance that includes:

  1. The freedom to share information and ideas with colleagues
  2. Two-way feedback between people and their managers
  3. Opportunities to weigh in on decisions
  4. Strong interpersonal connections with teammates
  5. Technology that enables all of the above

This is the approach that Atlassian’s culture and products are built on. And while we strive to be open in everything we do, we still have room to improve. Open collaboration is a journey, as many of our survey respondents can attest to.

82% of companies struggle with cross-functional collaboration

For most software organizations, effective collaboration is elusive. Barely half say their culture, processes, and tools enable the real-time teamwork and free-flowing information that help leaders make sound decisions. And 82 percent admit collaboration is more effective within their department than across departments.

The consequences of that may sound hauntingly familiar: delayed responses to changes in the marketplace, dissatisfied customers, disengaged employees, and too many hours spent running damage control. It all results in extra costs and lost time.

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As part of our study, we commissioned Forrester to develop an open-collaboration index. Based on each participant’s answers to questions about culture, processes, and technology, we calculated a raw score. That score maps to groups representing high, medium, and low levels of openness. From there, we could identify trends in the data.

Participants from low-scoring organizations reported slower performance overall.

  • 50 percent say their agility is suffering.
  • 45 percent point to mismatched goals and expectations across teams.

Many of these same respondents cited a lack of supportive tooling as a barrier to open collaboration. This is perfectly understandable since tools play a particularly big role in the work of IT and software teams.

Image courtesy of Forrester Research

But I suspect other factors might present even bigger obstacles. To overcome them, we need to shift from tool-first thinking to team-first thinking. For example, 67 percent of respondents from low-scoring organizations say their colleagues live in fear and don’t speak up. That means promising new ideas go unexplored and emerging issues go un-flagged, leaving companies increasingly vulnerable. This is a problem tools can’t solve.

Fortunately, modern IT teams are getting on board with the idea that culture, processes, and technology in combination create the best solutions. Companies should focus on building a culture of empowerment and psychological safety first, then look at augmenting that culture with technology.

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Open collaboration benefits your bottom line

Companies reap the benefits when their culture, processes, and tech work in harmony. This symbiosis creates an environment where ownership, creativity, and sense of purpose thrive. According to respondents from high-scoring organizations, openness improves everything from customer satisfaction to inter-departmental relations.

  • 69 percent say open collaboration boosts innovation.
  • 67 percent note that open collaboration results in more support for business decisions on the part of technical staff.

Benefits like these serve to amplify each other. When people are encouraged to share ideas across functional areas, they’re exposed to new perspectives. This has ripple effects in terms of sparking creativity and reaching a shared understanding of the company’s larger goals, both of which reduce friction in getting new ideas to market.

Perhaps that’s why 53 percent of respondents from high-scoring organizations say they also enjoy greater customer satisfaction as a result of open collaboration and 59 percent have experienced increased revenue. Even respondents from low- and mid-scoring firms see the connection. Across the board, 85 percent would expect a boost in revenue from having an ideal climate of open collaboration.

Image courtesy of Forrester Research

How effective is collaboration at your company?

If consistent, effective collaboration is an aspirational idea in your organization, you’re not alone. The vast majority of participants in our study said collaboration is only somewhat effective at their company, or is only effective in small pockets but not consistent enterprise-wide.

  • Only 7 percent of respondents say their company’s practices are effective and consistent enough to qualify as highly open.
  • Similarly, fewer than 10 percent of companies are so siloed that they fall into the “low-scoring” category.

Unsurprisingly, high-scoring organizations are far more aligned with the five tenets of open collaboration listed above. But even inside those firms, there is room for improvement, particularly around consistency.

How does your company stack up?

We’ve open-sourced the open collaboration assessment we used in our study. Click here to take the 2-minute questionnaire and see your results. You’ll get a comprehensive analysis of your company’s collaborative strengths and opportunities. We’ll also provide details on how you’re likely to benefit from improved collaboration based on your answers.

Turning insights into action

Fortunately, there are ways to open up collaboration in your organization that you can act on today and that don’t require a big budget. Here are a few practices my fellow Atlassian leaders and I are having success with:

  1. Proactively solicit feedback from your direct reports. It could be as casual as asking for their thoughts on a project you’re working on. If you prefer a more formal approach that scales, try a quarterly pulse-check survey that asks about team members’ confidence in the decisions being made around them and the general direction your organization is headed.
  2. Document company and department priorities in a place where everyone can see them. That will make it easier for people to ensure the work they’re doing contributes to your biggest objectives. Atlassian adopted the objectives and key results (OKRs) framework to communicate and align goals across the company, which has been very fruitful.
  3. Schedule time with your team to connect on a personal level. My group is currently experimenting with a “speed networking” activity designed to encourage socializing outside of our immediate teams. As organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant points out, time spent this way isn’t a tax on the business. It’s an investment in wellbeing and creativity.

Our study revealed many more actionable insights that you can use to improve your organization’s performance and employee engagement. Check out the full report today

For more research and best practices, head to our resource hub for CIOs. Together, we can accelerate your journey to more open, more effective collaboration.

Tech leaders say this kind of collaboration is vital to boosting revenue