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focus_Culture of Collaboration: Challenges & Best Practices

Culture of Collaboration: Challenges & Best Practices

By Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D. and Sheryl Unger

According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, more than two-thirds of organizations include “collaboration” as one of their core values. Effective collaboration correlates with higher levels of market performance, leadership effectiveness, innovation and creativity.

As the healthcare marketplace continues to consolidate with larger organized customers, life sciences companies rely more on effective field collaboration and account management practices to produce desired results, deliver value, and improve healthcare outcomes. Alignment and collaboration between field and home office stakeholders is also critical to ensure marketplace trends are shared and acted upon to seize opportunities and address potential threats.

Senior field leaders reinforce the principles of collaboration, coordination and communication. Unfortunately, what “good collaboration looks like” is not easily or clearly defined. The challenges that tend to obstruct seamless and frequent collaboration exist at the organizational, team, and individual levels.

At the organization level, various business units and functions may have competing priorities, which can lead to team member confusion and hinder the advancement of important projects or initiatives. Information sharing across matrix field teams may not be “hard wired” and system configurations often limit access to important account information, reports and data. Insight generation processes be clearly defined and executed to ensure trends, opportunities and threats are appropriately actioned. Performance management and reward/recognition programs may still focus on individual behaviors as opposed to other methods that reinforce collaborative behavior.

At the team level, variability may exist in how effective an account team works together due to the lack of specific guidance given on account team processes (e.g., creation of a team charter, frequency of meetings, agenda formation and the flow of time sensitive, account-related communications). Most organizations have limited field resources, such as medical liaisons, educators and reimbursement specialists often juggle competing priorities, along with an urgency to deliver short-term results. This is often at the expense of longer-term, more strategic and potentially higher value work. Account team members may not have visibility or knowledge of account activity by all team members and may fail to coordinate, thus leaving customers wondering if the “right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”

And at the individual level, shifting from a “territorial” to a “collaborative” mindset is difficult for people who have operated independently for many years and who may have concerns that their independence and/or their stakeholder relationships could be put at risk or neutralized. Many account executives already exhibit collaboration spirit, while others may see their role as “herding cats,” thereby inhibiting their ability to do their “real job.”

The principles of culture change can help address the many challenges described above and create a culture of collaboration, as well as provide enhancements to overall field effectiveness.

The following recommendations are used to help drive collaboration at the organizational level:

• Articulate the business case on how collaboration leads to better organizational results, increased employee engagement and efficient resource allocation.

• Showcase examples of success and clearly define what “good” collaboration looks like. This will help teams and individuals learn and apply these lessons to their account planning and execution efforts.

• Define and deploy integrated account planning processes and business reviews. Timely and accurate account information is critical to organizational recognition and understanding of potential opportunities and threats.

• Dedicate resources to integrated account planning to ensure that priorities are established and best practices are engrained as “the way we manage our business.”

• Leverage technology to promote information sharing and access to data sources. This will enhance team member efficiency and effectiveness and reduce negative perceptions that data collection and dissemination are an inefficient use of time.

• Ensure performance management measures collaborative behaviors and achievement of shared goals. While the evolution of performance management systems and structure may take time, it is relatively easy to encourage the adjustment of goals to reinforce desired behaviors and practices.

• Establish field insight generation processes and ensure the home office functions incorporate this input for proactive and reactive customer-focused strategies and tactics.

At the account team level, it is important for the organization to provide support and resources that bolster account team collaboration. Listed below are a few helpful team guidelines that will strengthen account team operations and functioning:

• Clarify roles and responsibilities; especially account leadership expectations. Lack of role clarity is frequently cited as a major detractor to team and individual ineffectiveness.

• Ensure there are shared goals and objectives. Independent research confirms that shared goals are essential for creating a high performing account team where individuals work toward achieving common purposes and receive rewards for coordinated efforts and results.

• Establish procedures for creating a team charter with clear team processes and then deploy supporting tools for ongoing account plan reviews.

• Provide tools that support ongoing information exchange within the confines, as well as potential limitations of a virtual working environment.

• Declare war on inefficient communication between team members by aligning on rules of engagement that add value and reduce unnecessary emails or texts.

At the individual level, responsibility for embracing a culture of collaboration belongs to everyone. Managers need to be proactive when coaching direct reports on their working relationships with field counterparts and matrix team members. Additionally, managers need to reward behaviors, i.e., proactive information sharing, team problem-solving (to increase access) and prioritizing pull-through activities to maximize formulary wins. Customer-facing employees need to shift from an individual territory mindset to a more collective and collaborative team approach that supports mutual accountability for achieving shared goals.

A few helpful guidelines to strengthen collaboration at the individual level are listed below:

• Make sure individual team members align on shared goals and objectives.

• Prioritize information sharing within account teams. Recognize that timely information sharing is vital to maximizing customer opportunities. Remember to ask, “Who else needs to know?”

• Look for methods to increase access to key customer contacts and leverage existing relationships to assist other customer-facing roles.

• Have the courage to address personal conflict in a constructive manner. Recognize that gaining support from others is essential to maximizing results.

Leaving collaboration to chance will not produce desired results. Life sciences field organizations must adopt a proactive approach to improving field collaboration and coordination at the organizational, team, and individual levels. A whole systems approach must be adopted to ensure there are high levels of collaboration and coordination between home office functions and the field to take advantage of immediate opportunities and prepare for longer-term threats.


Dr. Wendy Heckelman is president and founder of WLH Consulting. Sheryl Unger provides project management support for WLH Consulting. Email them at and

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