"We all learn from experience, but it does not have to be your own."

When it comes to making business decisions, going it alone can be a recipe for disaster. The world is more complex than ever. To make smarter choices for your company, you would do well to tap into the knowledge and experience of others. In part one of this two-part article, I'll discuss why collaboration is essential.

Collaboration in Action - Why Do You Need it?
Think about some big decisions you have made over the years, and whether they benefited from, or might have benefited from, the power of collaboration. Here are some examples of actual issues that been raised in business owner peer groups from markets across the country:

- "I have a difficult employee. He's essential to my operation, so I can't fire him. But he's consistently doing just enough to get by. I am trying to grow the company. What should I do?"

- "I know someone who can manufacture a product inexpensively and it might create some new sales for me. But it is not like anything else that I sell and I may have to invest considerably to build the market for it. Am I making a mistake to go into new product areas?"

- "I'm thinking about lowering our prices to try to attract more customers. Is that a good idea? What are my alternatives?"

- "Here is my biggest problem. My son does not want to take over my business. What do I do now?"

These are complex issues, and while you as a mail center manager may never have uttered those exact words per se, it's almost certain that you have faced some problem in the course of your career that could have been solved through the power of collaboration. Working through the best approach on any one of them could be a challenge, much less all of them. Yet this is something that one should try to do all the time.

What do you do to solve business problems? If your first instinct is to go into a cave and hash it out by yourself, you very well may be holding your organization back. You may also be putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage. If you want to grow, you do not want to just get past these issues; you want to solve them, even leverage them to build a better, more profitable organization. Is that likely to happen if you take them on all by yourself? Without the benefit of outside advice, you are making business decisions in a vacuum, based solely on your own knowledge and personal experiences. By consulting with others, you will increase your chances of success.

Thus, even better questions are: Who do you collaborate with to solve your business challenges? Who can you talk to when you want to make the most of an opportunity? It's vital that you have access to expert, trusted individuals whom you can talk to about the business issues you are currently facing.

Why Does Collaboration Lead to Better Decisions?
Academic research regarding problem solving suggests that there is power in numbers. The reasons that collaboration outperforms individual decision-making may include the following:

- Improved Problem Diagnosis. It often takes an objective outsider to help you understand that you are looking at a situation incorrectly. Indeed, many business owners attempt to treat a symptom and never identify the root cause that truly needs attention. By discussing your business issues with others, you will gain clarity on the problems themselves.

- Better Inputs. By interacting with others, you gain access to more complete information and knowledge regarding the problem at hand. Simply having access to more diverse views, alternatives or data helps improve decision-making.

- Stronger Building Blocks. Through the natural processes that arise in groups, a "brainstorm" mentality takes place where ideas are shaped, molded and improved with each successive interaction. Not only are the ideas better, but your self-assurance in them rises as the energy builds around those with the best chance of succeeding.

- Enhanced Understanding. Believe it or not, just the simple exercise of explaining your challenges to others brings value to the process. As you articulate your concerns, assumptions and potential solutions out loud, you will find yourself better understanding your own beliefs on the issue at hand. Just by hearing yourself talk and listening to what you hear, you will find that new light is shed on a problem and your decision-making improves.

- Greater Confidence. As you work with others and see consistency of the feedback or the consensus that is reached, you will have greater confidence in the decisions that you make. This reassurance can be very liberating and enable you to execute better knowing with greater certainty that you are making a good decision.

So, now you know why collaboration is important, but how do you find the right business groups for you? We will discuss options for broadening your decision making inputs in part 2 of this article.

Dave Mischler is President of Sun Advisory, LLC and President / Facilitator of Inner Circle Chicago (peer advisory boards for business owners). In these roles, Dave guides business owners to collaborate with their peers or identifies resources and develops tools to help them become more successful and satisfied with what they do. Read his blog at www.peeradvisoryblog.com or go to his website at www.il1.theinnercircle.com.