"We're creating a culture of collaboration!" - It’s easy to say, harder to do. When you bring different people with different backgrounds, intentions, responsibilities, and personalities together, teamwork isn’t always natural. It doesn’t always work. People don’t suddenly gel. It’s up to the organization involved to make it happen.
Companies often struggle to build a culture where cross-functional teams want to collaborate but it’s not always for lack of trying. Culture is hard to build. Perhaps every team offsite meeting is designed to collaborate.
Startups are famous for offering opportunities for group downtime via Nerf gun wars or ping pong, all in the hopes of bringing people together. Happy hours, catered team lunches, all-hands-on-deck meetings - these are all in it for the same noble reasons but the fact that there are so many of them may tell us they aren’t always effective or lasting.
Employees work in their own mini-silos. They fulfill their job responsibilities, assume others are as well, and move on with their day. There are no “battle buddies.” They’re on their own. While this perspective may work to complete a specific task, how much more innovative and productive could they and the company be if people were to pool their resources, share their ideas and information, and work together for a common goal? It can be done, but it’s going to take a fresh take on culture building and a whole lot of communication.
Even though collaboration may not be intrinsic in your organization, it can be had. The key to transitioning from a “me” culture to a “we” culture of collaboration is to meaningfully emphasize the change within the company's overall purpose. Here are 11 concepts every collaborative company understands:
Everyone has something valuable to offer.
Skills can be leveraged from anywhere.
Diverse thinking fosters innovation.
Redundancy kills productivity.
Everyone is working towards the same end goal.
There’s no “I” in “TEAM.”
Invest in technology that connects teams.
Provide time for play and bond-building.
Go that extra mile to help remote teammates feel included.
Give constructive feedback regularly.
Build-in time for everyone to share what they accomplished and/or teach how they did it.
It’s easy to believe your role is highly significant and just as easy to believe your role doesn’t matter much. The truth is, every role is vital to the collaborative organization.
Each person has the skills, ideas, and experience they bring to the table. These attributes may be perfect for a specific position, but they can usually be leveraged in other areas of the business, other teams, other projects.
Resist pigeonholing employees and stifling their growth. Give managers the ability to utilize skills from across the organization. In fact, encourage it. Employees will seize the opportunity to work across teams and the organization will be better for it.
Just as no employee is the same, their thinking differs as well. This is a good thing to remember when creating a company focused on collaboration.
The people closest to the project, product, or initiative are often too close to it to think outside of the box. It takes a fresh pair of eyes coming at it from a different direction to really innovate – to bring a fresh idea no one has considered.
When employees understand how their role is aligned with corporate strategies and goals, they realize they are all working towards the same end result. They begin rowing in the same direction.
We’ve all heard the quip “there’s no I in TEAM.” It may seem contrite but it is so very true. Cultural collaboration requires that each person contributes to their team. When employees go at it alone, believing they work in a vacuum or that others’ contributions are less significant, the silos erupt and collaboration is killed.
Companies must communicate often the importance of working as a team and reward those who do. Teamwork is the only way a company can make it into the end zone.
Many companies rely on collaboration software, such as Asana, Basecamp, or Projectplace to bring teams of people together. These cloud-based solutions enable organizations to have one place to communicate, share documents and track conversations along with job responsibilities and progress.
Another useful piece of software is org chart software that includes an employee directory. Modern business organizational chart tools enable users to quickly and easily find each other and skills throughout the organization, then connect with them without leaving the app.
A true culture of collaboration will require trust and comfort with team members. A useful way to foster this experience is to invite play and other, more casual engagements to help employees get to know one another.
You could facilitate actual games in the workplace, invite staff to share their outside-of-work hobbies and passions, or build in extracurricular activities that employees can participate in.
Any company that takes collaboration seriously knows the dangers of not properly managing remote employees. When you don’t include them in all activities, you risk having disengaged team members.
To make remote staff feel like they’re a part of the team, make sure there is a virtual aspect to every collaborative initiative you’re doing.
For example, if you’re having an in-office meeting but some members work remotely, make sure everyone in the office is also video conferencing. This allows a more natural feeling for employees to engage with the remote teams while remote workers will also feel like they’re having the same experience as everyone else.
We hear it all the time, but the only way to truly experience a healthy collaborative environment at work is understanding giving, and receiving feedback.
The more frequently you do it and practice it, the less personally people will take criticism and the stronger your team will become. Honesty and kindness can be the same thing.
Make people feel celebrated and intelligent by giving them praise and recognition for accomplishments. Also, encourage peers to compliment one another. They’ll appreciate it, their confidence will grow, and they’ll feel comfortable coming forward with more valuable ideas.
Additionally, creating a space within your company culture to regularly allow staff to teach their learnings to one another is just as rewarding.
We’re not talking about a healthy level of redundancy amongst staff that allows for vacations to be had and workers to feel secure. Instead, we’re talking about evaluating all levels of redundancy from organizational design to repetitive inputs. In order to facilitate a culture of collaboration, however, you should pay attention to processes and tools that can create redundancy that deflates staff morale and wastes time.
Your staff will know it and feel it. If you’ve displayed a healthy environment for providing feedback, it will likely come up at some point. This should give you an opportunity to make a change to reduce the friction caused by the redundancy in a timely manner.
If your organization is in need of a cultural shift, be patient. Change takes time. If things have been done the same for a while, it’s going to take a while to transition to a new way of doing things. The important thing to remember is communication. Get executive buy-in and then communicate effectively with employees about why the culture needs to change, what the goal is, how they can contribute, and what this shift will mean for them.
This isn’t a message that is delivered once and then employees are expected to adhere. It may take a multi-pronged internal communication strategy to educate and promote the initiative. It will likely take executive messaging. It may take practice. Sort of like a sports team. There needs to be a coach (executives promoting the strategy and purpose), a game plan (strategy, timeline, and individual roles mapped out), and practice until everyone gets it right. The hard work will pay off when everyone is working together, collaborating to meet the team and corporate goals.