11 Concepts That Help Create A Culture of Collaboration (Updated)
Are Teamwork and Collaboration Attainable?
Teamwork. It’s easy to say, harder to do. When you bring different people with different backgrounds, intentions, responsibilities and personalities, 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 team collaboration is the norm but it’s not always for lack of trying. Perhaps every team offsite is designed to encourage teamwork. 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.
Teamwork isn’t specific to enterprises. The military, for instance, is built on teamwork. It wouldn’t be what it is without a conscious effort and focus on teamwork and collaboration. According to Military.com, “The grueling nature of SEAL training, or any military training for that matter, engrains teamwork: no one makes it through training by themselves. You are always paired up with a “swim buddy,” a “battle buddy, “ or partner, and you are always part of a boat crew or squad.”
Sports teams know this equally as well. No football, baseball, soccer or basketball game was ever won by only one person. Everyone must work together for the common goal of winning. While stars may emerge, their rise to fame would never happen without the contribution of hard-working teammates. The most winning sports teams will tell you they have the closest-knit team members who play well together.
The military and the best sports teams have figured it out; why is it so difficult for so many companies?
Good Communication Isn’t Optional
Ask anyone in the military about the importance of communication and you’ll likely hear it is everything – even more important than weapons or strategy. The SEALS, in particular, learn to communicate with each other underwater. Marine snipers learn to communicate without words. Yet, every soldier knows how to give and/or receive orders, how to work together on the battlefield or recon. They can nearly read each other’s minds, watching body language and facial expressions as a second language.
Companies, on the other hand, are frequently challenged with good communications. Unfortunately, depending on the organizational structure, divisions bring about silos. Information isn’t shared and only those in management or executive levels are truly informed. Although communication may be measured on the corporate ladder, there can be issues even among team members within the same hierarchy level.
Related: 6 Effects of Poor Employee Communication
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 teamwork and a whole lot of communication.
11 Concepts For Improving Collaboration in the Workplace
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 lies in how you look at each other and your company’s purpose. Here are six 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 feed back regularly.
- Build in time for everyone to share what they accomplished and/or teach how they did it.
Your employees are there for a reason. They are not all the same and you wouldn’t want that anyway. Each person has 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. 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 people are working in silos, there’s a good chance tasks are being repeated. One department’s information could be used by another department yet both are reinventing the wheel. Sharing ideas along with processes and best practices ensures consistency, accuracy and above all, efficiency. If you really want to boost productivity, give employees a platform to collaborate.
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 organization. If it’s not, it’s not worth having. 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. Ask anyone in the military. Each person contributes to the 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.
Communication Lays The Foundation for Workplace Collaboration
Communication, of course, is the foundation upon which all strategies are built. If your employees aren’t communicating, there’s likely a structural problem – structural in the org chart (meaning there are too many layers and silos inhibiting effective communications) or structural in the platforms to enable it (meaning the technology doesn’t support efficient communication). Employees first need the ability to communicate effectively with each other. Then, they need to be encouraged to do so.
Take a look at your organizational structure. Are the layers in the hierarchy too rigid? Are they impervious or porous? Do employees feel like they can share ideas? Is cross-team collaboration celebrated or frowned upon? Maybe it’s time to think about a change towards a more flexible structure, such as flat or holacratic. Or, maybe it’s as simple as shifting the perspective towards a more open door policy. No matter how you are structured, you’re going to need technology to facilitate communication.
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 software enables users to quickly and easily find each other and skills throughout the organization, then connect with them without leaving the app.
Cultural Shifts Take Time
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 team and corporate goals.
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