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Collaboration – It Takes Two Flints to Make a Fire

It has been said that competition makes us faster but collaboration makes us better.

Collaboration means everyone can contribute: you get to use all the experience in your team, not just some of it.  Not only does a collaborative culture enable you to ensure opportunities and risks are more transparent and manageable, it also makes work more enjoyable and satisfying.

Yet some organisations subtly discourage collaborative working even though they talk loudly about wanting it.  Individual targets, lack of cross-departmental communication and rigid decision-making processes encourage people to compete and play their cards close to their chests.  When team members get territorial, only look down at their own work and never glance to the left and right to see what others are up to and how they could add value, it is death to collaboration.

The Pandemic made collaborating ever more challenging yet many of us found we put in more of an effort.  We couldn’t take each other’s physical presence for granted so worked harder to build connections. Lots of our clients tell us collaboration between teams increased over the last two years and they continue to ride that wave.  They do this so collaborative behaviour sticks and becomes part of their ways of working.

So, if you want a more collaborative team, you have to make changes.  We know – we’ve seen teams make those changes.  It doesn’t happen overnight and it does take repeated practice, but with time a collaborative spirit starts to spread.  Here are some actions that make an impact.

Destroy silos.  A meaningful way to do this is by agreeing unifying goals.  Everyone should know how their work impacts on the overall goals but also how it impacts other teams and departments.  Create a culture where everyone feels like they are an important piece of the pie and what they do matters.  Banish all talk of who is more important than who.  Because no one is.

Build trust.  It’s the foundation for just about everything.  We trust our colleagues when we believe they will deliver on what they promise, honour their commitments, be reliable and not say one thing and do another.  Collaboration encourages trust and trust encourages collaboration.  One way to build trust is to look at the communication style of your organisation.  Is it as open and inclusive as it could be?  If not, consider what you could do to make it less concealed.

Think it before you do it.  Collaboration begins with a mind-set, not a list of actions.  For people to do collaboration, they first have to think about it (and see its value).  Encourage people to ask themselves questions like:

  • Who else needs to know about this before I get started?
  • Who might be able to help?
  • Who might I be able to help?
  • Is anyone doing this in other teams?  Might they have some wisdom to share with me?

Questions like these get people thinking in the right way – the actions follow.

That’s not the whole story but it’s a start.  We work with teams at all levels to help them develop collaborative working.  It’s an art and a science, but luckily, it’s not rocket science.