Three ingredients for a more collaborative workplace

In a previous blog post, I talked about why it’s important to define the way we work together.

Collaboration is often used as a blanket term. However, when people work together, there are generally three levels of how integrated their efforts are: coordination (one person driving a project with inputs from others), cooperation (shared objectives but separate activities that converge at the end of a project) and finally, collaboration (co-creation with shared objectives).

Essentially, having a truly collaborative approach means each party is contributing towards a shared goal, where the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts.

Open plan offices are a physical manifestation of the collaboration trend, and have been around for decades. The idea being that an open workspace leads to more open communication and interaction between staff. But putting everyone in the same room doesn’t guarantee they’ll even talk to each other, let alone work together.  

In my last post, I discussed the why (the ability to collaborate and involve a diverse range of people and perspectives can help your organisation deliver better outcomes) but not the how. How can you create a culture where people reach out to their colleagues for support and input?

Here are three considerations in creating a more collaborative workplace culture.

1. Leadership is crucial  

Supportive leadership is one of the most important parts of making a shift to a collaborative culture. If your leadership team aren’t convinced on the value of collaboration (just yet), borrow these words from futurist Jacob Morgan, who says that collaboration can make the world a better place:

“Collaboration also allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people.”

Openness and a shared vision for the organisation are essential for collaboration to thrive. Leaders need to set an example by endorsing and encouraging staff to be more collaborative. This paves the way for teams to reach out to one another.

In a supportive environment, it’s easier to get support for any additional time investment for a collaborative project. If it’s not (yet) a priority, suggest a trial or pilot project, then let the results speak for themselves.

2. Invest in people as well as technology

There’s no doubt that the right tech tools make collaboration easier. But it’s only one piece of the puzzle, and can only be successful when people are taught how to technology the right way. Once again, it comes down to people.

What’s the point of a collaborative intranet if no one knows how to use it? Or a new chat platform if no one understands what you’re supposed to talk about? If you’re rolling out a new tool to aid collaboration efforts, invest time in education. Think about training, onboarding, and how current work styles might be affected while everyone is adjusting to their new (improved!) way of working.  

As leadership expert Carol Kinsey Goman explains:

“In trying to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce, the public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, and intranets. Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behaviour of people throughout an organization. Successful collaboration is a human issue.”

If you’re investing in technology, don’t forget to invest in people, too.

3. Individuals and teams make up organisations

Any organisational drive towards a collaborative culture will look at the implications on a team and individual level. After all, these are the building blocks of an organisation.

Team cohesion is an important element for well-performing, collaborative teams:

"Cohesiveness is the extent to which team members stick together and remain united in the pursuit of a common goal. A team is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the team as a whole."

Collaboration becomes the norm within teams when cohesion is high. At times, people can get caught in their own bubble, when they get too busy and disappear into their own work. But greater team cohesion has the opposite affect, leading to improved communication, loyalty, and contribution to decision-making. 

At an individual level, people want to know “what’s in it for me?”. Helping to demonstrate how collaboration can help them to make more informed decisions and achieve better outcomes, will enable them to see the broader benefit of collaboration.

The journey towards a truly collaborative workplace won’t happen overnight. Equipping people at all levels with the right information, training and incentives to work together will help start shifting the balance. Getting people together is just the start – you need to give them support, reasons, and a way to work together.

Want to find out more about working better together? Make sure you read our previous post: Are we really collaborating