Years ago I worked for a Fortune 50 company in the tech sector during the tech bubble years. The tech world was spinning fast and tech companies were launching innovations at a rapidly increasing pace. The new mantra was collaboration as both established and upstart players realized that companies and teams who were better at collaboration were faster at developing innovative products. It was a wild ride.
Not much has changed in the years since, except the increased need for agility and leanness as the competitive landscape has multiplied and intensified and, some would argue, resources have become increasingly scarce. Collaborative excellence has taken centre stage and is essential for success and survival.
Worth mentioning, as well, is the rate at which our knowledge keepers are retiring given our population demographics. This makes collaboration and knowledge transfer an imperative as organizations face a massive loss of their knowledge base.
Here are five practices that foster collaboration and support energized, creative and productive teams:
1. Let go of the ‘silo’ mentality and create living intelligence:
Anything that fosters power struggles and knowledge hoarding will slow down productivity in your organization and kill collaboration. I coached a team that had become so stuck in the silo mentality that the team members began competing for ‘territory’, purposefully withholding information and facing each other as though they were facing the enemy. The cause: leadership operated from a control and command perspective and did not share information, leaving team members in the dark with each knowing only a piece of the whole picture. The net result: their stakeholders were frustrated, the team members were distrustful of each other, and all work had screeched to a halt. An extreme example, but illustrative of how damaging silo mentality can become. For collaboration to flourish knowledge needs to be accessible and teams and team members need to be encouraged to share and be rewarded for it.
The concept of ‘living intelligence’ was introduced a few years ago across the US Intelligence Community in a step towards letting go of the silos that were restricting the capacity of agencies within that community. I like the concept of creating living intelligence and its implications for corporations to better leverage the collective knowledge base of their people and not lose the individual wisdom of people when they move on.
2. Provide clarity and transparency and allow freedom:
Ensure the vision and goals are clear and the rationale is well understood. A few years ago the Heath brothers co-wrote a book called Made to Stick in which they outline the military term of “Commander’s Intent”. Their argument is that leaders need to let go of micro-managing and, instead, just ensure everyone knows what the overarching intent is. “No matter what…this is what we are trying to achieve.” This allows team members to take on responsibility for decision-making and enables them to do so in their best possible way, yet toward the ultimate goal. Better yet, if you let the team take part in creating the vision and goals, or at least in refining them, you better engage and enable people to come to creative solutions. When people understand the rationale and the direction and can trust that they are enabled to make decisions within these parameters, it frees them up to engage their best thinking.
Charlene Li, in her book Open Leadership, outlines what she calls ‘mind-sets’ and ‘traits’ of open leadership that support collaboration. Li discusses research that posits the best outcomes occur with a leadership mind-set of optimism, transparency, curiosity, humility and a belief that the best ideas are shaped and improved upon with input from others.
3. Ensure rules and relationships are established:
An often-overlooked practice is creating a team charter. This is a set of agreements created by the team on what their shared purpose is, what they request and expect of each other, how accountability will be shared, how decisions will be made and how they will hold each other accountable. It sets the tone for the group to minimize misunderstandings and the team then has a tool to fall back on to guide interactions and decisions. Equally important is the space for relationship to develop up front. Allowing time for team members to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and develop a common understanding of each member’s expectations, concerns and hopes will build trust and enhance how the team members work together.
4. Build trust:
Trust is a fundamental necessity for teams of excellence and goes hand-in-hand with transparency. People need to have confidence in the integrity and reliability of the other, particularly of the leader, but also in each other. Leaders can demonstrate trust by being open in their communications, sharing information in a timely manner, being clear on the rationale, especially if there is a change to the original message, and in being consistent with their word and reactions to situations. Fairness is an important factor here, as is listening. Trust across team members can start with a team charter and is built upon by ensuring the team feels capable of holding each member accountable.
Much time and money has been invested in technologies such as intranets and social software to support collaboration. This is great, especially as the ‘social networking’ paradigm is upon us. Unfortunately, these tools can fail when attention hasn’t first been given to the first four practices for creating collaborative communities -- the human elements of collaboration. Once the human elements of transparency, clarity, rules, trust and the daily demonstrated attitude of knowledge sharing are in practice, organizations can tap into the power of social technology to enhance and streamline collaboration and knowledge transfer.
What are these tools to support collaboration?
I have used several social collaboration platforms and am currently experimenting with IBM Connections for my own business. There are similar tools to IBM Connections, but I like the way it allows for both internal and external networks and allows teams to create secure platforms for sharing and activity planning. The integrated events calendar function is useful, as well. I can stream the events from my various communities in IBM Connections into my Outlook calendar. I love the ability to set up groups or communities where all relevant information can be easily organized in a searchable manner and conversations can be posted and logged. These features speed up and streamline the process of bringing projects, resources and knowledge together in one place.
Choosing a tool for your organization requires an understanding of how collaboration has already organically evolved in your organization, assessing the bottlenecks and thinking through how your people best like to access and use knowledge. Budget, security, support and user-friendly features are also important factors to consider. To foster adoption of any social software tool you invest in, it is useful to start small and have a few champions across the organization who can build engagement in a grassroots manner.
Note: Neither Delaney Tosh nor SquarePeg Leadership are affiliates of IBM Connections or Castlebreck Inc.
This article also appears on Castlebreck.com blog.