Collaboration – the art of working together, seamlessly, to create something more than the sum of its parts. It’s something of the holy grail for all organizations, and it can be incredibly challenging to achieve. Without collaboration, your teams are just disparate parts of the organization, working toward different ends. With it, though, they become “wings of the same bird” so to speak.
The challenge that you likely face is that collaboration is not easy. Without the right culture, key understanding by leaders and team members, and buy-in at all levels, you ultimately end up with everyone trying to do their own thing. It does not have to be that way, though. It is possible to encourage collaborative behavior, achieve mission-critical objectives, and improve business outcomes.
What Is Collaboration?
To truly create a collaborative company culture, it’s important to understand what that word means. Too often, decision-makers assume that collaboration is akin to groupthink, or a situation in which everyone kowtows to a leader’s opinion and simply does what they’re told. That’s not even remotely the case.
Working with a group of yes-men ultimately ends in disaster and ruin. It hinges the entire organization’s success on the whims of a single leader, while effectively silencing thoughts and ideas that would lead to innovation and better results. So, if collaboration is not groupthink, what is it?
Collaboration is the ability for disparate groups to come together in a common cause, share thoughts and ideas, and arrive at a group conclusion. Rather than following a leader’s ideas, it involves clashing, often conflicting, thoughts and opinions. This enables group members to effectively evaluate different options and arrive at an informed decision.
Collaboration vs. Communication
Many people assume that collaboration and communication are the same thing. After all, if you communicate something from one team to another in conjunction with a project or process, isn’t that collaborating? Not really. Collaboration requires communication, but it is more than just the ability to deliver information to someone else. It’s the art of exploring ideas, discovering new solutions, and surfacing new insights by working with others.
What Does Collaboration Require?
Successful collaboration requires several things, including the following:
- Diversity: Diverse workforces are the most collaborative. Homogeneity breeds complacency and instills similar views, meaning that your teams cannot break out of their own headspace because that headspace is all that exists for them. Think of it this way – if everyone on a team came from the same town in Boise, ID, had been raised the same way, gone to the same schools, and attended the same church every Sunday, how different would their ideas be? Diversity is necessary to help you explore other points of view from people with different backgrounds, upbringings, ethnicities, nations of origin, and more. The more diverse your workforce, the more collaborative opportunities there are.
- Inclusivity: Inclusive organizations drive collaboration and innovation. It’s easy to see this, as well. In an inclusive organization, all viewpoints are welcomed. New ideas can come from many different places. It’s akin to casting a wider net while fishing – you’re going to catch more fish, and more of those fish are going to be keepers. On the other hand, companies that lack inclusivity only source ideas from a narrow pool of team members, which means those ideas are much more likely to be similar to one another. It’s casting a single line into the water and (maybe) catching one fish.
- Supportive: The final leg supporting a collaborative organization is just that – a supportive company culture. What we mean here is that the organization supports experimentation and pushing the limits to innovate and grow. When employees are supported in this way, they are encouraged to think outside the box and offer up new ideas that fuel growth and success. With that influx of unique thinking, collaboration can occur and new solutions can be achieved. Without a supportive culture, though, you encourage people to simply say yes to whatever the leader wants out of fear of punishment.
Creating a Collaborative Environment
We’re seeing an increasing need for organizations to break out of the silo mentality. What this means is that, in the past, the marketing team might have embarked on a project to build stronger brand recognition through content creation and marketing. However, they would have done so without consulting other departments, even though customer service and sales both have valuable insights that could be shared. Obviously, the marketing department’s efforts would yield less than spectacular results, but because cross-department collaboration simply wasn’t done, no one was the wiser.
Today, things are changing. More and more, leaders realize that cross-department collaboration is not just a good idea, but critical to an organization’s ability to remain competitive in an increasingly global market. Silos must be disassembled. Information must be able to flow freely throughout an organization. Teams must be willing and able to sit down with one another and collaborate to achieve shared goals.
How to Encourage Collaboration in the Workplace
By now you understand the importance of collaboration across departments. How do you encourage it, though? Creating a diverse organization with a supportive, inclusive culture is the first step, but most leaders will need to do more.
- Create cross-department teams that bring together different viewpoints on the same project.
- Lead from the top down. The C-suite must visibly collaborate to communicate the need for collaboration to employees.
- Instill a sense of transparency and openness to encourage everyone to share their insights and ideas.
- Make it okay to fail. Experimentation is the mother of innovation and is directly related to better collaborative capabilities. However, if employees fear being penalized for failing, they’re not going to experiment.
Onward and Upward
With intentional steps, an intelligent approach, and an understanding of what’s required to create a collaborative environment, it becomes possible to accelerate performance across all departments in your organization.