Collaborative Teams: Working Together as a Contact Sport
We understand Collaboration to be one of the key elements to successful teams however in my experience as a Miami-based Executive Coach and Consultant I find that few organizations know how to successfully be collaborative. First, it is important to understand why collaboration might benefit your employees and organization as a whole. The word “collaborate” is rooted in the Latin collaborat- ‘worked with’, from the verb collaborare and from col- ‘together’ + laborare ‘to work’. By the definition, all teams are collaborative because all teams work together on some level. It is really a question of how well does your team work together, what are the risks/consequences of them not working well together and how do you put the right mechanisms in place to be truly collaborative. I find that organizations have several underlying assumptions and beliefs that organizations have preventing them from being collaborative, including: a) we don’t have time to listen to everyone’s opinion all the time/it is inefficient and b) to be collaborative is “soft” and that people just need to do their work. While it is true that setting up collaborative norms and processes takes time and requires an adjustment in everyone’s thinking and behavior, the payoff is enormous in terms of employee retention and motivation, creative problem-solving and team flexibility. I would argue that organizations actually run a greater risk by not being collaborative in their approach. And while collaboration is an inclusive approach that may frustrate some types who prefer a more top-down management style, it is also an approach that welcomes disagreement and tension; it simply provides a process and set of norms to manage this.
Benefits of Collaboration
- Increases psychological safety. Research (see Google’s “Aristotle Project”) shows that teams in which individual members feel heard and that their ideas and perspective matter allow them to feel motivated and not afraid to make mistakes, learn and improve. Psychological safety allows collaboration to happen and is an outcome of collaboration. In short, collaboration is good for employee retention. attracting talent and building a strong company culture.
- Solving complex problems. Collaborative teams embrace multiple perspectives allowing different ways of solving complex problems. It is important to have a diversity of different personality styles and therefore problem solving including how individuals interpret and think through challenges and solutions. Although this can be more time consuming at the outset, teams can learn work collaboratively AND efficiently once they adjust to the process.
- Increased team flexibility. Collaboration is innovative in theory and execution. Collaboration allows teams to be agile, allowing them to more flexibly adapt to competition, complexity and stress.
I have found that when organizations put certain processes and systems into place it allows collaboration to develop and keep teams from derailing.
- Start with Leadership. Collaboration must start at the top: the leadership team of an organization must commit to, promote and practice this critical ingredient if they want their teams to do the same. Senior leadership must understand, commit to, practice and champion the importance of collaboration. Employees looks to its leadership for the example of how they should behave.
- Develop a Shared Vision/Core Values. Leadership should engage all employees in shaping its Vision and Core Values. When employees feel that their personal and professional values are aligned it increases motivation, retention and belief in what the company stands for and where it is going. See my previous blogs on “Core Values: 4 Step Discovery Process” and “Implementation and Applications” for a clear road map on how to do this.
- Develop Group Norms. To support psychological safety and trust, establish basic group norms for individuals to follow. in meetings. For example: establish clarity about the goals to be solved in meetings, establish that team members should not interrupt each other, should actively listen, and allow air-time for each member to voice ideas/input; also, designate a facilitator to keep the group on track and make sure everyone is included. One of these group norms that should be established is promoting disagreement between members; this often gets overlooked by collaborative teams who avoids disagreement because they have a competing commitment to everyone getting along all the time. This is simply not realistic and healthy disagreement is important for new, fresh ideas to emerge; as an organization you can off-set this by making sure you contain conflict and even have a conflict resolution process in place if necessary.
- Establish a Decision Maker. In an attempt for everyone to be heard, collaborative teams often are unclear who is actually making the final decision resulting in closeness between staff but poor strategic focus and direction. Its very important to establish a decision-maker for your teams who can include all voices and ideas but will be responsible for making decisions.
- Encourage innovation. Encourage your team members to share their ideas,to think creatively, and utilize their strengths. Give your team designated time and physical space to think of creative projects and solutions. Encourage your team members to know each other’s strengths and ask for help in order to create interdependence.