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Two Keys to Fostering Collaboration

 How well do your team leaders and team members collaborate during the workday?

According to the cover story on the January/February 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review, global organizations have seen a 50 percent increase over the past two decades in collaborative activities. The article notes that the time required for collaboration gets in the way of individual performance. In fact, a small percentage (only 3-5 percent) of employees generate over one third of value-added collaborations.

That puts a lot of pressure on those collaborative colleagues, leaving little time for them to do their work. While the benefits of collaboration – better planning, better communication, better flexibility, and better results – are great, those benefits come with a cost.

I typically see too little collaboration happening across my client base.

Leaders come to me for guidance in refining their team culture to make values and relationships as important as results. These leaders don’t typically experience collaboration in their workplaces – they experience siloed functions and competition. There’s no question that the competitive, siloed approach inhibits engagement, results, and service.

Our workplaces need more collaboration. Team members desire more collaboration. A 2015 Unity studyfound that 62 percent of respondents believe the need for collaboration technologies will increase significantly by 2017.

Working collaboratively means listening, learning, and leveraging ideas to improve the result – whether the outcome is a new car, a new sandwich, or anything in between.

Those collaborative behaviors – listening, learning, and leveraging ideas – aren’t very prevalent in our workplaces today. What is prevalent? Competitive behaviors, where “I win, you lose” defines the game every day.

To increase effective collaboration across your entire employee population, refinements must be made in two key areas.

Set Expectations – Most organizations measure, monitor, and reward only results. If leaders want team members to be civil and respectful daily while delivering in their performance demands and collaboration demands, leaders must formalize their company values and specify exactly how you want employees to behave with each other each day. If you have a “collaboration” value, how will great teammates behave with each other daily?

You might specify behaviors like “I engage with colleagues in problem solving and decision making” or “I keep my promises, delivering on performance expectations while treating colleagues kindly.” In a siloed, competitive environment, team members don’t always treat each other with respect. Collaboration doesn’t stand a chance in that scenario. Formalizing behaviors you want – then modeling and measuring the demonstration of those behaviors – increases the likelihood of collaborative, cooperative activities.

Reward the Right Behaviors – Most organizations compensate team members for their individual contributions. If the only things the company measures, monitors, and rewards are individual performance, why would any team member engage in collaborative discussions? Time spent in collaborative activities gets in the way of those team members’ performance – which is what they’re compensated for.

If you want collaboration, you need to reward collaboration. Once you’ve identified the observable, tangible, measurable behaviors you want (in expectations, above), you must then create ways to gather data on how well team leaders and team members demonstrate those collaborative behaviors.

You pay a great deal of attention to performance metrics and dashboards. By creating desirable and measurable behaviors, you can create a values survey that allows team members to rate their leaders and peers on how well they model those collaborative behaviors. Reward the players that are seen by leaders and peers as being collaborative. That will shift your work environment to one of greater collaboration and respect.

When collaboration is done effectively it leverages team members’ skills, creativity, passion, and desire to serve so the results are better than anything any individual might have delivered.

By refining expectations and incentives, you will achieve greater collaboration across your business.

chris edmonds head shot

Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant who is the founder of The Purposeful Culture Group. He’s one of Inc. Magazine’s 100 Great Leadership Speakersand was a featured presenter at SXSW 2015.

Chris is the author of the Amazon best seller The Culture Engine and five other books. Chris’ blog, podcasts, and videos are at Driving Results Through Culture. He tweets on organizational culture, servant leadership, and workplace inspiration at @scedmonds.

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