In today’s fast-moving VUCA digital business age, we face an entirely new environment for collaboration and partnering. And the bottom line is that the most successful companies will be those who are the best collaborators.
Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. But let’s not confuse collaboration with cooperation. Collaboration is more than the intersection of common goals, but a collective, fierce determination to reach an identical objective by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.
Collaboration is an attribute that cuts across many businesses and business processes, but to be a truly collaborative organisation or team we need to make it an intentional process and cultivate it as part of our essential culture.
That’s where leadership comes in as a key ingredient, to drive the collaborative process to make the whole team better than the sum of the parts.
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We’d like to share the 6 Critical Success Factors (CSF) for building a great collaborative team:
- A High Level of Trust
Trust is a key element but it is hard to build, and easy to lose. It is not created with words, but through actions and evidence. It is the foundation stone on which collaboration is built. Only when it works can a team address the necessary issues to succeed.
If you want to make a start with this we suggest looking at the 13 concrete, observable behaviors which Stephen Covey Jnr has identified in his work: ‘The Speed of Trust‘. Ask your team members to rate themselves on how well they are doing against each of the 13 behaviors. Where are they strong and proactive and where do they need to do more? Then ask team members to offer similar feedback to their colleagues. In our experience, this leads to some powerful and productive conversations.
- Conflict is seen as Key to Collaborative Working
The term consensus has sometimes earned itself a bad reputation – epitomised by that well-known saying that ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’. Our understanding of true consensus is a process where conflict is a constructive and positive element. Conflicts are normal and required – they are the energetic debates and factual pushbacks, whereas fights are emotional, often personal disagreements, which do not lead forward to consensus. Even positive conflict can sometimes feel uncomfortable and there can be a tendency to avoid it or sweep it under the table rather than seeing it as the grit in the oyster which may result in the creation of a priceless pearl.
Questioning, challenging and debate are crucial elements of collaborative working. If you want to improve this in your own team we suggest looking at ‘De Bono’s 6 Hat Thinking hats‘ where someone in the team has permission to wear the ‘Black Hat’ – the critical, questioning role – looking for negatives and risks in the argument to help the team question and toughen up their thinking.
- Everyone is Ready to Embrace Change
Change is the only constant in business, so the best teams will be determined to make it their competitive advantage. Initiating change, rather than reacting to it, creates far more positive energy and a sense of being in control of your own destiny.
Leaders need to give people a clear vision and overall purpose to help the team understand why the change is necessary, and how it will make their personal situation better.
- Establish the Right Level of Process, Structure, and Control
The challenge of course is to strike the right balance. With none, things fall into chaos, but too much can have the effect of stifling innovation and creativity.
If you take a look at the ‘Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility’ they give a good definition and examples of both good and bad process:
“Good” process helps talented people get more done.
- Letting others know when you are updating code
- Spend within budget each quarter so you don’t have to coordinate every spending decision across departments
- Hold regularly scheduled strategy and context meetings
“Bad” process tries to prevent recoverable mistakes
- Get pre-approvals for $5k spending
- 3 people to sign off on banner ad creative
- Permission needed to hang a poster on a wall
- Multi-level approval process for projects
- Get 10 people to interview each candidate
Of course these NetFlix examples may not be relevant to every organisation or business sector, but process and controls do have a habit of becoming institutionalised and unquestioned – becoming an end in themselves rather than an enabler of success.
So are you able to review your processes and identify which are good and which are stifling collaboration, freedom and innovation?
- Open & Continuous Communication
Communication is the glue that forms the bond between leaders and teams, and holds great teams together. Of course, this is especially important for teams who may be geographically remote and have time zone differences. Where possible, teams need to come together, but fortunately these days there are so many alternative ways for teams to communicate.
So what communication processes do you have in place to make it easy for teams to stay in touch?
Leaders play a vital role in facilitating communication and knowledge sharing, especially when it comes to communication with their own team members.
In a recent ‘HBR article‘, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall describe how Deloitte have redesigned their performance management system. Part of this new process is the regular conversations between team leaders and team members with weekly ‘check-ins’. In the view of Deloitte ‘If a leaders checks in less often than once a week, the team member’s priorities may become vague and aspirational, and the leader can’t be as helpful’.
- Create learning experiences
We all have a desire to learn and grow. In a VUCA world there will be a continuous need to unlearn, learn and relearn to make sure skills are relevant and current. The best learning opportunities often come from experience and sharing, whether that is in a more formal workshop context or in action learning groups.
A simple and easy way that we have found which works to increase team learning and problem solving can be done in as little as 20 minutes – either face to face or via telephone/WebEx etc.
Check out our ‘Fly on the Wall approach‘. It’s simple, quick, engaging and helps teams share experience and learn from one another.
Watch out for the next in this series of Leadership blogs and join us as we take a look at another key success driver for Leadership Agility – Building Trust
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