One of my most popular speaking topics is ‘The Power of Collaborative Leadership.’ The topic’s popularity stems from corporate clients around the world realising that ‘silo mentality’ and knowledge-hoarding behaviours are wasting the kind of collective brainpower that could save their organisation billions, lead to the discovery of a revolutionary new process or product, or – in the current economic climate – help keep their company afloat when others are sinking!
Moreover, it’s not just corporate profits that suffer when collaboration is low – the workforce loses something too. Individuals lose the opportunity to work in the kind of inclusive environment that energises teams, releases creativity, and makes working together both productive and joyful.
Here are seven tips for inspiring collaboration in your team or organisation:
1. Realise that silos can kill your business
Silo is a business term that has been discussed in many boardrooms over the last 30 years. Unlike many other trendy management terms, this is one issue that has not disappeared. The silo mentality is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others within the same company.
Silos are seen as a growing pain for organisations of all sizes. Wherever it is found, a silo mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles, lack of cooperation, and loss of productivity. It reduces efficiency in the overall operation, reduces morale, and may contribute to the demise of productive company culture. Investigating the different intranet software for small businesses is a good place to start in creating a collaborative forum.
2. Build your collaboration strategy around the ‘human element’
In trying to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce, the public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, and intranets. However, collaboration is more than the technology that supports it and even more than a business strategy aimed at optimising an organisation’s experience and expertise.
Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behaviour of people throughout an organisation.
Successful collaboration is a human issue.
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3. Make change management a team sport
Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked with a variety of very talented leaders, and one thing I know for sure – regardless of how creative, smart, and savvy a leader may be, he or she can’t transform an organisation, a department, or a team without the brainpower and commitment of others.
Whether the change involves creating new products, services, processes – or a total reinvention of how the organisation must look, operate, and position itself for the future – success dictates that the individuals affected by the change be involved in the change from the very beginning.
4. Utilise diversity in problem-solving
Experiments at the University of Michigan found that when challenged with a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse than groups with members of varying levels of skills and knowledge. The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverse thinking.
Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.
5. Help people develop relationships
The outcome of any collaborative effort is dependent upon well-developed personal relationships among participants. Not allowing time for this can be a costly mistake.
For example, all too often, in the rush to get started on a project, team leaders put people together and tell them to ‘get to work.’ You’ll get better results if you give your group some time (upfront) to get to know one another, discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, build personal ties, and develop a common understanding of the project.
6. Focus on building trust
Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity, and honesty of another party. It is the expectation that the faith one places in someone else will be honoured. It is also the glue that holds together any group.
I conducted a survey among middle managers in an attempt to pinpoint the state of trust and knowledge sharing in their various organisations. What I found is a crisis of trust: suspicious and cynical employees are disinclined to collaborate – sharing knowledge is still perceived as weakening a personal ‘power base.’
Leaders demonstrate their trust in employees by the open, candid, and ongoing communication that is the foundation of informed collaboration.
7. Watch your body language
To show that you are receptive to other people’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Place your feet flat on the floor and use open palm gestures (which is a body language display inviting others into the conversation).
If you want people to give you their ideas, don’t multitask while they do. Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact.
Leaning forward is another nonverbal way to show you’re engaged and paying attention, as is head tilting. (The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.) To encourage team members to expand on their comments, nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals.
Today’s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever-shifting ocean of change. As a result, leaders need to rely more than ever on the intelligence and resourcefulness of their staff.
Collaboration is not a ‘nice to have’ organisational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organisational survival and success.
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