Collaboration is an incredibly intangible but powerful asset for any business as it can improve problem-solving, creativity, productivity and even reduce costs. This is the reason why many companies like Google, Lego and Facebook have focused a big part of their efforts in promoting a collaborative environment at their workplace.
What is collaboration?
Many view collaboration as just working together to achieve a common goal. However, real collaboration goes beyond that concept. It occurs when an employee decides to help out another colleague or share crucial findings with the rest of the team without a true obligation.
A collaborative culture enables businesses to innovate and greatly improve many aspects of their operations. However, to truly profit from the benefits of collaboration, we should not confuse it with teamwork. This concept refers to the result of a specific business situation needing a solution in where more than one person needs to be involved. Teams also have leaders which are responsible for resolving disputes or removing unproductive members. Leaders manage the group’s differences and allow them to arrive at their end goal.
As in teamwork, members who are collaborating can have common goals to reach however, these goals are not their core responsibilities. They also have individual obligations that, in some cases, can even compete with others. Additionally, collaboration is not hierarchical. In other words, members who are collaborating have all the same authority level which promotes communication and creativity, however, makes conflict resolution a lot more problematic.
This is the most prominent difference between teamwork and collaboration. Unlike teams, collaborators need to be emotionally engaged with the rest of the members, otherwise, rivalry and conflicts can surface and render the collaboration futile.
Trust: the key for collaboration
Trust among colleagues is the only way to reduce the potential of conflict or rivalry, and enable collaborators to reach positive and feasible results. There can be collaboration without trust, however, its results won’t be as beneficial or fruitful as employees might be cautious to share their brightest ideas or conflict may arise when opinions do not align with those of others.
For this reason, it is crucial for any company aiming to promote a collaborative culture to focus on developing an environment of trust and respect among their employees. Fortunately, trust is contagious and once a business has spread it enough, employees will continue to expand it.
Here there are some practices that can help you promote trust at your workplace:
- Celebrate trustworthiness publicly
- Take interest in your colleagues’ likes, interests, and motivations to empathize with them
- Communicate the risks of distrust
- Avoid pay inequality as much as possible
- Provide employees with reasons, other than monetary, to come to work
- Sponsor non-work related activities for employees to bond
Not all collaboration is the same
Depending on the ultimate goal, we can divide collaboration into two categories: quantity-focused and quality-focused. Neither one is better than the other. However, failing to identify which approach is the most beneficial to the situation can hurt the results of the collaboration.
- Quantity-focused collaboration: It focuses on creating a large number of ideas, without focusing too much on the expertise of the collaborators. This approach allows a greater possibility to discover an outstanding and well-timed idea as you have access to a large number of possibilities.
- Quality-focused collaboration: It centers on creating high-caliber solutions. In this approach, highly-skilled professionals collaborate to arrive at a purposeful and clever answer to a problem or situation. This type of collaboration is most suited for strategic issues such as setting a new vision, identifying customer insights, etc. Quality-focused collaborations should not give an extensive amount of possibilities as this can cause noise and confusion.
On the field: cultivating collaboration
Creating a collaborative culture in an organization is not an easy task. It requires time and effort from executives and employees, many of whom can present resistance due to fear of being wrong, getting more work, creating conflict, etc. Nonetheless, the benefits of collaboration far outweigh its cost. According to a CISCO study made in 2010, it was concluded that for every dollar invested in collaboration, four dollars were returned. Yet, the real gain of collaboration is the long-term leverage it offers against competitors. Businesses with collaborative cultures are able to innovate and acquire competitive advantages that help them stay one-step ahead of the other players in the industry. Following, there are some of the best practices you can implement to boost the collaboration in your organization and start implementing a collaborative culture.
- Communicate the business’ vision: More often than not, employees are unaware of the long-term vision of the business. This can create problems in the alignment of the actions taken by different areas and ultimately, affect the business’ results. For this reason, it is extremely important for collaboration to make this information accessible to everyone.
- Support guidance among leaders: Unfortunately, the average executive uses merely 20% of his or her time guiding other employees. This attitude doesn’t encourage a collaborative environment and hinders the ability of people to think and resolve issues by themselves. For this reason, it is imperative that managers engage with their employees and guide them in their journey to professional growth by coaching them on important issues or motivate them to take initiative. This will set an example to the rest of the organization and promote a collaborative culture.
- Establish collective goals: Offering collective objectives can help jumpstart a collaborative culture in your organization. Assigning clear and measurable group goals can motivate people to take interest in collaboration and get over their biases. The sense of accountability created by the common tasks can encourage people to try collaboration and notice its results.
- Incentives are important: Collaboration doesn’t sprout by its own. People need to be incentivized, however, it is also essential to reward them for their efforts towards collaboration. Rewards, monetary or not, can motivate workers to give collaboration a try. Nevertheless, when employees put the extra effort to collaborate with their peers and are not rewarded by the organization, it can cause dissatisfaction and end up hurting the collaborative environment. It can cause employees to start perceiving it as a waste of time and loose interest in it. For this reason, it is vital to always reward any initiative from employees to motivate collaborative work.
- Focus on commitment and continuity: Achieving a solid collaborative culture in an organization requires constant effort and commitment. It is not built in a day. Organizations must understand that it is a long-term commitment and be willing to use their time and resource in developing it. Collaboration may not have outstanding immediate results but instead, offers valuable long-term benefits.
- Take advantage of digital: Direct interaction is important to create bonds and build relationships but it can aid biases and certain negative behaviors, too. In this case, consider using digital tools that can facilitate collaboration and reduce the potential for negative attitudes such as the monopolization of a conversation or the fear to speak up.
A collaborative culture represents a key asset in many organizations as it creates real benefits that can reap valuable long-term results for businesses. Nevertheless, it can also use resources from the organization and requires a commitment to develop it. Fortunately, its advantages are far more abundant than its constraints.