The need for open, collaborative work environments
that inspire outstanding employee performance has never been greater.
The speed at which business changes now demands maximum flexibility and
creativity in the way companies approach their projects. Every organization,
whether it has 10 or 10,000 members, will benefit enormously by fostering
a culture of collaboration that leverages the greatest asset we all have:
Every group, whether family, team, club or company has a
culture — the commonly understood norms and guidelines for behavior
that reflect the group’s shared attitudes, goals and values. A company’s
culture is a major factor in the way business gets done and how people
relate to each other. Outstanding teams don’t happen by accident
or even because the members are smarter or more skilled. They happen when
the players realize the value gained by the whole if individual members
are provided the mutual support necessary to bring out the best in themselves
and their work. And in part, their success is perpetuated because this
way of working is so much more rewarding — even fun. Creating a
collaborative culture where people share ideas and teams thrive requires
several elements. Here are a few:
• Invest Upfront Time. When forming
a team, build in time to get to know each other. Encourage people to
bond by sharing their thoughts about the project, what their hopes and
concerns are and what contribution they most want to make.
• Share the Vision. Flesh out early
on what the vision for success looks like, and how it fits in with the
company vision. Have any subgroups or committees within the team describe
their intended results.
• Understand Roles, Goals and Objectives.
Clearly define each person’s function in the process
and how it supports the overall vision. People want to know they are
making a significant contribution and what, exactly, that is to be.
• Agree on Procedures. Each group
will want to decide how it operates best. Determine early on how decisions
will be made, how conflicts will be handled, what the targets are and
what happens if a date is missed. How will communication between team
members be handled? How often will they meet?
• Create Safety. People must believe
they are free to express ideas and take risks without ridicule. Permission
to fail must be implied for employees to feel free to innovate. Praise
publicly. Offer constructive feedback without personalizing.
• Focus on Strengths. So often
we have been trained to be such good problem solvers that we immediately
scan any new situation or person with an eye toward what is wrong. Learning
to look for the strengths in ourselves and each other requires more
conscious effort, but pays off. Start by asking the question, “What
do we have to build on?” At the initial group meeting encourage
team members to call out a skill or quality they bring to the table.
Teach people to look for leadership qualities in each other.
• Build Strong Relationships. Teamwork
is all about relationships. Relationships develop out of mutual trust
built over time. Create reasons for employees or members to rub elbows
at frequent socializing events where they can have access to those outside
their own area of expertise. Assign a mentor to each new employee, and
have that person introduce him or her to several key players in other
• Provide Access to Senior Leadership. People
perform their best in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Create
opportunities for people at all levels to interact and build relationships,
and not just at the annual holiday party. Here’s a good litmus
test: When employees are assembled in the cafeteria or lounge for coffee
and donuts, do they feel free to approach the president with a question
or idea? If not, she isn’t really accessible and won’t likely
be in tune with those who report to her.
Collaboration and team play are skills that every business
person will need to call upon more and more as the speed of business and
life accelerates. If your organization doesn’t currently have a
collaborative environment, know that it can change one small step at a
time. Since collaboration begins with relationships, start there. Invite
someone from a different area to coffee and ask what they’re up
to, then really listen. You never know who your next co-creator might
be and, at the very least, you will broaden your perspective.
Teri Johnson is a certified
business coach who helps leaders and teams be more effective and generate
outstanding results. Visit her Web site at www.intrepid-communications.com.
©2008 Caliope Publishing Company