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collaborative company culture

Foster A Collaborative Company Culture

One of the positive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the growth of collaboration in the healthcare industry. Personal protective equipment was provided to front-line workers by other healthcare professionals. Silos between departments were dismantled as employees came together to solve problems.

In large healthcare systems, patients were moved among facilities where beds and staff were available. Competitors collaborated to share best practices. Everyone joined together against this common enemy of COVID.

You may have seen similar instances in your business. Staff stepped up during the pandemic to address work-from-home, supply chain, and worker shortage issues. How do you ensure these weren’t just one-off examples of people coming together in a crisis? How do you create a permanent collaborative company culture?

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Benefits Of A Collaborative Culture

You probably know that employees working as a team pay benefits for your business. A 2014 Deloitte survey found that companies with a collaborative strategy are more successful. Deloitte was able to quantify that when employees work in partnership:

  • They work 15% faster
  • 73% do better work
  • 60% are innovative, and
  • 56% have higher job satisfaction.

Productivity and quality improve when employees work together to identify and solve problems. Think of the “two heads are better than one” adage.

Innovation thrives when diverse teams share the benefits of their experiences, ideas, and skills. And the teams’ resultant success helps foster workplace engagement and satisfaction. Workers develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also get a sense of community and belonging, which encourages engagement. And engagement drives employee retention.

Creating The Collaborative Culture

To develop a collaborative culture, leadership must first communicate the company’s objectives. Employees must see how their work supports the organization’s goals. They must understand that working together is a key part of the strategy.

The Deloitte study cited three levers of a collaborative strategy:

  • Technology
  • Workplace design
  • Culture

Technology that enables teamwork is now widely available. Video conferencing, electronic document management systems, and virtual whiteboards keep remote employees connected. Employees chat, share documents, and cooperate over platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Workplace design can either enable or discourage collaboration. The layout of your workplace should be conducive to team meetings and gatherings. For example, many companies installed video conferencing technology in their conference rooms during the pandemic. These enabled employees to work together regardless of location. Outdoor space can also provide places for employees to meet and share ideas.

Meeting rooms and digital tools are valuable in encouraging employees to exchange ideas. But the most critical enabler is the company culture. It's summed up in how employees are treated by their managers and how they treat each other.

Trust Is The Foundation

A foundation of trust is instrumental in creating a collaborative culture. Employees must be transparent with each other and believe that their co-workers are reliable, fair, and honest. And leaders must trust that their teams are capable and can make good decisions.

Once there is an underpinning of trust, there must be an environment of:

  • Open communication
  • Information sharing
  • Meaningful recognition

Open Communication

A trusting environment encourages open communication. Employees can voice their ideas without fear of reprisal. This is more than “there are no stupid questions” or “there are no dumb ideas” in brainstorming. In these organizations, leaders prioritize healthy communication behaviors.

Employees bring the benefit of diverse backgrounds and thoughts to the table. Co-workers respectfully listen to one another. They ask questions to probe and learn more. Teams challenge and debate concepts; they don’t attack people.

Company leadership must make employees feel comfortable speaking their minds and challenging others. Staff should see their leaders asking questions and being willing to kill the ideas they championed. Only when employees feel safe speaking up can the synthesis of ideas occur.

Information Sharing

Collaboration depends on being willing to share information.

Author and speaker Carol Kinsey Goman said in Forbes,

“A company's very survival may depend on how well it can combine the potential of its people and the quality of the information they possess with their ability—and willingness—to share what they know with their teammates and across departmental, hierarchical, and functional boundaries.”

It’s difficult for everyone to contribute if some people have more facts or a better understanding of what's happening. The more information is shared, the easier it is to work together. 

Some employees hoard information because they feel it gives them power. But knowledge is more powerful when it’s shared and can be used by the team. Employees must learn to check their egos. They must be willing to contribute their knowledge without trying to look like heroes.

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Information needs to be shared across functions to dismantle departmental silos. As Project Management Institute CEO Mike DePrisco noted in Forbes,

“Once priorities are set, business and function heads freely share information (often via digital tools) beyond traditional silos, so managers and teams across the organization operate on common assumptions. This, in turn, helps clarify accountabilities and make faster, better-informed decisions.”

Sharing information is valuable within functional areas. But it becomes more powerful when shared across the organization. Employees typically see things through the lens of their area of expertise. Yet co-workers from other departments may have a fresh perspective. They can contribute unique suggestions and solutions.

Employees should be encouraged to build relationships with co-workers in other functions. Conversations flow, and information is shared organically once people get to know each other. As a result, boundaries and competition between work units or departments are eliminated.

Meaningful Recognition

The Deloitte survey cited the importance of meaningful recognition in encouraging team cooperation. Their report noted, “recognition of collaboration within staff performance, remuneration and promotion criteria is the strongest driver of collaboration activities.”

In general, research has shown that recognition drives employee engagement and retention. For example, a Globoforce survey found that 86 percent of employees felt they could trust managers who had recognized them in the last month. This contributes to the organization’s foundation of trust.

In building a collaborative culture, recognize employees who work well as a team. Carol Goman suggests it be “part of the employee review process… giving recognition, bonuses, and promotions to those who work effectively across organizational boundaries.” Evaluate employees on how well they execute against the collaborative strategy.

Aim to develop collaborative leadership skills – both in yourself and in your team. Today’s leaders get results through positive influence. They don't use their position to exert power. Instead, they rely on interpersonal skills to include and inspire people.

Collaboration In The Post-COVID World

Design and architecture firm Gensler analyzed data on collaboration. They examined both pre-and post-pandemic work in the office and the work-from-home environment. Their CEO, Diane Hoskins, noted in Fortune,

“The dramatic shift toward work from home during the pandemic has dealt a significant blow to collaboration. The startling decline in collaboration from 2019 to 2020 signals that there could be considerable downside to working environments that are entirely virtual.”

Gensler’s research found that high-performing employees typically split their time between individual and collaborative work. They devote about 45 percent of their workday to each. While at home during the pandemic, employees spent 62 percent of their time on individual tasks and only 27 percent on team-oriented efforts. Without colleagues nearby with whom to exchange ideas, collaboration suffered.

A McKinsey report on the effect on agile teams of the abrupt shift to remote work noted that,

“Traditionally, such teams thrive when team members are co-located, with close-knit groups all working in the same place. Co-location allows frequent in-person contact, quickly builds trust, simplifies problem-solving, encourages instant communication, and enables fast-paced decision making.”

Teams that were remote before the pandemic were able to continue business as usual. Those accustomed to being together in the same location needed to adapt.

Leaders must be very intentional about fostering cooperation in an all-remote environment. Technology is a key enabler of all collaboration. But it becomes even more critical in the remote work world. It takes extra effort to encourage relationship-building and spontaneous idea exchange when people are not co-located.

All successful teams negotiate and agree to basic ground rules. However, different rules come into play In work-from-home and hybrid environments. Workers need to navigate:

  • Ensuring people aren’t talking over each other on video calls
  • Respecting one another’s at-home distractions and time
  • Helping each other master the new technologies
  • Relying on electronic communications, which can be easily misunderstood
  • Assuming positive intent on their co-workers’ part.

While team members may feel safe speaking up and contributing in the office, they may be uncomfortable in the online world.

As employers plan the “when and where” of work in the post-COVID world, they need to be mindful of how their decisions impact collaboration. The location of employees, as well as the mix of individual and collaborative work, must be considered. The benefits of teamwork must be preserved.

Lisa Britt, Chief Human Resources Officer for Thermo Fisher Scientific, said in a Gallup interview, “Nothing really replaces the ability to collaborate in a room and build trust and confidence.”

Improving Your Company's Culture

Getting your team to collaborate takes work. It starts with the leadership's commitment to change. Leaders need to model the desired behaviors, and CultureWise can help.

Visit our website for resources, including webinars and podcasts on culture. Sign up for a complimentary subscription to our weekly Culture Matters newsletter to keep up to date on culture thought leadership. You can also book a call with a CultureWise specialist for more information.

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