The spirit of collaboration can have wide-ranging benefits in business. All too often, business leaders and managers can get stuck in “silo” mode, focusing solely on a narrow set of tasks and goals, and ignoring the other areas of the business. The difficulties that this can create can hold back a business from progress.
Take this story by Margaret Heffernan for Inc.com, which examined the collaborative nature of furniture giant Ikea. As former CEO Anders Dahlvig says in the piece, “When you grow from scratch, you develop in functional boxes: sales, product development, that kind of thing. … But then they reach a size where that doesn’t work anymore. You can’t cooperate because you’re stuck in your boxes. So the earlier you build cross-functionally, the more effective you will be. A lot of companies wait too long.”
A collaborative environment will take time to develop, and it should be evident that the emphasis on it comes from the top. Employees will likely be encouraged by business leaders who want to foster a sense of teamwork and cooperation. Here are some tips to help that approach.
Have a vision
It takes more than “let’s work together” talk to make collaboration happen. Empty promises of teamwork can lead to unproductive meetings and overall resentment. A CEO needs to develop a clear plan to help get employees on board — he or she can collaborate with them on developing that plan as well — and then execute that plan. In a story for Entrepreneur, Dan Schoenbaum writes that “systems and cultural issues” often make collaboration difficult, but business leaders can be freed from those restrictions.
“As your executives and managers feel empowered to step back and look at their systems, observation creates opportunity for change,” he writes. “This is the time to seek input. You need to ask clear and direct questions to get to the nucleus of any breakdown in productivity or revenue.”
He recommends exploring the goals of each process in the business, how efficient those processes are and what their effect is on revenue.
“What might be possible if we could reclaim two, four or even 10 hours of productivity a week for every person on our payroll?” he asks.
It helps everyone
Most business leaders will acknowledge the guidance they received on their climb to success. They didn’t do it alone. Teachers, mentors, peers, supervisors — they all play a role on each path. Meghan Biro explores that universal concept in a story for Forbes, writing that collaboration means “realizing your potential.”
“It’s about bringing your many gifts to the table and sharing them in pursuit of a common goal,” she says. “It’s about bringing your ideas, your passion, your mind, heart, and soul to your leadership and culture. What it isn’t about is an inflated ego, a thin skin, a closed mind. In today’s roiling, racing, collaborative, diverse, and thrilling global business economy, these are nothing less than career, leadership, and workplace culture killers.”
Tackling a new way of thinking, or revamping an old system or process, can make some business leaders cringe. It may not be in their nature to embrace change, which can lead to the problematic “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. And that can trickle down to every level of the business. As Schoenbaum explains, leaders “might not see the long-term benefit of abandoning current processes and embracing new, collaborative ones.”
“This is where leadership matters most,” he explains. “Document and report the positive results demonstrated by teams that adapt to include even one new process. Tie these outcomes to strategic priorities such as coming in under budget or delivering a project to a customer sooner than the agreed-upon deadline. Once the more reluctant among your ranks see these gains, the movement to embrace other new processes will be more seamless.”
Support among the team
It’s not particularly enjoyable to be faced with a topic or task and realize that it’s out of your comfort zone. Some won’t want to acknowledge this and try to fight through it, which can lead to mixed results. Turning to those who can help can pay dividends, as Janine Garner writes for theceomagazine.com.
“Too often in the workplace, we see admitting a lack of knowledge or understanding as admitting to failure,” she explains. “What it is in actuality is a form of strength, because it shows others that we are willing to seek help and show vulnerability. This engenders trust, and encourages others in return to admit the same issues. The end result? If there is a problem on a task or project, an individual is far more likely to speak up sooner and avert major disaster.”
Hiring and promoting
How well someone collaborates can be a great indicator of their potential success with a company. In Heffernan’s story for Inc.com about Ikea, the former CEO Dahlvig explained that “energy and being able to work with other people” were paramount.
“ … You have to be prepared not to promote strong performers who are great alone but not great collaborators,” he said. “I see that all the time: People who are good at optimizing themselves but cannot work with others. It’s really tough to say, ‘You have to go.’ But if you don’t get rid of these people, you will never overcome your demons.”
The importance of listening
True collaborative processes can be a boost to productivity and to morale. A CEO who is willing to listen to ideas from around the company can inspire employees. As Schoenbaum’s piece for Entrepreneur notes, CEOs should value those other voices in making the business better.
“It’s crucial you make time to hear ideas because they can (and should) come from anywhere,” he explains. “An engineer might notice an opportunity to manage a technical process more efficiently, or a customer-support associate might spot a scalable new way to delight your customers. Be open to these suggestions so you can encourage and implement the changes together.”
Strengths and weaknesses
One of the great things to witness from a collaborative setting is how different skill sets complement each other. Some employees may be more comfortable with the numbers, some might flourish with creativity. The overall combination of expertise can make the business stronger. In Garner’s story, she examines this combined strength.
“Collective intelligence, or thinking, acting, and working within a truly engaged team environment, is the way to future-proof your business,” she notes. “We are smarter together. We are more agile together. Share skill, knowledge, and insight — teach each other something you previously had no knowledge of. It will stand you in good stead.”