April 2018


Over the last couple of months, I have shared a number of practical tools to help both advance team dynamics and also highlight the importance of good leadership. This month I want to delve a little deeper into the former topic and explore the fundamental aspects of collaboration.

Collaborating, from an individual perspective, challenges you to articulate and distil what you are great at, and what you do poorly. This process of thinking honestly about your strengths and weaknesses can embolden individuals to ask for help more often and also be bold about how they can help others.

From an organisational perspective, collaboration seeks to find better and more efficient ways to achieve your goals. It can help arrive at a solution in less time by leveraging differences and working to identify which areas, teams and personnel can be complementary. Collaborating can also propel a firm to become a learning organisation as it builds a culture of ongoing learning.

So, given the many benefits of creating a collaborative workplace, how is such an environment fostered? Here are eight specific steps that leaders and organisations can take to encourage and grow collaboration within in their teams and workplaces:
  1. Build Teams Based Around Individuals’ Strengths: Build teams based around individuals who can complement one another, and whose members each reinforce where another member might not be as strong.
  2. Encourage the Collaborative Spirit: Facilitate the building of relationships organically between collaborators. It’s easier to build relationships when people can relate to and empathize with one another.
  3. Encourage Open-Mindedness: Ask teams to approach each situation openly. Open-mindedness leads to safer and more comfortable discussions, which encourages greater exchange of ideas.
  4. Give Teams a Sense of Purpose: Help people see value in what they are doing, and how their contributions can help the organisation.
  5. Design Open Workstations: Common work areas will help employees interact more and share ideas. It will also help to remove the hierarchy barriers.
  6. Spread the Delegation of Tasks: Spreading important tasks across a wide range of people will have a dual-positive effect — it helps people feel valued and it also keeps individuals from feeling overloaded.
  7. Encourage and Reward Innovation: Recognising creativity and outside-the-box thinking gives employees a sense that they are invested in, and valued by the organisation.
  8. Deploy Collaboration Tools: Use online collaboration tools, which have the capabilities to document, store, track and report information at one single accessible point, regardless of where the person or team is located.
How many of these steps are you or your organisation currently applying? Are there any areas for improvement or growth?

Ask Dr Tom

We continue to look at the important concept of collaboration with the following question.

Newsletter Reader Question: How does the collaboration process change when it comes to teams or individuals working across cultures?

Dr Tom's thoughts:

The spirit of an effective collaboration process, and also the benefits of such an approach, need not change when it comes to working across cultures. However, there are a few details when setting out on a cross-culture collaboration which leaders and organisations should be mindful of.

The first detail is the practical element of distance and time zones. Not all cross-culture interactions need be across borders and oceans, but many will be. Leaders need to be conscious of when and how their teams are collaborating. Do individuals have to get up early, stay late or even work from home in order to be available to others? Is it always one team making these concessions around timing? Do all members of the team have access to the same technologies, such as video conferencing equipment? A fair and equal distribution of resources, such as time and technology, will go a long way towards maintaining a positive collaborative spirit.

In a similar way, language is a vitally important consideration for any collaboration. In order for a collaboration to be effective, all members of the process must be able to understand each other. Choosing one language may disadvantage other members of the organisation. Managing any type of discomfort caused by such differences and bringing a sense of equity to the process is a crucial reasonability for those in charge of the collaboration process.

These differences also extend themselves beyond language and into the broader cultural realm of different behaviours, beliefs and views. Developing cultural intelligence and the necessary cross-cultural skillset is an ongoing journey and one in which all organisations working across cultures should invest their resources. However, in the absence of cultural intelligence programs, spending time early in the collaborative process with the members of your collaboration is a simple initial step that should not be underestimated. There is no better way to understand another culture than by getting to know each other on a personal level.

The final point to note with any collaborative effort is that the project must ultimately be worthwhile to collaborate on. Without such an incentive it is always going to be difficult to generate energy and enthusiasm for any project, regardless of whether it is cross-cultural or not.


Book Recommendation


Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results, Morten Hansen

This book recommendation completes a trio of explorations on the theme of collaboration for this month’s newsletter. As you can see, I have been doing a deep dive into this theme myself and was very impressed with Morten Hansen’s book on the concept. Based on ten years of field-tested research, Hansen helps managers and leaders comprehend the difference between bad collaboration and good collaboration - those efforts that waste time, money and resources and those that create synergies and achieve real results. Collaboration is extremely costly if it is pursued with a poor assessment of the bigger picture and without discipline. This book has lots of tested advice and tools that will help leaders to build a practical framework for successful collaboration.

Newsletter References:
Natalie Nixon: “5 Reasons Why Collaboration Is Essential in Today's Business Environment”, 2014 https://www.inc.com/natalie-nixon/5-reasons-why-collaboration-is-essential-in-today-s-business-environment.html
Ann Augustine: “Why People Need Collaboration - Reasons That May Help or Inhibit Us”, 2016 https://www.lifewire.com/five-reasons-people-need-collaboration-771512
Sebastien Boyer: “The Importance of Collaboration in the Workplace”, 2017 http://www.nutcache.com/blog/the-importance-of-collaboration-in-the-workplace/
Andrew Field: “6 Ways To Foster Collaboration In Your Workplace”, 2012 https://www.americanexpress.com/us/smallbusiness/openforum/articles/fostering-collaboration/

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