Have you ever read the book "A short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson? It basically explains all the great ideas and big theories in science in a way we can actually understand, and the personalities and contexts behind them.
Something that repeated itself all throughout the book, was the way in which groundbreaking discoveries were often not made by one person, but often by at least two scientists in different parts of the world, who each didn't know what the other was doing. This meant that progress slowed, and they often didn't realize the significance of what they had found out until much later.
This was, of course, pre-internet, and look at what has happened since. Through knowledge sharing and instantaneous communication, the speed of progress is breathtaking and exponential. Scientists were finally able to collaborate worldwide.
Yet inside many modern organizations, those lessons have yet to be learned and there is still a lack of a collaborative culture. Some team members are isolated, while others are insulated, and projects lack critical input and feedback until something gets flagged at the sign off-stage.
Now, with more and more remote-based team members, excellent project management tools like Trello can really help give a better service to our clients, but are sometimes being used as a band-aid, as though the technology just works on its own.
It takes more than that to build a collaborative culture at work. Collaborative working is really important to our team at NEO Academy and here are our 4 #NEOtips on how it can be done.
HBR gives a great example of how this can be done, by looking at Nokia. They go by what is known as a "gift culture"; freely giving the gift of time to new hires, and taking the time to go through the network, identifying who might be useful or interesting to talk to and about what.
The new team member will then take the responsibility to set these meetings up, and again more time is freely given. HBR credit this with creating a mentoring culture from inception, but there is one more thing. A gift culture helps team members to really internalize that asking for help is not "bothering" others, but is actually encouraged.
We are all busy, and we all have moments of extreme pressure, but learning to always keep the door open to others is healthy and productive for the team as a whole.
It's not a given and it doesn't always just happen organically. When a project is at hand, actively create situations and scenarios where your team will collaborate. There are a lot of lone rangers out there, who will happily drift off and do their own thing if collaboration isn't actively included in the workflow.
It should be noted here that "dissenters" who tend to avoid collaboration are a top priority for specific inclusion in collaborative projects! We would also suggest including "unlikely" team members in projects now and again. This freshens things up and can produce new ideas and insights when someone with an external perspective comes in cold.
We also don't want our team members to get siloed in their own project types all the time, as not only is this potentially boring for them, it's a single point of failure for the organization if that person leaves and takes critical knowledge with them. Cross-pollination is just a good thing. Period.
Brainstorming is a great way to start off a project. Even if you think it's cut and dried and something you've done a million times before, never underestimate what the creative process can reveal. Even if only minor tweaks come from this, the major win is that the collaborative mechanisms of the team are strengthened. Good brainstorming as part of a design thinking process means that the best ideas emerge when things get "silly". Because of this, those in leadership roles will really want to consider one thing, and to be open and honest with yourself about it: can your team get themselves into this creative space with you in the room?
Is there anything more complex than human behaviour? Not even the mysteries of the universe can compete, and that means we have to be patient. New habits and behaviours take time. Lots of it. A new team member might be used to working alone, or may be reluctant to ask for help. Another might be stuck in their own bubble, and not find it natural to stop and offer time to others, beyond what they consider necessary.
It's ok. We'll get there. Taking time to notice and recognise good collaborative behaviour is important, so that it is reinforced. Blog about it, talk about it, build it in from day one, lead by example and maximise the way you use technology to support it but above all, give it the time it needs to take root. Cultures do not change overnight.
It's still prevalent today, that soft skills training, coaching, mindfulness sessions, reflective practice, etc, are for huge organisations with a bloated HR budget. Not so. We can all agree that not every one of us is skilled at empathetic listening, networking or collaborative problem-solving. Cultural differences can compound this, and if you don't believe us, try to compare yourself with a colleague from different culture using Hofstede's calculator. The research has a few holes in it, but it's still fun.
If the budget is tight, team members can hold a session for peer training, free courses can be recommended and reflective activities like 360-degree feedback sessions can be built into the calendar. It takes real action, time, and effort to make this happen, but it's worth it. Not only does a collaborative culture make organizations more resilient and efficient, it also helps your team members to grow both personally and professionally. They might just stick around for that kind of perk.
When we help our clients in Education Marketing and Recruitment to optimize their processes through bespoke CRM and training, we come from the standpoint of doing things collaboratively right from inception.
Building in the workflows to facilitate good communication and knowledge sharing is about more than avoiding errors. It's about making room for growth, and taking space to see the new angles and insights that can bring. Though it does take time for collaborative cultures to form (we really weren't kidding about that), we can at least assure you that when you partner with us, we're in it for the long term, working alongside you to support these transitions and helping you succeed. That's what collaboration is all about, after all.