How to Use the Art of Collaboration to Instill Culture
In the April 2015 Harvard Business Review article, There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration, Ron Ashkenas explains how collaboration doesn't always align with cooperation in the business environment, costing hours of lost productivity and troubled, if not failed, outcomes. He writes,
The bottom line here is that cross-functional collaboration is easy to talk about but hard to do, particularly because we tend to get stuck in cooperating mode. So if you are able to map out what’s needed and bring the needed parties into alignment around it, you’ll not only make an impact on your organization, but begin to develop some important collaborative skills that are often in short supply.
It's important to note the distinction between these two activities. One aspect about collaboration and cooperation often overlooked is that encouraging collaborative behavior increases appreciation of others. When there is a deeper understanding of what coworkers face in their day-to-day roles as well as how they accomplish their work, it instills a sense of camaraderie and ownership that's unique to the organization. It's what builds a culture.
Collaboration is the lifeblood of any healthy organization driven by the talents and leadership of its people. Collaboration takes many forms, whether it's in the planning and executing of a new initiative that impacts the entire company or celebrating a team's joint accomplishment. With internal collaboration, nothing happens in a vacuum because many minds working together outperform a single mind because of the power of combined alignment. Consider how you can inspire internal collaborative behavior as a function of not only how you work as a company, but the mechanism of how you develop and cultivate culture. One mechanism that enculturates collaboration early is with new hires. Incorporating collaboration as a cultural approach early on helps new hires understand not only how the business operates, but how people think within the organization by demonstrating collaboration and mentorship. Build learning about the company through the collaborative actions and insights of others and invite discussion and problem solving as a team.
Collaboration is a critical pathway to success when working with customers and partners to solve their challenges, not just the problems your organization is being engaged to solve for them. This is where a successful organization can go beyond the role of "supplier" or "vendor" to "partner." Collaboration not only enhances the quality of the customer experience, but it also builds trust and helps your organization understand a different viewpoint of your customer's world. This opens possibility for new alliances, new business opportunities and sustainable business relationships. Observing how your customers collaborate (or don't) within their organization also has value for your company. This can be observed through daily interactions with your customers or just listening to how they complain or comment about their own operation. With the right listening, you can capture insights and bring them back into your organization to either practice or evaluate for worthiness and fit into your collaborative culture.
How you Can Use Collaboration to Instill Culture
Here are a few things to consider when looking at how your organization can enhance culture through collaboration:
- Encourage skill set, tenure and role diversity when designing collaborative teams
- Offer coaching in listening, communication and negotiating skills
- Cross-train collaboration skills by having teams share success stories
- Use appreciative inquiry (focus on the positive aspects of individuals and objectives) practices
- Foster a broader view of how collaboration helps enrich your organization's culture
- Employ brainstorming activities when collaborating to inspire more creative solutions
- Invite new perspectives and different ways to approach problem solving
- Include unique roles or outside partners for different points of view
- Notice how other parts of your company or your customers collaborate and share best practices (as well as things that don't work for learning and improvement) organization-wide
Collaboration is an evolving skill that is exhibited through the actions, attitudes and intention of people within any organization, whether a two-man operation or a 50,000-person global enterprise. Seek opportunities to be a better collaborator, help your customers and partners succeed by collaborating in a combined vision, and acknowledge your company's commitment to creating a collaborative culture that works for everyone.
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