How Well Are You Collaborating?

The word “collaboration” is a tad funny to me. Have you ever noticed how often people use this word? What do organizations mean when they tell their leaders to use a collaborative leadership style? I chuckle because it reminds me of a previous job I had. Leadership directed us on a daily basis to be more collaborative with our department; however, the way we were structured and completed work did not lend itself to this goal. Not really knowing what collaboration looked like, they put into place strategies that they believed would foster collaboration. One such tactic was enforcing specific office hours so team members would be in the office at the same time. This sounds good – right? Well, unfortunately, without the right processes and tools in place to facilitate the collaboration that leadership thought they wanted, the walls of our cubicles grew taller.

So let’s face it – in our hearts we all want to be collaborative. Right? That’s what we’re supposed to say anyway, but sometimes it’s just plain hard. Collaboration is a skill and a set of practices that are very rarely taught. In school, we’re assigned to group projects, but does the professor ever offer guidance for working collaboratively? What I remember is that one or two people always ended up doing all the work.

Collaboration is something people learn on the job in a hit-or-miss fashion. Some are naturals at it, but for most of us, it requires some work because to be collaborative you truly have to leave your ego at the door. Being collaborative means getting outside of yourself and not just listening to other ideas but really hearing them. Furthermore, collaboration only happens within certain environments, meaning that some cultures foster it while others simply don’t. It’s not just something you can direct, but rather must be modeled.

And despite this challenge, I continue to see the word “collaborative” used all over the place: collaborative leadership, collaborative tools, collaborative learning, collaborative brainstorming…the list goes on. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines collaboration as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” But the question really is: What does this look like in organizations? Well, in collaborative fashion, I asked our ABR team for some ideas on how leaders can foster collaboration. Below is what we came up with.

Ask for Input and Ideas from Team Members

Lead by example. By reaching out to your team to get their input on the things you’re working on (establishing new office policies, deciding the theme for the holiday party, and/or putting together a proposal), you show that you not only value their opinion but that you don’t expect any one person to have all the answers all the time. If you are collaborating, chances are, your team will too.

Assign Teams to Get Work Done

When staffing project work, assign two people to one role instead of one and divvy up the workload. For example, at ABR we always staff our projects with a minimum of two people – one person handles the project management tasks and the other person develops the materials. In this manner, collaboration comes easily because both are responsible for the success of the project.

Brainstorm and Vet Current Issues and/or New Ideas

When you’re stumped on a task (or you want to float a new idea), organize a meeting with people who have different perspectives from you. Explain your issue, why it’s important, what your goal is, and then ask for help brainstorming ideas. You’ll be surprised by how many out-of-the-box ideas you will unearth.

Form Learning Communities

Create learning communities within your organization using social networking tools. Start a discussion forum to seek others’ thoughts on how to solve an issue. Write a blog with a peer and then post it for the rest of your community to read. Use microblogging to keep in touch with each other as a group. Take a video of yourself performing a task in a different way and post it for your community to comment on. I could go on, but you catch my point, right? Engage with your peers. Learn from them. Don’t be afraid to seek advice. It’s true – two heads are better than one.

Share Information

People like information. They want to be in the know but oftentimes leaders leave their teams in the dark. How can collaboration take place without the sharing of information? Well, I’m telling you, it can’t! Being collaborative means letting go of the reigns and bringing everyone into “the know.” Only when this happens can people collaborate on the information shared.

Be Authentic

Let me fill you in on a little secret: nobody is perfect. We are all human, which means we have strengths and opportunities for growth and development. At the end of the day, we’re all really aiming for similar goals of success. One person can’t and shouldn’t know it all. So why not just let it go and see what happens when we share not only our successes but our failures with our teams?

These are just a few ideas on how leaders can foster collaboration in organizations. We would love to hear more about the collaboration strategies you practice.

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