Having a culture of collaboration helps organizations maximize employee knowledge and capabilities. Ideas and information spread more easily when employees communicate and collaborate across functional and departmental lines, which can have a positive impact on company performance. A study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that companies with a collaborate culture are 5.5 times more likely to be high-performing than companies that don’t have one.
Creating a culture of collaboration can be a struggle for companies because of unclear expectations, lack of follow-through, or employees that may not have the skill or desire to collaborate. Here are five strategies that can help to overcome those challenges and create a culture of collaboration:
Communicate a Clear Vision
Collaboration can look different from company to company, so it makes sense to establish your desired behaviors and attributes and what the organization will look like once a collaborative culture has taken hold. The vision for a collaborative culture needs to be communicated broadly to employees and constantly reinforced so that it doesn’t become just a “flavor of the month.” A clear vision that cascades from senior leadership helps employees see a line of sight to the end goal, allowing them to build commitment as the organization moves closer to realizing the vision.
Hire and Develop Collaborative Leaders
Like any important company objective, building a collaborative culture requires the buy-in and support of company leaders. Without leaders to carry the company vision, efforts to build a culture of collaboration are likely to suffer. Some ways to gain leadership support include:
- Attracting and hiring leaders who have a collaborative management style, a strong commitment to teamwork and resource-sharing, and the ability to encourage collaboration in their teams.
- Developing existing leaders through leadership development that teaches them how to communicate expectations, model collaborative behavior through their example, and coach others to improve.
- Recognizing and rewarding leaders who demonstrate a strong commitment to the company’s vision for a collaborative work culture.
Create Opportunities for Collaboration
Collaboration can’t happen if employees aren’t in situations where they need to reach across team lines to accomplish their goals. Joint team projects, cross-functional focus groups, and company chat rooms built around a common company objective are examples of ways to bring teams together so they can build shared experiences and benefit from each other’s ideas and capabilities. Experiential learning, where employees learn by doing, can also help individuals learn and practice the behaviors they can use on a daily basis to be more collaborative. Not everyone will be comfortable collaborating at first, so it might be necessary to provide training that encourages them to do so and equips them with the skills they need to succeed in the new culture.
Leverage Social Collaboration Tools
In the digital age, internal social networks and cloud-based tools can be instrumental in helping employees collaborate. Collaboration is no longer limited to a group of people in a conference room or on a conference call. A survey of business professionals found that 83 percent said they depend on technology to collaborate, while 82 percent said the loss of collaboration technology would negatively impact them. Collaboration tools can also help to bring teams together that work in different geographies and time zones, breaking down barriers that might previously have prevented individuals from communicating frequently.
Reinforce and Revisit
Creating a culture of collaboration, like any important company initiative, doesn’t happen overnight, especially if the organization has historically been divided into silos and is not used to working collaboratively. Continuous monitoring and reinforcement are necessary to ensure sustained behavior change and prevent employees from falling back into their old behaviors. Reinforcement activities can be most effective when employees have the tools they need to be effective and leaders are equipped to answer questions, problem-solve, and provide ongoing employee feedback. Examples of reinforcement tools and activities include:
- Team building activities that encourage individuals to practice their skills, build trust, and reinforce supportive relationships. These can include a major company event off-site or smaller-scale daily activities.
- Surveys that gauge employees’ views of the company’s culture and how it impacts their behavior.
- Assessments and content boosts that reinforce what employees have already learned in earlier training.
Companies sometimes struggle to foster a culture of collaboration, but it’s not always for lack of trying. Any kind of culture shift is no small undertaking and takes time, patience, and regular reinforcement. With a clear vision, strong leaders, and tools and experiences that support collaborative behaviors, a culture of collaboration is possible.