If you think you can increase performance by just telling your workers to collaborate, you’re doing it wrong. No matter how much we talk about it or how much money we throw at it, we’re just spinning our wheels in the mud.
Adding remote and contingent workers, pushes to increase productivity, blinders on leadership, working in silos, and simply the lack of a cooperative space have all contributed to a poor collaborative environment. We’ve changed the habitat to fit with the times but haven’t changed our approach to give employees the tools they need to function effectively and efficiently in the new world of work.
What Am I Doing Wrong?
Without communication, there is no collaboration. If workers can’t exchange information or ideas, they can’t collaborate. You’d think with all of today’s technology and innovations, teams wouldn’t continue to fail at collaborating.
In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey, 52 percent of American workers said they work remotely at least some of the time. That number isn’t going to decrease. This is the new norm.
The survey also found that those working remotely felt left out and sometimes mistreated. We have to figure out how to facilitate communication with employees who aren’t glued to a desk or who even work in another part of the world.
Workers need a space to be able to communicate so they can collaborate. Communication must be omnidirectional and work with people’s schedules and locations.
While leaders may say they support collaboration, their actions show that isn’t necessarily the case. The way managers assign tasks, delegate work, or create their vision for the project doesn’t always support the goal of collaboration. If organizations were good at collaborating, Salesforce research wouldn’t show that 86 percent of employees and executives cite the lack of it or ineffective communication as reasons for workplace failure.
Managers often worry about productivity and turn a blind eye to how the work gets done, as long as it gets done. They concentrate on output rather than the process, even though a well-thought-out process often leads to greater output.
Leaders also have to instill trust and confidence within their teams to foster a collaborative environment. Without honest and clear communication, we jeopardize the end product.
Management is often the glue that binds different teams together. Management is the facilitator of team collaboration. If you start to see collaboration deteriorate when you have all the right tools in place, the first place a leader should look is at themselves.
Then we look at silos. People like what they know and don’t often venture out of their comfort zone. Everyone shouldn’t be on their own island, contributing individually.
One theory on failing collaboration based on Financial Times editor Gillian Tett’s piece “The Silo Effect” isn’t that people don’t want to cooperate, it’s that they work too closely with the same people, the same function, or the same departments without thinking about those outside of that circle.
Strangely, many of these obstacles, such as working closely with the same team members and insufficient collaborative support from leaders, link back to the lack of communication and space for collaborating.
How Do I Collaborate Better?
First, you must make sure you foster an environment of collaboration. A large portion of the workforce does most of their work online. One way to do this is to digitally create a space where workers can go to engage and communicate to lead to collaboration. This space should be inclusive of your entire workforce, whether they’re remote, contingent, in-house, full-time, part-time, manager, or entry-level. Everyone’s contribution should be encouraged and appreciated.
Your collaboration space should be the equipment employees require to come together to work efficiently and creatively.
With a collaborative space, or even with the perception of collaboration according to a Stanford study, workplace performance increases. People find value in being part of a team and are motivated to work harder.
When evaluating a team’s collaboration, managers should also ask themselves the following questions: Have you communicated your expectations clearly? Have you been transparent and helped your team see the big picture? In fact, 97 percent of employees and executives, executives, according to McKinsey & Company, believe a team’s lack of alignment affects the result of a project.
Showing team members how their puzzle piece fits in the big picture can make all the difference. You are the collaboration leader.
Employees look to you to tie the bow on the package and connect the right people across teams and departments.
In one survey by MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer Donald Suli and London Business School teaching fellow Rebecca Homkes, 67 percent of senior managers said they didn’t know the priorities of the company or executive leadership. Goals and objectives filter down and affect day-to-day employee activity.
Managers shouldn’t be afraid to effectively communicate the overall project goals, provide adequate information to employees, and be transparent with objectives and project these across preferred employee platforms and with various communication styles so that all team members are reached. In fact, some research has shown that communication issues can cost you money.
Finally, workers should be encouraged to deviate from their typical work groups and form working relationships with others. Research shows that 83 percent of employees who are challenged are more likely to stay with that company.
Sharing information between teams and departments should be supported by leaders within the organization. When everyone’s on the same page, we break down the silos and contribute to fluid communication not only between departments, but throughout the organization.
By encouraging communication, transparency, and support from management, and removing the silo mentality, we can create the collaborative environment workers desire. In turn, we potentially save the organization money and increase employee engagement.
Lesley Maea is a born organizer with a desire to help others achieve their potential. These innate traits are why she and her team have enabled thousands of organizations to achieve their business objectives using the latest digital tools and engagement platforms. She is currently Director of Customer Success at GreenOrbit.