Building a culture of collaboration can be incredibly rewarding for all stakeholders invested in an organization’s success. Not only does collaboration help employees engage in finding creative solutions and foster trust, but it can also help drive organizational goals forward in a manner that may have not otherwise been possible. If you’re interested in establishing such a culture in your organization, there are a few foundational steps you can take to enable effective teamwork.
In this article, we outline what collaborative cultures are, the six trademark features of them, and how to build your own collaborative system in nine steps.
What is a culture of collaboration?
A culture of collaboration is a type of work atmosphere that focuses on maximizing employees’ distinct skill sets and competencies through teamwork. Organizations with collaborative cultures do this by deliberately creating opportunities for team members to consistently work together toward common goals. Collaborative cultures value the foundational idea that when employees bring their unique capabilities together to work collectively, they can produce higher-quality work overall.
If teams can collaborate efficiently, they’re often more productive, creative, and communicative than when they work independently. Collaborative teams have the potential to build more innovative solutions through their community-based efforts.
Therefore, this type of culture can help lead organizations to find more success than ordinarily possible. Even further, cultures of collaboration can help teams establish strong relationships founded on trust and adaptability, which may serve to improve employee satisfaction and engagement.
Features of a collaborative culture
Successfully building collaboration into your organization’s workflow can be a complex initiative. There are many workplace features that help strengthen the foundation for a collaborative culture and allow one to grow.
To fuel innovation, creativity, and engagement in your workplace, you’ll want to carefully weave these features into the systems your teams use. Here are seven features of a robust and collaborative culture to keep in mind:
The strongest cultures of collaboration are those that encourage transparency. Your organization’s teams should use the basis of transparency to inform all of their daily tasks. From freely sharing news, information, and best practices to shaping duties around clear and common goals, promoting transparency can help your team more efficiently learn from one another, develop skills, and reflect on processes.
Transparency is also a principle that should be embraced by leaders within organizations. When managers share their reflections, especially about organizational challenges, it can help employees feel included in goal-oriented efforts. Even further, this type of honesty can help employees develop their reflection and problem-solving skills.
Dissemination of knowledge
An integral feature of collaborative cultures is the sharing of knowledge to help foster best practices and competency across team members. This is challenging to accomplish because, in traditional work environments, it’s common for top-performing employees to be hesitant about sharing the techniques, knowledge, and practices that make them successful with other team members.
This type of behavior is fostered by competitive workplaces where individuals are rewarded for their independent efforts rather than teams for their collaborative achievements. Therefore, most collaborative organizations have procedures set in place to encourage the cross-sharing of employee knowledge, which can help maximize the differing levels of expertise on a team.
For your organization to collaborate effectively, teams must establish a bedrock of trust. Despite this, it is common for managers to make the mistake of encouraging collaboration without first building the type of relationships that allow successful teamwork to occur. Crafting a robust culture of collaboration can only begin once team members trust one another to contribute positively to work processes in ways that benefit overarching team goals.
In collaborative cultures, there is usually a general consensus that collaboration makes the quality of work better. When employees all possess a similar understanding of the targets they’re working toward and how they can join forces to better accomplish such objectives, collaboration can easily become the norm.
Effective communication serves as the backbone of nearly all successful organizations, but this is especially true for those that promote cultures of collaboration. To work well together, team members must be able to communicate their ideas and goals across multiple channels—the act of collaboration forces employees to interface with peers, managers, and other organizational leaders on a regular basis. When employees build their communication skills, it’s easier for them to correspond about workflow and accomplish organizational goals.
Many collaborative organizations consciously create spaces for teamwork to occur. These spaces are often situated in cross-functional locations and filled with comfortable furniture, ample space to coexist, and items like whiteboards and technological tools that encourage collaboration. Essentially, creating intentional spaces is a mechanism organizations use to enable collaboration and inspire team members to collaborate on innovative solutions.
Purposeful tools and strategies
Organizations with collaborative cultures are purposeful in the tools and strategies they provide their teams with. Technological collaboration tools, like cloud-based software, productivity applications, and web-based workspaces can help empower employees to collaborate with one another, even in the digital realm. These tools are usually supported by the promotion of intentional strategies—when team members know why they’re using such tools and how using them can drive organizational objectives forward, they’ll be more likely to use them with fidelity and purpose.
Engagement is a resulting trademark of many successfully collaborative organizations. Since collaboration is a highly active and participative task, team members may feel more energized and excited about their work when they can share visions and responsibilities with others. Further, it is often the case that employees feel more respected, valued,, and invested in cultures that use collaboration as a guiding principle, and these sentiments can lead employees to be more engaged in their work overall.
How to create a collaborative culture in the workplace
Depending on the type of organization you work for, how big it is, your workflow, and what type of collaborative systems you already have in place, the exact processes you should use to create a collaborative culture will probably differ. With this, though, here are nine foundational steps you can take to strengthen your team’s capacity for collaboration and transform your culture overall:
1. Establish a vision
The first step to creating a successful culture of collaboration in your organization is establishing a clear vision. You’ll want to understand and clearly communicate your organization’s desired outcome when creating a collaborative environment. This vision should include details about what collaboration will look like, how it will help your organization’s workflow, and what steps you plan on taking to help develop employees’ ability to collaborate.
Even further, you should consider how you will maintain your organization’s collaborative momentum once teamwork becomes the norm to ensure it is a tactic used regularly. Once you’ve figured out these factors, make sure to communicate your vision to your team—when leaders establish targets for an initiative, it’s a lot easier for team members to buy into the idea.
2. Find collaborative leaders
While you may be tempted to spearhead a collaboration initiative yourself, it can be helpful to find new leaders to guide your organization through this cultural transformation. You might consider hiring and developing external candidates who have experience in building successful collaborative cultures in other organizations. These individuals might have a specific management style, background, or strategic training tactic that can help your organization realize its goals for teamwork more easily.
Once your collaborative systems are in place and functional, it’s important to reward leaders who show a firm commitment to maintaining a collaborative culture. This can help incentivize other leaders to invest in collaboration as well.
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3. Assess your current processes
An important part of building a collaborative culture is assessing the current processes your organization uses to meet targets. You should examine these processes and identify where they rely too heavily on independent work. Once you recognize individual-oriented processes, you can be purposeful about replacing them with opportunities for collaboration.
Even further, during your assessment, you should try to pinpoint processes that could lead to potential collaboration challenges due to their design. Understanding the drawbacks of your current workflow can help you work more intentionally toward implementing collaborative solutions.
4. Build in opportunities for collaboration
It’s important to understand that collaboration can only occur if you enable employees to work together—when employees are siloed in their offices and work on independent projects, it’s unlikely that they’ll feel comfortable using collaborative methods to tackle goals. Comparatively, though, if you are purposeful about creating opportunities for collaboration in your organizational workflow, your team is more likely to use collaborative approaches to accomplish their goals.
Therefore, you should intentionally place employees in situations where they need to use teamwork. By designing team projects, cross-functional task forces, organizational communication tools, coaching infrastructure, and small-group arrangements, you can give team members the chance to build their collaborative skills experientially.
5. Bring your team together
As mentioned above, trustful relationships are the foundation of successful collaboration. When teammates trust each other and align themselves around a common goal, they are usually more effective in their collaboration.
To build trustful relationships, you’ll want to bring your team together and help them bond, practice their skills, and establish supportive relationships. You can do this by implementing initiatives like team-building training, organizational retreats, professional development practices, recreational workplace events, and more.
Even more, once your team builds relationships with one another, it’s important to reinforce these relationships consistently. You can do this by creating opportunities for employees to connect casually on a daily basis and celebrating them for doing so.
6. Embrace differences
It can be challenging to navigate differences in opinion and approaches when building a successful collaborative culture. Some team members may not agree on the best way to reach goals, and it can take a long time to develop the skills necessary to make such concessions when collaborating.
Because of this, it’s important to embrace differences as a part of your collaborative culture. You should aim to be transparent about the fact that differences in opinion occur, but that they don’t have to impede the progress of your organization. It can be incredibly helpful to frame differences in perspective as something that can help collaborators find solutions they may not have come up with independently.
7. Offer incentives and reward teamwork
If you promote collaboration but only reward those employees who work more individually, it’s unlikely that your team will see much reason to engage in collaboration. Therefore, when building a collaborative culture, it’s important to reward teamwork accordingly.
If employees accomplish a goal through high-quality efforts, remember to praise them for collaborating specifically. You can celebrate collaborative efforts by offering monetary bonuses or other incentives, like time off or happy hours. When employees have rewards to work toward, they will often take the initiative more seriously.
8. Create feedback systems
Creating feedback systems can help you keep track of organizational shifts, such as culture-building initiatives. You’ll want to consistently monitor your employees’ ability to collaborate effectively and intervene when you identify potential gaps in collaborative processes.
You can mandate specific formal feedback cycles or use a more casual approach with feedback software. These feedback opportunities can help your employees feel comfortable communicating about processes and assist you in better facilitating and encouraging teamwork across your organization.
9. Utilize technology
In recent years, technology has made collaboration a simple task—digital tools like messaging applications, cloud-based productivity services, video-conferencing software, survey platforms and more can help enable your employees to work together. Using the right technological tools can improve productivity, communication, and workflow, which gives your teams an overall advantage when collaborating.
I hope you find this article helpful.