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How to Create A Collaborative Business Culture: 6 Key Ingredients

May 29, 2014

How to Create A Collaborative Business Culture: 6 Key IngredientsThe big buzzword today is "collaboration." Social media seems to have pretty much cornered the very definition of "collaboration." But is that true? Some folks argue that social media are only a distraction. I’ll admit, they can be that as well. But are they the foundation upon which collaboration is built, or do they merely enable it in some form? As I’ve said before, business collaboration is about cooperating to add value to a common purpose. Business collaboration stems from our willingness and capacity to help each other toward achieving an outcome we believe in that makes a positive difference. And therein lies the rub. Because all too often business collaboration is derailed before it even has a chance to get started (with or without social media’s help). So how can we make genuine collaboration happen in business?

Start with Leadership

Leaders don’t also have to be authority figures. In fact, the more leaders you have spread throughout your organization and at all levels, the better. But you do need to have leaders who actively model collaboration and who continually create and sustain the right environment for your people to achieve that shared goal. “Ok,” you say, “I bite. But what does that environment look like?”

Inspirational Purpose Behind the Goals

For collaboration to flourish in our firms, we need a raison d’être for why we’ve come together in the first place. And trust me, it’s not growing revenue or grabbing market share. Sure, those are important to a company’s health. But nobody comes to work every day just to hit a number. If we do, we won’t be at it very long. As leaders, we’ve got to give them a compelling reason WHY we do what we do. WHY reaching those goals will make a difference to the world. Steve Jobs didn’t decide to make Apple the most valued brand in the world or to have $160 billion in the bank. He cared about creating a better, more incredible “insanely great” experience with technology. An experience that enchanted you – whether you were listening to music, giving a presentation, talking on the phone, or sharing home movies. Apple’s culture is infused with this bigger purpose. You see it reflected every day in everything they do. Would you say the world is different because of that purpose? What’s your company’s why? Why do you create the products and deliver the services that you do? How are you making the world a better place? Figure that out, and when your employees embrace it, look out! Watch your company attract the customers who believe what you believe. And watch your bottom line increase.

Make People Feel Safe

As Simon Sinek points out in his TED talk (click video below), we must tap into people’s inherent need for safety. When we feel safe, we’re more willing to help each other because trust exists between us. Together, we protect each other from the collective danger we face (external factors) and create new products, services, processes, and profits! With trust, barriers come down, cooperation flourishes, and all things become possible.

Empower Early, and Often

Creating a system that shows how decisions are made and by whom means we work in a glass house. There’s no mystery, no hidden agendas. Which means things get done with minimal drama. Sure, there will always be people who disagree at any given point in time. But because nothing’s hidden, and we’ve pushed decision-making down, the need to argue goes away, and positive traction takes hold. When you demonstrate trust in your employees’ judgment, reward action appropriately, and coach (not preach or punish) when their decisions go awry, trust blooms, and the desire to do better and work tirelessly, increases.

Be Accessible

In the recent HBR article, IDEO’s Culture of Helping, a most startling fact emerged from the authors’ mapping of the internal “helping” networks at IDEO. It turns out that while the competence of your colleagues is important, what’s more important is trust and accessibility. That’s because asking for help means admitting a vulnerability and you only feel safe doing that when you believe someone isn’t going to take advantage of you, right? But almost equally important was having access to someone who was available, willing, and able to give you a hand when you asked for it. Common sense isn’t it? What good is help if you can’t get it? So how can you make yourself more available to your employees? And how will you help them be more available to each other?

Provide the Right Tools

We need tools to make us more efficient as collaborators. Tools can be anything that helps us get our tasks done — software, hardware / equipment, policies, guidelines, workspace, (research) subscriptions, books, work processes, Internet access, etc. Without good tools at hand, collaboration often becomes cumbersome and a hindrance instead of a help. When we understand which tools make sense for us and we take the time to outfit ourselves correctly, we become an unstoppable force instead of a badly limping brigade.