Fostering a Collaborative Work Environment
By Igshaan Soules
A hallmark of 21st century work and career principals is collaboration. Thriving organizations understand that collaboration is essential to produce the innovative solutions that keep the business and its network growing, but it also nurtures a pleasant work environment that is needed to retain the best employees. Of course, creating an environment where collaboration can blossom won’t necessarily happen on its own. Collaboration is a dynamic element and it must be nurtured at all levels of the organization.
Leading by Example
If the head of the business perpetuates the go-it-alone mindset, there is a reasonable chance that the company will collectively mirror this style. Collaborative practices do not diminish the role of the individual or negate the ideals of individual achievement, but it can enhance the role of the individual. Leaders that strive to be collaborative themselves can demonstrate that working together is a company value. If the leader understands that collaboration is needed to promote communication and the voicing of new ideas, then the collaborative environment is near at hand. Leaders that do not value collaboration are out of step with modern workplace practices and aren’t likely to retain their best employees who will want to feel valued—something that the collaborative environment endows to all workers.
The Trust Factor
Infusing the workplace with a sense of trust is important for generating the collaborative environment. Each individual must feel safe to share insights and to participate in projects without overtly negative feedback. That isn’t to say that there won’t be a myriad of bad ideas that hit the table, but when employees feel they can trust their colleagues to treat them with honesty, sincerity, and respect, they will also understand that the collaborative process is trial and error. They will be more inclined to accept constructive criticism when the flow of collaboration is constant—some days their ideas will win favor and sometimes not. Since everyone involved experiences the same situation, the process is shared. Trust doesn’t happen on command, however. It must be meticulously considered and nurtured throughout the life of the business.
Collaboration is Social
Businesses that exhibit a top-down mentality don’t often do well when it comes to social interaction within the business. A social-minded business tends to foster the idea of togetherness—each employee is important and must feel important and not simply read it in the employee handbook. How does your business want its employees to interact? Does it support group lunches, workshops, retreats, projects or are workers left to their own devices when it comes to workplace interaction? Fostering collaboration means nurturing the social interaction among employees. It requires managers to be adept at listening and creating personable platforms for communication. If your office is stuck in the cubicle mentality, it may be time to incorporate spaces designed to include more areas where people can work together.
While there are always individual goals, aspirations, and responsibilities, there must also be projects that require and fuel continued collaboration. Business leaders must be able to delegate projects to teams instead of merely portioning them off to individuals. The team mentality allows the entire body to enjoy successes instead of feeling like a cog in a wheel in support of the leader or supervisor’s success. Team meetings where work can be portioned out allow each team member input and invite them to more fully take ownership of their work for the team. While accountable for their part, they also feel tied into the whole; this empowers individuals to overcome obstacles for the sake of their role as well as the team itself.
Not everyone is a born collaborator. It may take considerable training. However, whenever possible, hire employees that exhibit collaborative traits. Look for personable people that enjoy working with others. This doesn’t mean your organization should be filled with extroverts; on the contrary, it takes various personality types to make a great team. Do, however, look for individuals who want to participate in the collaborative process and don’t fear it. In the collaborative environment there is still plenty of room for “me,” but no room for the workplace bully, the overtly domineering, or the antisocial. Human resource departments must acknowledge collaborative behaviors as important criteria during their screening process and leaders must look beyond mere achievements when incorporating a new personality into their organization.
Failure to Collaborate
There are certainly companies that get by without fostering collaboration. Probably, though, it happens in pockets spontaneously among workers who innately value its principles. Nevertheless, these aren’t always joyful places to work and most people require a degree of workplace happiness or they’ll be delivering their resumes to other businesses over the company email in no time. Businesses traditionally value individual achievement and may not understand or fully recognize the benefits that collaboration brings to any organization.
Simplistically, collaboration is the oil that makes work flow and binds employees to one another. Without it, there is a tendency to fragment and the structure of the business is likely to become fractured. By encouraging collaboration, business leaders will discover that their organization is a more joyful place to be and far more cohesive than without collaborative elements. As companies move further into the new century, the focus on collaborative practices across the office and, indeed, across the global spectrum where businesses must network to grow and thrive, will only be valued more, particularly as its many benefits are realized.
Contact us to learn more about how we can support your team or organisation build more collaborative practices.