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Why is collaboration important in the workplace? What can you, as a leader, do to foster teamwork and collaboration within your organization?
Accomplishments don’t come from diving into a problem alone, telling people what to do, and focusing only on results. They come from approaching problems and solutions collaboratively.
Here’s why collaboration is so important and what you can do to encourage it within your organization.
Why Is Collaboration Important?
Why is collaboration important? Effective collaboration is the foundation of successful organizations. In workplaces that don’t encourage collaboration, people don’t ask for help or offer it to one another. As a result, productivity suffers and redundancy ensues.
Simon Sinek: A Higher Purpose Inspires Collaboration
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains that the key to encouraging effective collaboration in workplaces is to define a higher purpose for the organization. A higher purpose is similar to a long-term goal in that it takes time and company-wide cooperation to complete. However, higher purposes are more abstract than long-term goals: They usually provide a sense of meaning beyond making profits or dominating a field, and they don’t have concrete timelines for completion.
Sinek explains that there are two conditions your higher purpose must meet to effectively encourage collaboration in your organization:
1. Your company can’t currently have the resources to fulfill the higher purpose. If your higher purpose is easily fulfilled, Sinek says it doesn’t provide the necessary pressure to inspire collaboration. Your company needs to continually struggle to fulfill the higher purpose. This struggle applies constant external pressure, which inspires your subordinates to collaborate and experiment with innovative ways of fulfilling the higher purpose.
2. The higher purpose must serve others. Selflessness is an important element of an effective higher purpose because it’s inspirational, and inspired people work harder and are more dedicated. Sinek implies that helping others is inspirational because it prompts your brain to release higher levels of oxytocin. The happy feelings oxytocin provides motivate you and your subordinates to continue working hard and helping each other.
|In his book The Leadership Challenge, Barry Posner echoes Sinek’s argument that people collaborate best when they’re working towards a common purpose or goal. Common goals unite people in collaborative efforts, in which everyone feels that their success contributes to everyone else’s success, and that no one can be successful unless everyone works together. |
To encourage collaboration, Posner recommends that you structure your team’s roles and responsibilities so that their individual objectives contribute to a larger objective, and make sure they see how the two are connected. This can also be effective in reconciling people who don’t particularly like each other: Assigning two people who don’t get along to work together can help them get past their distrust once they’re working toward a common purpose.
TITLE: Leaders Eat Last
AUTHOR: Simon Sinek
Create a Sense of Safety
In addition to having a higher purpose that transcends profits, another important prerequisite for effective collaboration is a sense of psychological safety in the workplace. According to Daniel Coyle (The Culture Code), you can cultivate safety by using behaviors and actions known as belonging cues. These cues create a feeling of safety and comfort within the workplace and address three specific topics: connection, future, and security:
- Connection cues allow team members to feel as though they are supported by the group while being valued as individuals. Connection cues include physical connection, active listening, and small courtesies.
- To develop connection cues, give your full energy and attention to the immediate conversation. Show that you understand you are talking to a unique person, not a robot.
- Future cues let team members know that they have a future with the organization. Future cues include discussions about upward mobility, the use of model employees as examples of potential success, and conversations about long-term goals.
- To develop future cues, assure your employees that they have a future with you and/or the organization. This puts their anxieties about the future at rest while giving them a goal to strive for.
- Security cues let team members know that they have permission to speak up without fear of losing their position. Security cues include the embrace of feedback, the valuation of team opinion, and the acknowledgment of strong work.
- To develop security cues, exaggerate your appreciation. You can calm insecurity by reassuring team members that they are doing strong work. Receiving appreciation for a task or project makes people more willing to complete a similar task or project in the future.
In addition to using belonging cues, here are a couple of other methods to help you develop a collaborative working environment:
Create a “collision-rich” workspace. “Collisions” are personal interactions between team members that promote connection through community. To create a “collision-rich” workplace:
- Keep employees in close proximity to one another.
- Develop communal spaces for employees to interact.
- Connect team members with one another.
Let yourself (and your team) have fun. This may sound trivial, but genuine enjoyment is essential to developing psychological safety. In fact, laughter is a key indicator of a safe and well-connected workplace. Take the time to create engaging and entertaining activities through which you and your team can simply have a good time and bond.
TITLE: The Culture Code
AUTHOR: Daniel Coyle
Finally, effective collaboration is not possible without trust. To foster trusting relationships among your team members, Barry Posner recommends the following practices:
Reciprocity is the basis of trusting relationships: the belief that others will treat you as you treat them. People like to think that if they help someone, that person will return the favor at some point in the future. This belief in reciprocity is so fundamental to our expectations of relationships that all moral and ethical codes, religious or otherwise, contain some version of it.
If people don’t reciprocate someone else’s efforts, they end up in an unbalanced relationship where one person feels taken advantage of and the other feels superior. Collaboration is difficult in such relationships. This dynamic has been demonstrated in studies where two parties faced a series of challenges that allowed them to either cooperate or compete with one another.
Researchers found that the participants who were most successful were the ones who chose to cooperate because their willingness to do so encouraged others to cooperate in return.
Encourage your team members to be available to each other to help whenever any of them needs it. Additionally, model reciprocity by going out of your way to repay favors for those who have helped you.
Reward Joint Effort
Large, ambitious goals can’t be accomplished by one person alone, and cooperative teams produce better results than competitive teams, so when talking about the success of any project your team is working on, emphasize the collective results rather than individual results. This will encourage your team to see that there’s a greater payoff in working together than working alone.
The importance of collaboration was demonstrated in a series of studies that looked at what happened when teams were awarded either for being the highest-performing team or for having the highest-performing individuals. The teams who were rewarded for their collective effort finished their tasks more slowly but more accurately, while the teams rewarded for having high-performing individuals finished more quickly but made more mistakes because team members withheld information from one another.
Encourage Face-to-Face Interactions
Getting to know other people is important in establishing collaborative relationships. Having in-person face time is an essential part of this process. People don’t feel they truly know each other until they’ve seen each other—without a face to put a name to, they don’t seem real.
Face time also encourages collaboration because it makes people feel that their interactions with the other person will be ongoing. When people expect to interact with another person again in the future, they’re more likely to cooperate in the present. When they actually see or meet someone, as opposed to merely communicating electronically, like through email, they regard that relationship as one they’ll encounter again, and they’ll put more effort into the relationship.
TITLE: The Leadership Challenge
AUTHOR: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Why is collaboration important? As the popular adage goes, “no man is an island.” We can only accomplish great things together, which is why collaboration is the key driver of change and progress.
If you enjoyed our article about why collaboration is important, check out the following suggestions for further reading:
In Radical Candor, Kim Scott shares her insights on how to become a great boss through the straightforward, deeply human principle of radical candor. This approach maintains high employee satisfaction and drives stellar results that you’d never be able to accomplish otherwise. With the two guiding principles of radical candor—caring personally and challenging directly—you’ll build stronger relationships within your team and create a culture of sincere and helpful guidance, inspiring your team members to bring their best and most motivated selves to their work and their collaborations, every day.
In 2004, General Stanley McChrystal took over as commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. The sprawling organization—encompassing strategists, analysts, and elite special forces from every branch of the U.S. military—was struggling to make headway against an unconventional enemy and environment.
McChrystal’s Team of Teams shows why collaboration is important by describing how he transformed the slow-moving bureaucratic task force into an agile, adaptable network of teams united by a “shared consciousness”, trust, and decentralized decision-making. After years of being outmaneuvered by Al Qaeda, the reinvented task force pulled together to eliminate terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and began winning the fight against terrorism in Iraq.
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