If we ask several CEOs or human resource professionals what goals or elements are important to their success, they would probably come up with some phrases and corporate terms. Collaboration in the workplace would certainly be one of the more common answers. It is often the key to much of our success in corporate world. When tackling a major initiative like an acquisition or an overhaul of IT systems, companies rely on large, diverse teams of highly educated specialists to get the job done. These teams often are convened quickly to meet an urgent need and work together virtually, collaborating online and sometimes over long distances.
Collaboration in the workplace is when two or more people (often groups) work together through idea sharing and thinking to accomplish a common goal. It is simply teamwork taken to a higher level. With the changes and advancements in technology, such as high speed Internet, web-based programs, file sharing, email and video-conferencing, collaboration has become a more productive way of doing things. Few aspects of Collaboration:
Thinking and brainstorming ideas to provide solutions - This key element brings groups together to offer different perspectives and expertise to solve for common problems. The phrase 'putting our heads together' would be a good example of this important element of collaboration.
A strong sense of purpose - Groups and individuals who truly collaborate see the value in working together. Collaboration is not forced upon someone. There should be a meaningful reason for working together, and it should benefit both parties or the company as a whole.
Equal participation - Treating everyone as equals when collaborating can open up communication and encourage ideas from all levels of the company or department, not just the managers or director.
Collaboration is challenging when we consider collaboration requires a work environment that is fundamentally different from the vertical, hierarchical structure most businesses have operated for the last 50 plus years. The work environment and business leaders must help employees with varying abilities/experience to work in flexible, dynamic teams and to respectfully share information, decision-making, responsibility, learning and recognition. To generalize about how collaboration will be viewed by employees, its important to note that Baby Boomers are familiar with vertical, hierarchical business structures; most Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in collaborative team-based environments sharing decision-making, knowledge and recognition, while Gen X fall somewhere in between. Senior executive support is required because collaboration and the support of high-performance teams means a change to horizontal decision-making, reporting and reward/recognition structures.
Organisations that lead by example:
PricewaterhouseCoopers emerged as having one of the strongest capabilities in productive collaboration . With responsibility for developing 140,000 employees in nearly 150 countries, PwC’s training includes modules that address teamwork, emotional intelligence, networking, holding difficult conversations, coaching, corporate social responsibility, and communicating the firm’s strategy and shared values. PwC also teaches employees how to influence others effectively and build healthy partnerships.
It’s widely accepted at Standard Chartered that members of the general management committee will frequently serve as substitutes for one another. The executives all know and understand the entire business and can fill in for each other easily on almost any task, whether it’s leading a regional celebration, representing the company at a key external event, or kicking off an internal dialogue with employees.
When Royal Bank of Scotland’s CEO, Fred Goodwin, invested £350 million to open a new headquarters building outside Edinburgh in 2005, one of his goals was to foster productive collaboration among employees. Built around an indoor atrium, the new structure allows more than 3,000 people from the firm to rub shoulders daily.
ING Direct Canada does a fantastic job of empowering employees. The employees have no job titles and no offices. Anyone can talk to anyone and leaders focus on removing obstacles instead of creating them. Their CEO welcomes any feedback and input from the team whether it be negative or positive and employees aren't policed on their collaborative environment.
Positive aspects of Collaboration:
Access to Skills and Strengths
When companies or departments collaborate, they are able to utilize the strengths and skills of everyone involved. For example, one may struggle with presentation skills but know all the benefits and challenges of a particular task or solution. Collaborating will enable you to share the knowledge and work with someone who can present the ideas in the best fashion. This will increase the odds of getting a proposal approved through upper management. The more people involved, the more skills you have access to!
Develop Employee Skills
The company and employees benefit from collaboration because as a result of sharing ideas and working together, they see how others think, negotiate and operate. This gives employees a better understanding of how the company operates at a higher level, and not just their individual department. The skills and knowledge that each employee can pick up from others can be utilized or taken back to their own department to make improvements or enhancements.
Solve Problems and Innovate Faster
What may take us three months to solve on our own may only take three hours to solve in a collaborative workplace. Access to several employees with unique expertise and viewpoints will most likely allow us to come up with ideas and solutions that we may not have thought of on our own at a faster pace.
Work Efficiency (Divide and Conquer)
Collaborating in the workplace allows businesses to complete important projects and initiatives in a more efficient manner. With multiple individuals or departments involved, work can be distributed more evenly and efficiently to those who have the time and expertise. This is often referred to as a divide and conquer strategy. Instead of one or two individuals working on something for months, a team of six or eight individuals could each take a small-specialized part and accomplish the entire thing in a week.
Job Satisfaction and Employee Retention
When we can share our wins with others, we often build a sense of team. Employee are more likely to stay at a job or company longer when they have a strong bonds with others around them and feel they are a part of something important.
It’s important to remember that collaboration is perpetual. It’s a never ending evolution as new tools and strategies for the workplace continue to emerge. This means that it’s important for the organization to be able to adapt and evolve as things change. Perhaps the most important principle of collaboration is that it can make the world a better place. Sure, collaboration can make our employee more productive and benefit our customers. But collaboration also allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people.
Collaboration is the successful structure of the future - not a single conversation between two employees. A diverse and collaborative culture is a powerful competitive advantage. A well-implemented, trained and supported high-performance team will better align their outcomes around both their objective and company mission. Tomorrow's successful organizations recognize that in today’s complex professional environment that collaboration is critical. Collaborative leaders recognizes there will be challenges and that their greatest responsibility is to guide change and future success by preparing their employees to overcoming these challenges in a respectful and mindful way.