Do You Need More Collaborative Teams?
Every day at most of our clients’, people are asked to lead or participate in different projects.  Some of those team members have worked closely together on the same team for years, and others may reside in completely different countries, functions, and teams.  To succeed, the ability to influence and collaborate without direct authority becomes critical.

Whether your organizational structure has flattened, or is undertaking a major cross-functional initiative, or if you have a highly matrixed work environment, it is incumbent upon individuals and teams to collaborate effectively. The challenge for leaders is to model and create an environment that encourages cooperation and teamwork.  The challenge for individuals is to build the competencies required to effectively influence and collaborate – especially under pressure.

The Benefits of More Collaborative Teams
Even if you do not work in a highly matrixed environment, there are many benefits to increased collaboration.  A recent study by Babson College found companies that promoted collaborative ways of working were five times as likely to be high performing.  Our best places to work employee engagement research tells us that collaboration and teamwork continually rate in the top quartile in terms of improving employee advocacy, discretionary effort, and intent to stay.

When collaboration is embedded into a company’s or a team’s fabric, the results can be profound.

The Challenges
We know that many of the common characteristics of teams often work against effective collaboration. Teams are large, often remote, have different backgrounds, work in different time zones, focus on specialized expertise, and often have conflicting success metrics. Communication and interdependency across such barriers can be difficult. As a result, knowledge and resources are less likely to be optimized.

Research has shown that if teams have more than twenty members, work virtually, and have different backgrounds, the tendency to collaborate decreases. How can leaders overcome the challenges of size, working virtually, and diversity?

What Leaders and Organizations Must Do
To encourage more collaborative teams:

  1. Ensure a Common Purpose and Process
    Not all objectives require collaboration. Teams outperform individuals when performance requires multiple skills, judgments, and experiences.  High performing teams have clear and aligned goals, success metrics, roles, processes, interdependencies, scope, and interpersonal expectations around decision-making, communication, information-sharing, and conflict resolution.
  2. Support and Model Relationship Building from the Top
    Leaders need to find ways to invest in and enable distinctive relationship practices. As with any desired culture change, leaders first need to set a visible example of collaboration, highlight cooperation as a corporate value, and find ways to reward collaborators and have proportionate negative consequences for lone wolves.Once leaders set the tone through their actions and cultural alignment, beneficial next steps can include ensuring that organizational structures, processes, systems, information sharing, decision making, and architectural office designs make it easy and beneficial for people to work well together.
  3. Select the Right Team Leaders
    If you want to increase teamwork, ensure your team leaders are able to situationally balance relationships, results, and processes in a way that aligns with the overall strategy and desired culture. Do not underestimate the ability to build relationships.  The more a leader’s success depends upon the success of their team, the more a leader must set their team up to succeed.
  4. Include the Right Mix of Team Members
    If leaders can assemble teams that include at least a third of employees who already have trusting relationships, the easier it will be to hit the ground running. In the initial team forming stages make sure that you invest the time to build relationships and clarify goals, roles, success metrics, interdependencies, and processes at both the team and individual levels.
  5. Develop Collaborative Skills and a Sense of Community
    Even when employees want to cooperate, they may not know how to persuade, influence, and collaborate effectively. Companies can build a more collaborative culture by ensuring their work force knows how to:
  • Get results while maintaining relationships
  • Seek input from others to make informed decisions
  • Find common ground in completing tasks and solving problems
  • Deal tactfully with diverse people, situations, and ideas
  • Show respect for others’ feelings and opinions
  • Consider the impact on others before taking action
  • Handle sensitive information with discretion
  • Show sensitivity in emotional and personal situations
  • Seek out a variety of perspectives
  • Influence or change the opinions, ideas, or actions of others
  • Gain commitment from others for own ideas or goals
  • Present ideas and proposals in a convincing manner
  • Work well within diverse groups to achieve common goals

The Bottom Line
Teams outperform individuals when performance requires multiple skills, judgments, and experiences.  In these instances, teams that collaborate are more effective than teams that work in silos.  Are your teams guarding their knowledge, failing to trust in each other, lacking clarity about who does what, feeling disconnected, working at cross purposes, or not connected to a common goal?

To learn more about creating more collaborative teams and taking your teams to the next level, download 3 Steps to Set Your Team Up to Make Better Decisions

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