Workplaces will always have people who like to fly solo — dark horses, rogues, nonconformists and the individual geniuses. However, as the benefits of collaboration become more evident to the organization, some of these individuals will be at a disadvantage. Innovation is a team sport in today’s organizations. Consequently, you need to have a collaborative workplace.
“There’s more and more to know in the world, and you can only have so much in your head. So, the share of stuff you know as an individual is declining in any field.” — Ben Jones, Kellogg School of Management
This fact makes it critical to collaborate with others to move a project into new territory. The project may be cutting-edge innovation or enhanced customer service. Let us consider,
- What does a collaborative workplace look like?
- How can leaders get there?
Want A More Collaborative Workplace?
Removing obstacles to a high-performance culture is how innovation happens throughout an organization. — Adrian Crockroft, Netflix
It is easy to do. For one thing, design a collaborative workplace and encourage people to work together in the same physical spaces. I recall my first visit to the 3M research centre in Austin, Texas in the early 1990s. They had many informal meeting spaces, with a whiteboard and comfortable chairs for collaboration. Similarly, Pixar has designed its headquarters to encourage chance encounters, such as locating the washrooms centrally.
“They [Pixar] were very intentional about wanting people who are artists and animators, and the coders, and the music people, and the screenwriters to be constantly bumping into each other in random ways to spark ideas” — Ben Jones
Not every interaction is going to lead to another Post-it Note success. However, that is okay. After all, the more opportunities you create for informal communications, the higher the probability that two people who may receive help from their collaboration will get together.
You do not need to build a new office complex. A regular coffee break or afternoon happy hour can do much the same thing.
Build Diverse High-Performance Teams
“None of us is as smart as all of us” ― Kenneth H. Blanchard
Of course, not all collaboration appears from casual conversations. So, you may need to deliberately hand-pick specific team members for an assignment. When you find yourself in this position, consider these crucial insights about teams:
Is There an Ideal Number Of Members On a Team?
Researchers often study the effectiveness of group decision-making. On one hand, consider the benefits of a large group versus the ideal number of people. Theoretically, the more people you have, the better chance you have of getting the best information to make the best decision.
However, research by Hackman and Vidmar (1970) found that the optimum group size is five members. But the number of members is just one factor. The attributes of successful team decision-making include social sensitivity and being able to read emotions. With this in mind, some members may need a little training in empathy, sensitivity to others, and developing a culture that allows all to take part fully.
More recently, in the report, Decide and Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization, the authors state that the optimum size for a decision-making group is seven people. Also, for each added person, the group’s decision-making effectiveness reduces by ten percent.
The broader consensus suggests we split the difference with an ideal team size of about six people. So, a good range is five to seven people—more agile teams are better equipped to produce novel or experimental ideas.
Do not undervalue specialists
There is a natural tendency to compare people against one another—putting specialists, who excel in one area. However, they might be less than adequate in other situations.
Which team composition is better?
- a team with five skilled generalists
- a group with four competent generalists and one mediocre worker who excels in a niche area
On average, your team will be stronger with the specialist, even if the fifth generalist is a better employee than the specialist.
The Appeal of Generalists
Generalists are flexible and tend to do most things well. However, they will not master everything. Sometimes, having someone who knows their way around something is not enough.
If you have a hockey team made up of members who excel at scoring goals, however, your goalie rarely stops the puck; then you will never win a game.
Making the most of specialists
Specialists are the experts in a given field. Moreover, they have honed their skills in a given subject. So, it makes sense that they are going to be better at it than someone who does not have their experience.
However, misusing them creates barriers to strong team collaboration. Unfortunately, a typical scenario: rather than collaborating with the rest of the team, the insular specialist has sole ownership over some tasks. You want the specialists in roles where they work alongside other team members.
“It’s like a jazz band—although each musician is autonomous and plays their own instrument, they listen to each other.” — Henrik Kniberg, Spotify
When we create high-performance teams using behavioural DNA, we ensure the team has the right members and the exhibit the associated behavioural competencies required for their role.
|Focuses on Results
|Promotes Compelling Vision
|Thrives in Chaos
|Focuses on Results
Consider Unusual Pairings
Innovative ideas and insights occur at the intersection of disciplines. If you have multipotentialites on staff, they are excellent members of an innovation team. However, if you do not have a person with unique insights, you may want to pair someone with a novel or unusual background with someone else whose knowledge is more conventionally aligns with a project.
This can create that perfect blend of novelty and conventionality. Bringing together expertise from different domains is often an essential feature of progress.
Develop Common Ground Rules for Collaboration
So you have your team in place. How will you structure their time together to get the most benefits out of the collaborative work?
“One of the biggest mistakes that leaders of new teams make is that they say something like, ‘our rule is that we have no rules’.” — Leah Thompson, Kellogg School of Management
The no rules approach tends to backfire. Rather than giving teams autonomy, you create paralysis. Everyone waits for everyone else to take charge. So, document the governing ground rules.
Ground rules ensure that the team has a set of governing practices that can be used to baseline behaviours and ensure that the team functions as a high performing team. For ground rules to be effective, all team members must buy into them. Creating ground rules in a collaborative environment is one way of maximizing buy-in. Patrick Lencioni set out the five dysfunctions of a team,
- absence of trust
- fear of conflict
- lack of commitment
- avoidance of accountability
- inattention to results
The first team activity should be to develop ground rules to ensure the team environment is safe and addresses the common five dysfunctions of a team. Building trust enables healthy debate among all team members. They can voice their opinions. This exercise builds commitment to the team and the goals that the team will strive to deliver.
Sample Set of Ground Rules
I recommend a simple standard set of ground rules for working with groups. Generally speaking, these rules include,
- work to make our team one that team members want to be a part of
- commit to getting to know each other on a personal level
- critique ideas, not people
- come prepared to do our part, prioritize our efforts on the execution of our tactical plan, and ask for help when we are confused about what to do
- are accountable for doing our fair share of the work, achieving our goals, and doing what we say we will do
- treat each other with respect — no put-downs
- support collaborative decisions of the team even when we disagree individually
- we listen and engage in honest and open communications, even when it is difficult
- make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute or speak and let people finish talking
- avoid jumping to conclusions but ask for clarification
- participate in each other’s development, and supply learning feedback
- celebrate the team and individual successes
- start on time
The second team activity should be to create a charter. The document includes the ground rules, shows the team’s goals and who handles what by when. If the team has an executive sponsor, they should confirm the charter with the sponsor. Groups that develop a charter learn how to work together. In the end, they are more nimble, have more proactive behaviour, and are more likely to achieve their goals more than teams that do not create one.
Reward Constant Contributors
Effective collaboration needs cooperation. Moreover, people who cooperate most effectively with each other have one thing in common: a constant contributor.
These contributors show these behavioural competencies daily:
- Builds Consensus
- Embraces Change
- Focuses on Results
- Leads Decisively
- Promotes Compelling Vision
“The consistent contributor looks for the collective good first and personal good second. These are the people who tend to start cooperation, leading the way for others to follow suit.” — Keith Murnighan, Kellogg School of Management
Research by Dr. Murnighan finds that the actions of a consistent contributor alter the dynamics of the entire group. Simultaneously, they make everyone more cooperative. His research also shows that constant contributors seem to know when their contributions will have the most impact. Moreover, these individuals offer more when the stakes are highest.
Everyone is suspicious of everyone else when a team is formed. On one hand, team members assume that other members will hoard resources. One the other hand, they will put their business unit first. Unfortunately, often, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if someone consistently acts as a friend, it is easier for others to work as friends. Everyone benefits.
When you find yourself in a collaborative workplace that has no constant contributor, play that role yourself. You will reap the benefits.
Select the Projects That Benefit from Collaboration
Too often, people go overboard with collaboration. It is essential to keep in mind that there is a downside to collaboration. These downsides include a loss in productivity and not meeting deadlines.
Researchers studied collaboration among medical professionals. They specifically investigated what happens when the doctors in charge of a patient confer with specialists. They found that the further consultations, regardless of how medically necessary, slow productivity by about 20 percent.
“It’s not that any of these physicians are just sitting back and being on Facebook or reading the newspaper. They are continuously busy. However, being busy may increase interruptions. At the end of the day, being busy may not equal being productive.” — Jan Van Mieghem
When deciding whether you delegate a given task among many employees, or whether you assign it to an individual, it is vital for you to understand the potential costs of collaboration.
Collaboration in the workplace offers many benefits
- Teams work to achieve common goals — Team collaboration presents the teamwork principles because they know that people produce more when they are in a collaborative mode.
- Synergy — Working together makes everyone win, and cooperation manifests itself in reduced costs, more flexibility in adapting to changes, and increased capabilities.
- Innovation — Collaboration in organizations especially team collaboration offers various perspectives for problem-solving and innovation.
- Stability and information — Collaborating between team members results in the transfer of knowledge. Given that this information is applied, retention increases.
The benefits of collaboration do not come for free. In addition to the above, the benefits of collaboration do not exist without a few challenges:
- eliminating ineffective communication, the lack of trust, and unstable momentum
- aligning the organization’s structure for a teamwork-conducive environment
- setting up the workplace for a collaboration -conducive climate
By combining their talent stacks, team members accomplish more than if they worked alone. It is essential that collaborating teams trust each other and effectively communicate so that they can overcome the challenges to find ways to create a successful collaboration.
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