Organisations rely on collaboration in order to be successful. Imagine your workplace without any knowledge-sharing or team working. What would happen? Probably very little, as most people rely on collaboration with others in order to be able to do their jobs. If every member of your team attempted to work without drawing on the knowledge of others, they would find themselves unable to do anything pretty quickly. Despite this heavy reliance on collaboration, many people find it difficult, and do it only reluctantly and sometimes ineffectively. How can workplace leaders help their teams to collaborate better?
Why People Don’t Collaborate
We live in a very individualist culture. Throughout our lives, we are encouraged to work towards personal goals, and to put our own needs before those of our community. It is therefore not surprising that many workplaces also encourage individualism. When we plan our careers, we do so as individuals. When we take a job, we are given a job description with a list of tasks that are assigned to us alone. Many job descriptions do include something on them about teamwork and collaboration, but it often usually couched in general terms and found towards the bottom of the list.
Individualism can be a very positive thing. It can help people achieve, particularly in jobs that are relatively solitary. For individualism to be positive, though, it needs to be supported by a culture of collaboration. This may seem more relevant in some businesses than others. Take a courier company like ParcelForce, for example. They rely heavily on collaborative working at each of the stages it takes to get a parcel from the Post Office, to depot, to delivery van, to the recipient. There is a long chain in which the success of each stage depends on the success of the previous stage. In another company, workers’ tasks might be much more discrete: take a proofreading business, for example: each worker has assigned tasks that they do alone, without the help of others.
Those who work in businesses that do not rely obviously on collaboration sometimes fail to recognise its value. Competitive workplace cultures can discourage collaboration, as team members are worried that it will mean their efforts are not recognised. Where team members lack trust in each other, collaboration suffers. People often feel they lack the time to collaborate, that it is just ‘one more thing’ on their to-do list. Workplace leaders sometimes fail to collaborate themselves, and so they fail to encourage a collaboration culture.
Competition and lack of shared goals are barriers to collaboration. Mutual trust and shared goals help encourage it. Research shows that collaboration and co-operation in the workplace helps strengthen the business. It encourages innovation and helps the business meet its goals. Collaboration isn’t just a nice thing to do: it helps keep a business in profit. Sharing knowledge and ideas helps individuals to work better and more successfully. A collaborative workplace is greater than the sum of its parts.
Getting people to trust and believe in each other requires a change in culture. Easy to say, not so easy to do. Things like workplace social events and awaydays can help, but they need to be backed up by something more tangible. Use of social media in the workplace can be a great way to encourage collaboration. Because it works from the bottom up, rather than being imposed from the top down, social media helps create a shared body of knowledge that is open to all and that everyone can feel comfortable using. It helps encourage trust and understanding, as everyone can see the contributions made by everyone else. Rather than asking one individual to help with a question or task, a team member can log on to social media and get advice and help from various people, many of whom they might not have considered contacting. It can help encourage collaboration between seemingly unconnected areas of the business: improvements in the accounts system inspire project managers across the organisation, for example.
Leaders need to lead by example and work to encourage and reward collaboration across their organisations. Rather than only valuing individual achievement, team and organisational achievement should be valued. Some people will always feel more comfortable collaborating than others (either because of their personality or the nature of their job), but using social media or other media to demonstrate business benefits and show leadership can help encourage everyone to collaborate better.