5:38 am - Monday April 21, 2014

Finding the Magic: Six Steps to a Collaborative Culture

hands of team membesrs stacked The ingredients of social and collaboration have become key factors in successfully fostering innovation. But often it’s not easy for organizations to transform their approach from single-area silo discussions to open, collaborative conversations. As we discussed with Nadia Lakhdari, Content Director for C2-MTL, just like other processes that mature within an organization, so does an organization’s comfort level with collaboration grow, whether between departments or with customers.

I’ve had the opportunity to introduce collaborative processes into a number of organizations. Here are a few common key elements that I’ve identified foster the successful emergence of collaborative practices within an organization.

Acknowledge awkwardness. Talking directly to the team about the departure from the usual silo approach to the new collaborative, cross-functional approach encourages dialogue among the emerging collaborative team. There may be skepticism, but don’t be discouraged.  Within the skepticism you’ll discover what concerns linger behind the scenes and use them to eliminate pocket vetoes and keep the team focused on the present and the new approach.

In one case, there was a concern that some departments would track to the work plan and deliver as requested, while other areas would not follow through, thus rendering the completed work without value.  As the project manager, this transparency gave me valuable insights into the history of the organization.  Honest assurance that there are shared expectations, leadership support, and accountability among all team members is key.  No exceptions.  Be consistent.

Take a process approach.  In cultures bruised with memories of negative feedback exchanges made in the absence of leadership support, this step is especially important to the developing collaboration process. Clearly defining the approach and how feedback will be delivered and accepted makes the process more factual and diffuses emotion associated with the feedback. Reminding team members the focus is on the customer and there are no bad ideas helps.  Communicating that feedback is not a personal assessment and that collaboration helps us to innovate with the customer in mind is really important. On occasion I pull the Q-TIP (Quit Taking It Personally) acronym out of my back pocket and the laughter helps to diffuse tension.

Open appreciation of team dialogue.  Leadership has a key role in facilitating collaborative communications.  The ability to remain objective, present, and appreciative of team members’ willingness to share is critical.  Encouraging the team as they begin to actually collaborate helps.  Just as Drew mentioned in his recent post, stating intents aloud is the pebble that starts the change.  Be sure to include in follow-up communications comments that acknowledge the team’s progress, using words like:  ‘Great session.’ ‘Very productive conversation.’ ‘We got to a better solution together that may have been overlooked if we had worked individually.’

Thou shalt not finger-point, ever.  Every piece of feedback, even the biggest blunder, has value and must be recognized as such by leadership to encourage a model of collaboration.  In one case a team member accidentally deleted an entire web page while working on it. As a type-A overachiever, she felt embarrassed over the mishap.  The incident helped me to realize I needed to modify user access to prevent such mishaps.  We were able to recreate the page and we both walked away having learned from the experience.

Get out of that big conference room.  Although conference rooms and big tables have their place in the communication spectrum, my preference is to office-size-it.  Coming from a close family, one of my favorite pastimes is cooking delicious food for friends and family as they huddle in my rather-small kitchen.  I cook while everyone talks, laughs, and eats.  It’s cozy and there’s no room for pretense.

I apply similar principles to the workspace.  Working teams huddle in my office where there’s a small round table to work on, a mini LCD machine so we have a shared view of what we’re working on, and some extra chairs to pull up should others drop by to join the conversation. These working sessions build confidence that the team is making progress, yet the stress often associated with talking in ‘the boardroom’ is diffused because it feels like we’re just sitting around the kitchen table having a conversation.

On a recent project I realized the team was beginning to feel comfortable together during a conversation that took place as we worked through some challenging content refinement. We talked about a follow-up session and one team member commented that we had to meet in this same room because ‘this is the room where magic happens’.  And they were right.  They were experiencing the magic of collaboration.

One small step at a time.  Trust is at the core of the evolving model of collaboration.  Trust is more effective at encouraging free flow of conversation than any other factor. It’s the key that starts and will keep the team collaborating. As leaders, actions and words demonstrate factors that encourage (or discourage) trust. When trust is present, team members feel it and it replaces the fear previously associated with the exchange of feedback in collaboration.  Then the magic happens.

What actions have you found effective to fostering collaborative conversations within your organization or opening them up to the social sphere?  You’re invited to share your experiences here. 

This article was originally posted by Jill Hart on: http://collaborativeinnovation.org/2012/03/finding-the-magic-six-steps-to-a-collaborative-culture/




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Jill Hart

About the Author: Jill Hart

My professional passion is designing innovative technology, products and processes that deliver optimal customer experiences. After years of leading technology development projects and training initiatives, I realize my professional passion is designing user intuitive technology and products. As a result, I founded Brain Logic, LLC and work with companies to design innovative products, technology and processes that deliver optimal customer experiences.

Filed in: Business, Collaborative Innovation, Culture