10 steps to a collaborative culture

Written by Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn

Collaboration is key to any business – so how can your business create a Culture of Collaboration?

Let’s start with culture – what is Culture?

There is always a culture. Wherever you work, there will be a culture and that culture can either be left to its own devices or it can be consciously created, adjusted, tweaked or changed. You decide. Culture is always present, it never stops. If you want a culture of collaboration, then focus your attention on it and be intentional about it.

In a way culture is quite simple, it simply determines ‘how things get done around here’. It is usually implicit rather than explicit and can be hard to pinpoint. It is not the ‘what’, it is the ‘how’ of business. It is how people react, behave and interact every minute of every day. It is not something complicated or fluffy, it is something quite simple.

Why is Collaboration so important?

The speed of change that we are experiencing today, means that most if not all organisations will sooner or later either disrupt OR be disrupted by old or new players in the market. To disrupt is to achieve disruptive innovation, to do something that radically changes the status quo, and no one can do this on their own. This kind of disruption demands some serious collaboration.

To collaborate is a bit like bringing all the pieces together in a jigsaw. They can all fit together perfectly and if a piece is missing, the picture will be incomplete. Everyone brings their unique piece to the jigsaw at work, and leaders do well to recognise the value of bringing all the pieces together.

How do you then build a Collaborative Culture?

Here are 10 steps to building a Collaborative Culture, focusing on the behaviours and habits that create that culture:

  1. Agree on your shared purpose and direction (why you need to collaborate)
  2. Make sure goals are aligned and not competing with or contradicting each other
  3. Make it easy to collaborate – decide how to work together and how to measure success
  4. Take an interest in others, get to know each other to build trust
  5. Communicate openly and courageously – be respectfully transparent
  6. Generously share what you know; knowledge, skills, experience and wisdom. This is the epitome of powerful collaboration.
  7. Listen without prejudice – let go of any need to ‘be right’
  8. Give each other behavioural feedback – in a supportive and respectful way
  9. Recognise and value each person’s strengths and contributions
  10. Commit to agreements, keep your promises, hold each other accountable

Look inside

And in all of this – look to yourself first. How are you behaving? Are you collaborative? Your actions and behaviours will make a big difference – people will do what you do, not what you say. Think of yourself as a role model for the kind of collaborative culture you want to create. Everyone’s behaviour shapes the culture, but the behaviours that are displayed by and accepted and even rewarded by leaders are the biggest culture shapers. Be aware of what you are rewarding. Be intentional and say what behaviour you are rewarding, be explicit about it.

Create psychological safety

Keep in mind that if you want to create a culture of collaboration, you need to first create a culture of learning; that people are allowed to learn, not needing to always ‘be right’. You need to create psychological safety, where people people dare speak up, dare to try, dare to challenge. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them – it’s more than OK, it’s the only way we can really learn. And healthy conflict (having different opinions) is a must in a learning, innovative culture of collaboration too. If everyone is thinking the same, you could argue that no-one is thinking!

A collaborative, innovative, psychologically safe culture happens leader by leader, minute by minute and everyone is a leader as leadership is the act and art of influencing others. What culture are you creating? Be intentional about it and have a collaborative impact.

A version of this article by Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn was first published in BusinessandFinance.com

Our 3rd book is out now. The Leader’s Guide To Impact, published by the Financial Times. This book has won 3 awards and our three books in total have won 9 awards. They are all available to buy on Amazon

Author: Excellence in Leadership

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