How to crack the code of sustained collaboration

Many business leaders want more collaboration and innovation from their workers, but they often struggle with how to get it. Too often, they believe that a crisis, an open office environment, or a set of values will spur collaboration. They often can see progress, but their efforts fall short. Why? Collaboration requires a set of skills and behaviors which companies do not train their leaders and employees to use.

A new study in the Harvard Business Review has found that organizations that can sustain collaboration in a wide variety of industries are marked by common mental attitudes: widespread respect for colleagues’ contributions, openness to experimenting with others ideas, and sensitivity as to how one’s actions may affect both colleagues’ work and the mission’s outcome. Unfortunately, according to author, Francesco Gino, “Most people display the opposite mentality, distrusting others and obsessing about their own status.”

Gino has identified six training techniques that enable both leaders and employees to work well together, learn from one another, and overcome the psychological barriers that get in the way of collaborating. The training techniques help people connect more fully and consistently. Says Gino, “They impress upon employees that there’s a time to listen and explore other’s ideas, a time to express their own, and a time to critique ideas and select the ones to pursue—and that conflating those discussions undermines collaboration.”

Gino’s findings are similar to those of other researchers who found that to have collaborative and adaptive teams and organizations, it is not dominance you want from leaders and team members, but the skills of listening, working with each other, empathy, building trust, and critiquing facts and alternatives but not the person.[i]

Here are Gino’s six training techniques from her Harvard Business Review article:

  1. Teach people to listen, not talk. The business world prizes good self-presentation. Employees think a lot about how to make the right impression—how to frame their arguments in discussions with bosses, get their points across in meetings, persuade or coerce their reports to do what they want. This is understandable, given the competitive nature of our workplaces, but it has a cost. We fail to listen because we’re anxious about our performance, convinced that our ideas are better than others or both. As a result, we get into conflicts and miss opportunities to advance the discussion. When we really listen, on the other hand, our egos subside, giving everybody the space to understand the situation and one another and to focus on the mission.  Gino suggests listening can be improved by focusing on the listener, asking expansive questions, engaging in “self-checks” during which people share stories about when they failed to listen and the consequences, and becoming more comfortable with silence.
  2. Train people to practice empathy. Being receptive to the views of someone we disagree with is no easy task. But when we approach the situation with a desire to understand our differences, we get a better outcome. In successful collaborations, each person assumes that everyone else involved, regardless of background or title, is smart, caring, and fully invested.
  3. Make people more comfortable with feedback. Good collaboration involves giving and receiving feedback well—and from a position of influence rather than one of authority. During brainstorming sessions, as an example, to make people more comfortable with feedback on their ideas, make the feedback about behaviors direct, specific, and applicable. Besides, it is good for leaders to signal their acceptance of the suggested idea. And if a leader wants to expand on the idea, it is good to add a “plus” to others’ ideas that does not include judgement such as saying “yes and.” In brainstorming sessions, coaches can reinforce good feedback practices and offer rephrased statements when the first statement might shut down collaboration.
  4. Teach people to lead and follow. Leaders are at their best as collaborators when they learn to be adept at leading and following and moving smoothly between the two as appropriate. Being self-aware and learning to delegate as leaders is essential for flexing between leading and following.
  5. Speak with clarity and avoid abstraction. When we communicate with others, psychological research shows, we are often too indirect and abstract. Our words carry more weight if we are more concrete and provide vivid images of goals. Further, our statements are then judged as more truthful.
  6. Train people to have win-win interactions. In successful collaborations Gino studied, people were more open about their personal interests and how they thought they could contribute to solving problems. Such transparency allows participants to explore everyone’s vision of winning, and ultimately, get more favorable results. By balancing talking (to express your own concerns and needs) with asking questions and letting others know what your understanding of their needs is, you can devise solutions that create more value. With a win-win mindset, collaborators are able to find opportunities in differences.

In concluding Gino, suggests that leaders who are frustrated by a lack of collaboration can start by asking themselves a simple question: What have they done to encourage collaboration today?  It is only by regularly owning their own mistakes, by listening actively and supportively to people’s ideas, and by being respectful but direct when challenging others’ views and behaviors that they can encourage lasting collaboration.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and Managing Partner of InnovationOne. His new book: Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. It has received great reviews and five-star ratings on Amazon. You can buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing.

 

[i] [i] There are several studies through the decades that have clearly demonstrated the importance of collaborative and empowering managers and a link to organizational performance and innovation. They include the following: Susan Albers Mohrman, Susan G. Cohen, and Allan M. Mohrman, Jr., Designing Team-Based Organizations: New Forms for Knowledge Work, 1995, Jossey-Bass, Inc. San Francisco, CA; John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett, Corporate Culture and Performance, 1992, The Free Press, New York. And David A. Garvin (December 2013), “How Google Sold its Engineers on Management,” Harvard Business Review. Found at https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-google-sold-its-engineers-on-management; And Victor Assad ( Feb. 13, 2018) “Four studies identify the critical dynamics that contribute to team success,” https://victorhrconsultant.com/2018/02/13/four-studies-identify-the-critical-dynamics-that-contribute-to-team-success/.

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