Workplaces value and promote collaboration within teams but in many cases, the expectation does not meet reality. Teams may not demonstrate the expected levels of cooperation and teamwork. Or they may start out well but not sustain the momentum over the natural course of a project.
What can you do to help?
Companies have different approaches to collaboration: open, cubicle-free office spaces, open door policies, setting corporate goals and so on. However, the effort falls flat when leaders think of collaboration as a value to cultivate, not a practical skill that can be taught. Instead of adopting a heavy-handed attitude towards facilitating collaboration, leaders could take a different approach, one rooted in psychology.
The best case scenario would be an open-minded team, with every member confident in their own abilities and each other’s, assured of opportunities to share their ideas, knowing that they will be well-received.
In reality, though, managers have to deal with internal distrust and personal ambition that puts self before team. Leaders have to take the bull by the horns and facilitate an environment that puts an end to obsessiveness, self-interest and distrust. Only then can proper collaboration be achieved.
Companies that have succeeded at this share some common attributes that have fostered an atmosphere of collaboration and have become a part of their culture. Here are two:
1. Teach people to listen to others, not talk.
2. Train them to practice empathy.
The importance of being a good listener:
A lot of company cultures prize employees who are loud and vocal. How many of us have, while attending a meeting or presentation, been stuck on pondering what impressive nugget we are going to toss out during the next lull in conversation? How many times are we actually paying attention to what is being said? But when we listen, we look beyond self and are more connected to the team and the mission. Practicing “active listening,” involves suppressing the urge to chime in and dominate the conversation.
It involves concentrating energy on asking intelligent “what,” “how” questions about the project or issue at hand. This is more helpful to the cause. Employees should run “self-checks” to examine their own tendencies that do more damage than good, and actively work on it, maybe with a partner.
The importance of being empathetic:
Sometimes, conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and we come away with a poor impression of the other person, considering them to be uncaring or lacking in some essential quality that makes them difficult to work with. Episodes like this colour future relationships and project outcomes, if not resolved in time.
Efforts can be made to facilitate empathy within teammates, to teach people to listen for what people are NOT saying, and create a cocoon of trust in which they feel safe to air their issues. Showing empathy is most effective quid pro quo, because then, people are more likely to actively ask the other person what they think.
How you can implement these tools:
a) As an individual:
Practice being a good listener yourself. Dial down the urge to pipe up. Really try to understand what the other person is saying, or not saying. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and help them think through the problem, instead of applying solutions.
b) As a business owner:
Your team will look to you for guidance, so be prepared to lead by example. Take the initiative in getting them to discuss and toss around ideas, and share stories so that they can benefit from each other’s experiences.
c) Within an organization:
Get tough conversations out of the way by being honest with teams whose behaviour is negatively impacting the company. Book a few sessions with a collaboration coach for underperforming teams. Focus on active listening, open and approachable body language, not allowing nonverbal negative mannerisms like eye rolling, shaking the head, etc. in group meetings.