Collaboration is a key element of helping companies learn faster. The challenge is getting people to do it. The American workplace has never been more diverse. We have increased racial and gender diversity in the workplace and in leadership. Five generations are working together across our industry. All this diversity is happening at a time when the U.S. social and political climate is extremely polarized. Americans routinely choose to interact only with members of their own “tribe.”
This can create challenges in navigating internal dynamics due to different communication styles, behaviors and expectations. But it also creates significant opportunities to strengthen understanding, build trust, increase innovation and make your company relatable to your clients, whose businesses are experiencing their own demographic shifts.
Here are six ways to set up a workplace environment that will empower your employees to find common ground:
1. Create a shared vision: It is impossible to effectively work together toward a goal unless everyone knows what the goal is. As a leader, you need to lay out your vision, articulate what you are looking to achieve and why that is important. You want to find people that share that vision and are excited about making it happen.
2. Set collaboration as an expectation: To start, be clear about individual roles and responsibilities as well as team expectations. Set attainable goals, report back on them and celebrate wins. People work more effectively when they understand how they contribute to the greater whole. Then, collaboration is not only accepted but expected. Improving communication increases understanding, decreases finger pointing and builds a stronger team.
3. Teach them how: Collaboration is a learned behavior and we typically don’t get any training on it, unlike the technical skills of our job (the parts we tend to do alone). Working effectively with others is hard. Recognize this, and as a leader, devote resources to help employees learn skills such as engaging in purposeful conversations; resolving conflicts proactively and creatively; as well as basic project management.
4. Create opportunities for sharing: Provide opportunities for people to get to know each other and step outside their comfort zone of working only with people like them. Use company social events, regular recognition, reverse mentoring — pairing mixed generational workers — or encourage everyone to share good news at the beginning of a meeting to build trust, break down barriers and start building a stronger team.
5. Build on their individual strengths: Build on your team’s strengths instead of working around their weaknesses. Just as cross-functional teams are better equipped to solve big challenges, so are teams with varied personality types. Successful companies will use personality testing (DISC profiles, Myers-Briggs, etc.) to balance teams and to help everyone better understand how to work effectively together. Sharing the results openly from these exercises will help build cohesion.
6. Model the desired behavior: As a leader, you must “walk the walk.” Your team not only asks you for guidance, but they also watch how you behave. What you do has far more impact than what you say. Team members will feel psychologically safer if they see you behaving in a collaborative manner. Frequently ask for your team’s ideas and then go further and ask about their reasoning. Let them see you appreciate and welcome input, and work toward the right solution — not just your solution. The connection will help them feel more valued and willing to help.
Creating a culture where collaboration flourishes is one way to help your company learn faster than the competition, which as Peter Senge said, is the only real sustainable competitive advantage.