People & Human Resources

How to build collaborative cultures

Eve Ash /

Corporate and government appetite for collaboration is definitely growing, albeit unevenly. How many times have you come up with an idea only for someone higher than you to either shoot it down or claim the credit?

There’s an excellent New Yorker cartoon with an executive telling the employee, “I know it was your idea but it was my idea to use your idea”. Does that practice sound familiar? Experiences like that can definitely dampen individual and group appetite for demonstrating creativity.

So, how do you build a culture encouraging learning, creativity and collaboration?

If you’re a manager: 

It starts at the top — welcome ideas

Show that you welcome ideas and favour an environment of continuous learning, collaboration and improvement. The buck really stops with you. Don’t let cynicism or bureaucratic inertia hobble these vital attributes — they make for a much happier and more engaged staff.

Instigate lunchtime ‘creative thinking sessions’

Create an opportunity for everyone to hear and discuss ways to take ideas forward and the frameworks for implementing them. Bring staff together to finesse the frameworks, and have everyone road-test them before publicising how great a place yours is for careers or innovation. Invite guest presenters, ensuring they are excellent speakers with prowess in innovation and collaboration.

Reward collaboration

Offer prizes or incentives for innovative solutions. Invite the creative person to speak passionately to others about their achievements, the learning and policy outcomes, and invite all staff involved to come forward and be recognised for their prize. The energy in the room will be exciting. It stimulates others so they are bubbling with ideas and suggestions. It‘s a great way to demonstrate collaboration.

Devise and share an intranet “community hub” or “map”

Don’t just have a “suggestions box” on your intranet (or wherever you happen to keep one) for people’s ideas and who’s working on them. Create a magic place that people enjoy using and adding to. This fuels the collaboration climate.

If you’re an employee:

Look for opportunities to bring in new ideas and initiatives

Keep your eyes open for actual and potential opportunities to bring suggestions to the table — sometimes the political climate isn’t ripe and you need to wait (or risk being shot down for your pains). However, opportunities present themselves in interesting ways; listen for when others express frustration about something and see how you can bring solutions to the mix without treading on others’ toes.

Be prudent when flagging your ideas

Not everyone may share your good intentions. I was told recently an example of an executive presenting an excellent model for working with suppliers. The presentation was going well, but then one of his colleagues rudely and insistently shut the presentation down because it didn’t accord with his own notions of proper process.

There’s frequently conflict in workplaces between those concerned with the “what” (the outcomes) and those preoccupied with the “how” (the process for getting the outcomes achieved). Disputes of this nature frequently put a spanner in the works. Where/if you can, mediate compromises where possible. Some ideas are too good to be bogged down by acrimony.

Stay abreast of developments

Read, read, read — in your field and developments in related or even totally different professions. The best ideas often come from “joining the dots”.

Allow for other people’s differences in communication

Never underestimate the importance of paying attention, even when something sounds humdrum or unrelated to what you’re doing. Don’t be rude and careless with others’ ideas, feelings and communication. Just because someone else is rude or ignores others is not an excuse for you to follow a bad role model. 

Keep a record of your ideas and initiatives

Identify the part you played in developing new ideas; these are tremendous incentives for both now and in the future when/if you’re pursuing new jobs or working arrangements.

Once you’ve achieved the above, you’re ready to publicise what your workplace is doing in terms of learning, creativity and collaboration, and to see the ripple effect it creates.

Collaboration doesn’t have to be hard and painful. It can come with many benefits and contribute positively to job satisfaction — for you and your colleagues.

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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