How to build a collaborative culture in the workplace

eXo Platform Blog

This is the sixth and final blog post of a series dedicated to collaboration. Previously, we have covered collaboration in business in general, and the workplace in particular, through multiple angles ranging from the history, types and benefits of collaboration all the way to the common myths and misconceptions surrounding it and the mistakes made by both teams and businesses.

In this blog post, we will shed light on the best practices that can help businesses build a collaborative culture and a working environment that will encourage their teams to work together in a positive way. But first, let’s start by defining what’s meant by a culture of collaboration or a collaborative culture and examine its main characteristics.

What is a collaborative culture?

When we defined collaboration in the first blog post of this series, we have focused more on the act of collaborating, the involved parties and the desired outcome. In a nutshell, the Cambridge dictionary definition went something like this: “Collaboration is the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing”.

Although straight to the point, this definition is a bit limited as it doesn’t provide details about the context or the environment needed for successful collaboration. Both are essential ingredients in creating a collaborative culture.

Simply put, a collaborative culture represents the set of processes designed to promote, facilitate and incorporate collaboration in the day-to-day operations of an organization.

What we witness in most cases is that individuals often engage in collaboration out of need or necessity without a predefined process.

More often than not, this will lead to ineffective collaboration as the involved parties don’t have a shared understanding of the common goals and objectives and don’t necessarily follow the same processes or use the same tools to collaborate.

But how can we ensure that we have a robust collaborative culture in place, and more importantly, how can we get employees on board?

Best practices to build and promote a collaborative culture

  • Build a case for collaboration

The first step towards creating a collaborative culture is to specify “why” the collaboration is needed, “what” the goals, objectives and expectations are, and “how” the collaboration will be developed. Determining the scope of collaboration will help business leaders grasp the bigger picture, put the right processes in place and get their employees on board with their ideas.

Adopting an inside-out approach to any business situation is key for success. As Simon Sinek explained in his book Start With Why, moving from the why to the how, and finally the what, is essential to get people on board. This methodology – “the golden circle of why” – can be applied to collaboration in the workplace. As is often the case, employees more or less know what to do, and how to do it (at least at an individual level), but they don’t necessarily know why (at a collective level). If employees don’t have a clear understanding of the organizational mission and vision and why they need to collaborate together to achieve common objectives, they won’t be invested in giving their best and initiating acts of collaboration. On the contrary, if provided with a strong mission statement and clear objectives and expectations, employees will more likely be passionate about their work and more willing to work together.

  • Recruit the right individuals

Collaboration is all about people and how they interact with each other. The most essential ingredient of a successful collaborative culture is people. Once you’ve identified the “Why”, “What” and “How”, the next step is to get the right individuals in place and set up teams who are more likely to engage in a fruitful collaboration.

Nowadays, recruiters are often on the hunt for team players with distinct and specific characteristics that fit in well with the overall organizational mission and the team dynamics. You may have already encountered specific interview questions such as, “What does it take to be a good team player?”, “How will you adapt to collaborate with your team and other departments?” or “How did you approach certain situations while working within a team?”. These are important questions that are often asked by recruiters to determine how candidates approach and deal with certain situations. Other interview techniques, such as group interviews, can also help you select the right team players by putting them in real-life situations and observing their behaviours, leadership styles and soft skills. However, keep in mind that the right individuals depend entirely on your organization and specifically your teams. A general rule of thumb is to select individuals who can complement their future colleagues and bring something new to the table.

  • Create an environment of trust and transparency

A transparent workplace environment is the context in which collaboration is likely to flourish. By transparent, we mean a workplace in which individuals – both employees and management – are encouraged to voice their opinions; share their ideas, feedback and business insights; and simply communicate through a variety of channels.

Clearly, achieving transparency in the workplace comes with a number of benefits including effective communication and collaboration, an engaged and informed workforce, increased trust in team leaders and the organization, and so on. In fact, according to an ADP research, involving a study of 19,000 global workers, a worker is 12 times more likely to be engaged when he/she trusts his/her team leaders. Additionally, constant feedback from higher management is something that the new generations are looking for.

A Gallup report titled “How Millennials Want to Work and Live” found that millennials often look for honest and open feedback, good communication and clear expectations from their management, with 44% of respondents stating that they would be more likely to be engaged if their manager were to hold regular meetings with them.

Creating or improving transparency is a top-down process that starts with highly ranked executives such as the CEO and team managers. They have the responsibility to set an example to the entire organization by being open and willing to share, and especially, by listening to their workforce. This will encourage teams and individuals to eventually follow suit and keep everyone on the same page.

  • Help employees develop friendships and bonds (beyond work)

We all have at least one friend or best friend at work with whom we enjoy spending our time, having a laugh and, of course, doing a little bit of work. In fact, having friends at work makes us more engaged, open to voicing our ideas and willing to take on new challenges as a team. This can reflect positively on the team dynamics and productivity as a whole.

A report by Gallup found a strong correlation between having a best friend at work and overall engagement and productivity. Of the surveyed women in the study who stated that they had a best friend at work, 63% were more than twice as likely to be engaged than the 29% who stated otherwise. Another study, performed by O.C. Tanner, supported these findings and also reported that 75% of employees with “besties” feel they can take on new challenges, compared to 58% who said they don’t.

This begs the question, “How can we cultivate friendships and solidify bonds within teams?”. Although the majority of friendships and bonds in the workplace are spontaneous as people find common interests with their peers, team managers and HR can also play a role in this. Buddy programmes and team-building activities are prime examples of how you can effectively integrate and onboard employees and create the environment within which employees are likely to bond.

  • Deploy the right tools to support collaboration

Implementing the right collaborative tools to assist teams is the common step employed by the majority of businesses in order to foster collaboration. However, as we have mentioned in a previous blog article titled “Debunking common misconceptions about collaboration”, most teams fall into the trap of deploying tools without proper planning and expecting their teams to just be able to use them. This will actually create more problems than solutions as teams might become overwhelmed when faced with a multitude of tools. So how can we find the right balance?

To answer this question, you have to first audit the solutions already in use within the organization as well as specific teams. This way, you would have a general idea about both the tools already in place and the ones needed to rectify certain problems. Once this is done, you can then draw up a list of solutions as well as specific features that your employees might need to get work done.

Typically, when it comes to collaboration, decision makers often have to make the choice between a collaborative suite with a host of built-in apps (or a holistic digital workplace) or a collection of stand-alone business applications (such as project and document management solutions, chat applications, video conferencing, etc.) with the capacity to integrate with existing systems and third-party applications through APIs. Additionally, in some cases, companies – especially tech ones – can perform typical build-vs-buy analysis in order to figure out whether to develop and build a collaborative solution from scratch or buy one (although this is not that common for the collaboration use case). The choice depends entirely on the needs and preferences of teams.

  • Encourage and recognize collaborative actions

It goes without saying that recognizing and valuing employees for their work and contributions is your best bet to get them engaged and loving life within your organization. A number of research studies have examined the correlation between employee recognition, engagement and performance. According to a 2016 survey by Globoforce and SHRM, 90% of workers stated that they feel more satisfied through values-based, peer-to-peer recognition. Additionally, a Deloitte study found that organizations with tailored recognition programmes have a 31% lower turnover rate.

So how can we recognize collaborative actions in the workplace? The simple answer is to publicly praise teams (verbally or in writing) as a reward for their work. Additionally, you can experiment with employee recognition and gamification systems. Both systems go hand in hand as they can be programmed to take into consideration a list of desired actions and behaviours that will result in points. For example, actions such as sharing documents with the team and creating tasks and events, among others, can result in gamification points. These points will be visible on leaderboards, with employees ranked according to their actions. Points can also be granted for employees who give and receive praise by their peers or managers via kudos and personalized “thank you” messages. Gamification and recognition systems are proven to create a culture of healthy competition within the workplace, boost collective morale and motivate employees to collaborate with each other.

Collaboration in business is one of those topics that did, still and will always grab the attention of businesses and individuals alike. At the start, we didn’t think that only one blog post would do “collaboration” justice as it’s a complex concept that’s ingrained in our working lives. Through this dedicated series of six blog articles, we hope we managed to cover most aspects of collaboration and that you guys did learn a thing or two about the history of collaboration, how to build a collaborative culture and what mistakes to avoid, among other things.

This has been the first time that I personally have written a collection of blog posts, and it’s been an enjoyable ride. If you want other similar content, make sure to submit your suggestions in the comment section below and don’t forget to take the blog tour for even more content.

 

 

What is collaboration?

Collaboration is “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing”.

See the full definition of collaboration


What is a collaborative culture?

Here are some definitions of digital workplace:

A collaborative culture represents a set of processes designed to promote, facilitate and incorporate collaboration in the day-to-day operations of an organization.

See the full definition of collaborative culture


How do you build and promote a collaborative culture?

Here are some best practices for building and promoting a collaborative culture in the workplace:

  • 1. Build a case for collaboration
  • 2. Recruit the right individuals
  • 3. Create an environment of trust and transparency
  • 4. Help employees develop friendships and bonds (beyond work)
  • 5. Deploy the right tools to support collaboration
  • 6. Encourage and recognize collaborative actions.

Discover how to build and promote a collaborative culture


Why collaboration is important?

At the internal level, businesses try to encourage and seek to incorporate different forms of collaboration in the workplace to lay the foundations for teams to be able to work together with an aim to achieve higher levels of success.

Externally, businesses look to engage in collaborative actions to benefit from others’ expertise, to gather the opinions of their customer base and to get customers and other stakeholders more involved in the development of products and services.

Find out why collaboration is important


What are the benefits of collaboration in the workplace?

Here are some of the benefits of collaboration in the workplace:

  1. Foster innovation and creativity
  2. Better problem solving
  3. Effectively handle times of crises
  4. Engage and align teams
  5. Increase motivation
  6. Attract talents

Find out the benefits of collaboration in the workplace

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Product Marketing Specialist

I am a product marketing specialist at eXo. My role is to assist marketing and sales teams in their operations and present our digital workplace solution to the world. I mainly blog about the latest tech trends, digital transformation, internal communication and how to navigate through eXo Platform.

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