3 Tips for Building a Collaborative Workgroup

In my last blog To collaborate or not to collaborate that is the question, I wrote about the need to build individual’s collaborative competence. Failure to do so ensures the costs of collaborating are either failure or minimize the upside of the collaborative project. In this blog I will begin to outline what I believe to be the key collaborative competences any individual needs to master to ensure they maximize the dividend expected from any collaborative project. In our book Collaboration Begins With You, my co-authors and I offer a mnemonic, UNITE to help individual’s to remember the skills they need to master to collaboration.

  • Utilize differences
  • Nurture safety and trust
  • Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values and goals
  • Talk openly
  • Empower yourself and others

Let’s take the first one Utilize differences, (I’ll write about the others in a follow-on series of blogs). Utilize difference is especially important if you want to innovate or to recombine existing resources to deliver a better customer service or product. Diversity has long been the watchword of HR and company recruiters know the value of diversity and strive to attract and retain diverse talent to their organizations. Assuming that your HR function has done a good job the question, then what should leaders and individual contributors do to seek out other perspectives?

  • 1. Be a role model
  • 2. Actively seek opinions from a variety of sources
  • 3. Manage conflict

My first suggestion is probably the easiest to do providing others want to join your work group and that is whenever you set up or become part of a new work group review the membership and if it comprises the usual suspects then perhaps it is time to consider possibility of either extending the membership or changing its makeup? Failing to do so is one of The Four Signs of an Accidental Silo Mindset. When actively seeking out new members and welcoming them into the workgroup, word spreads that you really believe in the collaboration and your role modeling will encourage others to join in.

In team meetings do the same people speak up and others not so much? Then it’s possible that those who are not speaking up are either introverts, or disengaged. Introverts tend to do their thinking on the inside and they will if they are asked share their thinking. For the deeply introverted they need to feel that their thoughts are respected and will not be trashed or heavily criticized otherwise they won’t share again - I’ll cover more in the section on Safety and Trust. And if you are an introvert reading this then get ready to ask questions and share what you know - your thoughts will never have value if they remain only with you.

As for the disengaged - that’s harder to deal with. There is a lot of article written on how to re-engage the disengaged and it’s a huge topic. It can be about competence or motivation. If it’s competence it’s down to the leader to coach for competence. If it’s motivation, while extrinsic efforts might deliver short term gains in the longer term it is better to intrinsically motivated, Susan Fowler’s book, Why Motivating People doesn’t work and what does, is an excellent book in understanding motivation in today’s workplace. However one place to start is the leader, and if you are the leader are you shutting down conversations or opening up people’s minds and getting a real perspective on what’s working and what’s not. Or are you a ‘Dead Battery.’ you cannot jump start another - there are some great tips in, The Engagement Equation, on re-engaging yourself and others in this book.

Key to mastering real diversity is the ability to skillfully manage conflict. No one likes conflict because it is generally seen as difficult to do and time consuming. That is usually because people don’t understand how to harness conflict as a creative crucible. Conflict is natural and should not be avoided nor should it be intense and personal. Sticking to the issue and the clarity around the outcome helps. In addition some conflict awareness training can go a long way. Helping individuals to understand why they instinctively behave the way they do and how they can manage their own behaviors can significantly improve the outcome for all parties and the project. Many of my clients like to use the Thomas Kilmann Instrument to help their people understand their natural stance when involved in a conflict situation and how to manage that natural reaction to achieve a positive outcome.

If you want to build a collaborative environment then here are the key tips for leaders and individual contributors for the section on Utilize Differences. A leader must be a role model, ready to involve others by asking questions, seeking new perspectives and be ready to take a facilitator role should conflict arise. An individual needs to be open-minded and ready to ask questions and contribute and welcome the opportunity to have training in managing conflict.

The next blog will be about Nurturing Safety and Trust. More information can be found in our book Collaboration Begins with You.

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