There’s a lot of technology on the market today designed to encourage effective collaboration. Microsoft, Cisco, Slack—it seems all of the tech leaders have put their greatest minds to work to gain a corner on the collaboration market, from video chat apps to dedicated communication channels and secure remote workstations and networks. Yet, with all of the technology available, many companies are still not experiencing the benefits of real collaboration within their companies. Why?
In the end, the issue of effective collaboration, like so many other issues in successful digital transformation, goes back to culture and personal relationship. The following are a few things to consider when trying to build a collaborative environment within your organization.
Understand the Meaning of the Word Collaboration
To collaborate means to work together. But working together is more than just gathering a bunch of bodies in a room and telling them to get something done. Collaboration is an active process of making sure that each of those bodies has the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the project with the end goal of creating a better paper, product, service, or algorithm. Effective collaboration requires empowerment. It requires respect. It requires a desire for the greatest common good—not a personal preferred outcome.
Teach and Prioritize Basic Human Communication and Respect
As the phrase goes, “God gave us two years and one mouth for a reason.” Teacher your employees to value solid listening skills. Teach them to ask questions, not just share their own opinions. Teach them the value of making an “assist” rather than making the “goal.” Learning when to step aside is part of the collaboration process.
Not everyone can be a leader all of the time, nor should they. Part of building a collaborative team means building a team where different people have different strengths and have the opportunity to lead when the time is right. Part of that means teaching “followship”—the willingness to heed to someone else’s lead when the time is right, as well.
Nothing halts productivity like muddy communication. For collaboration to work, there needs to be a clear shared language among all stakeholders. So often, different departments are thrown together and told to “collaborate” on a certain project. But if their processes and language don’t line up, you’ll never see progress. Develop a company language that defies departmental separation.
One of the reasons teams fail to work effectively is that team members are not onboarded well. They’re hired without a clear understanding of what their role is, or what authority they have. Always do your best to empower new teammates during the onboarding process. Make it clear to other members of the team why you hired them—what their skills and strengths are—and where you’re giving them the authority to make decisions for the team.
Empower Your People
This means more than just delegating your busy work. It means delegating decision-making so that all teammates feel like they have an important role to play—and skin in the game—when it comes to the success of the project.
Walk the Walk
Effective collaboration isn’t just a core value, it’s a skill that needs to be built and actively encouraged. As a leader within the company, model the behavior, rather than talking about it.
There is no amount of open-office design plan, collaborative technology platform, or sage stick smudging that will bring collaboration to your team if your company is not truly open to working together. (In fact, when it comes to the open office plan, we have learned that “forcing” collaboration when it isn’t desired can actually backfire from the intended goal.) The only way to enjoy real collaboration in digital transformation is to build it the good old-fashioned way—through ongoing human interaction, empowerment, and respect.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.