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How to improve collaboration in the workplace

Here’s the latest recap of Jamie’s culture-related posts over at Last month, his writing focused on collaboration – one of the culture markers we measure in the Workplace Genome.

“…In a rare moment of truth-telling, one of the members of the management team said something along these lines…:

For me, collaboration means interference. Collaboration means I have to stop what I’m working on—something I know to be delivering great value to this organization—and instead spend my time working on one of my colleague’s projects. I know deep down that there is value to collaboration, but the truth is it gets in the way of me delivering results that the rest of you are counting on me to deliver.

In this particular case, the management team used this as an opportunity to dig into the real value of collaboration. They recognized that to meet the increasingly fast pace of change among their members, the collaboration—the interference really—was, in fact, worth it. If they stayed in their lanes, they were going to miss opportunities and fall behind.

But too often in cultures, we fail to acknowledge the shadow side of our values. We fail to recognize that in a complex world, declaring high-level values is not enough. You have to really wrestle it to the ground and clarify exactly how a core value like collaboration needs to be addressed.”

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“…Forced collaboration inside cultures is kind of like the ones that make everyone participate in “forced fun” activities (oh yay, another birthday “party” in the conference room!). People will do it if there are repercussions for skipping it, but it lacks the power and energy you get when they WANT to do it.

So how do you get people to want to collaborate? One idea is to create what Patrick Lencioni calls a “rallying cry.” He advocates that organizations create a SINGLE thematic goal for every time period (maybe a single quarter, maybe a whole year), and that one thematic goal is prioritized as the most important. That’s going to be a hard one for most associations to swallow, since they’ve spent years convincing themselves that their three pillars of education, networking, and advocacy are equally important. But when you clarify the priority, it actually invites collaboration because everyone knows THAT needs to get done. Although maybe you don’t realize it, but this is exactly what most associations do come annual meeting time—we all collaborate since it’s the highest priority.”

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“If you want to build a culture that values collaboration, you can’t ONLY focus on cross-functional teamwork and breaking down silos. You have to take a look at how you collaborate outside your own association as well. This includes vendors, partners, and related organizations, ranging from your Foundation that shares your staff, to chapters/components, even to competing organizations. What does the culture of your organization say about how you collaborate with these outside organizations?

Most cultures will talk a good game when it comes to external collaboration, but I find the behavior often doesn’t match. If you ask officially about the organizational relationships, you get the “one big happy family” answer, but if you get behind the scenes, you find people on every side of the equation complaining about the other. That’s not good collaboration, folks. So here are some tips to improve the situation.”

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Is aligned, strategic collaboration something you’re working towards at your organization? Are there underlying culture issues stopping your people from collaborating effectively? Contact us to find out why.


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