Through my exploration of scaling collaboration, I saw the effect culture has on the efficiency of teams working together. From this journey, I've identified that culture plays a foundational role in the success of team collaboration. This requires fostering a level of trust and vulnerability amongst teams to ensure that they can iterate successfully and be open to adapting when change occurs.
In organizations where trust and vulnerability are not part of the culture, people tend to become guarded and resistant to working together. Oftentimes, they bring their own perceptions of what needs to get done and what success looks like. When this happens, true collaboration becomes confrontational and innovative ideas are squelched.
The first step for an organization who desires a collaborative culture is to understand how people currently work together. One way to identify your current state is to examine how new people are onboarded into the organization. When new people start at your company, what are both the explicit and unwritten messages they receive about how your organization operates?
For example, I joined a project as a consultant a couple years ago and, on my first day, a seasoned team member told me, "Things here are never delivered on time." In this case, someone was already establishing a culture where people weren't held accountable to dates and deliverables. I worked for another organization where any kind of communication required multiple layers of vetting before it could be circulated. This resulted in layers of procedure that stifled transparent and open dialogue.
If you find that your organization needs to improve collaboration, fostering a change is possible. Oftentimes, I've adapted a tool called "The Painted Picture," created by Cameron Herold in his book Double, Double. In his version, he recommends writing about what is needed in your organization to double your revenues over the next two years. In my adaptation, I suggest similarly looking out two years into the future and asking:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- What will we need from our people to accomplish these objectives?
- How should teams collaborate to support these efforts?
- What is holding us back today from realizing these goals?
I recommend that this initially be performed by the most senior person and then discussed and refined amongst that team. This ensures everyone is aligned to a cohesive vision and has ownership of the results. After reviewing with the leadership team, I recommend identifying the 2-3 most critical changes necessary to move in the right direction.
Through this effort, you may find that there are a number of changes that are needed. Nonetheless, keep your focus on the 2-3 that will make the biggest impact. The goal here is to first identify the change, and then embrace that change incrementally.
Change is never easy, so during this process, it's important to be flexible, be aware of learning opportunities, and adapt where needed. To foster a culture of collaboration, you must similarly be open to new ideas and feedback, as well as willing to incorporate them into your approach.There is no panacea for cultural issues that impede collaboration. However, a patient, focused effort that fosters vulnerability and trust can get your organization on the path to a sustainably collaborative environment.