Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Collaboration is all the rage. Proponents of web 2.0 tell us that it’s just the way we work naturally. However, for far too many years corporate culture has often emphasized the benefits of individual achievement and competition over collaborative efforts. This suggests that some folks are going to have to be retrained before they can rediscover their inner collaborator.

So how do you create and nurture a culture of collaboration? Once again, KM4Dev has found an interesting resource on collaboration: Seth Kahan’s article entitled “5 Guidelines for Creating a Culture of Collaboration.” He proposes the following guidelines:

1. Build engagement in the workplace. This means creating an environment in which employees feel that they have a stake in the outcomes of the enterprise — that their contribution matters.

2. Increase trust through emotional intelligence. It’s hard to collaborate with people you don’t know or trust. So this means creating opportunities for people to get to know each other and learn to rely on each other. This also means providing emotional support in difficult times and times of celebration.

3. Create space for connection. Provide physical places where people can gather informally. An interesting question is whether virtual spaces are as effective as physical spaces for these purposes.

4. Condone connection time. Let people know that the organization supports their efforts to get to know each other. This, of course, sets up an interesting tension in organizations like law firms which count every minute since they depend on the billable hour for their livelihood.

5. Favor flexibility. Acknowledge and support diversity, not only in terms of physical attributes, but also in terms of work styles. Having this variety makes the organization more adaptable and less rigid.

In his book, The Culture of Collaboration, Evan Rosen notes that collaboration thrives best in organizations that promote informal, non hierarchical relationships within a culture that encourages innovation. He has identified 10 cultural elements of collaboration:

– Trust
– Sharing — as opposed to hoarding
– Goals — everyone pursues the same group goals
– Innovation — the culture emphasizes the value of innovation
– Environment — the physical and virtual environment facilitates collaboration
– Collaborative Chaos — permitting the unstructured exchange of ideas
– Constructive Confrontation — learning to disagree about and discuss concepts and issues
– Communication
– Community
– Value — the point of collaboration is to create value for the enterprise

In thinking further about creating a culture of collaboration, Rosen notes that a critical element is ensuring that everyone has access to and ease with collaborative tools. In his post
Too Old to Collaborate? he debunks the notion that younger generations are naturally more collaborative than older ones. In his work he has found that the thing that often divides the generations is the ease with which they pick up and use collaborative tools such as IM, web conferencing and video conferencing. But merely providing the tools is not enough to create collaboration. You also have to provide the training so that everyone can use the tools comfortably.

So is collaboration our natural mode of work? Possibly — if we work within organizations that make it a priority to create and maintain a culture of collaboration.

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