7 tips for inspiring collaboration

It’s not just corporate profits that suffer when collaboration is low: The workforce loses something too.

One my most popular speaking topics is “The Power of Collaborative Leadership.” The topic’s popularity stems from corporate clients around the world realizing that “silo mentality” and knowledge hoarding behaviors are wasting the kind of collective brainpower that could save their organization billions. Or lead to the discovery of a revolutionary new process or product. Or, in the current economic climate, help keep their company afloat when others are sinking!

And it’s not just corporate profits that suffer when collaboration is low: the workforce loses something too. Individuals lose the opportunity to work in the kind of inclusive environment that energizes teams, releases creativity and makes working together both productive and joyful.

Here are seven tips for inspiring collaboration in your team or organization:

1. Realize that silos can kill your business

Silo mentality is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture. Silo is a business term that has been passed around and discussed in many boardrooms over the last 30 years. Unlike many other trendy management terms, this is one issue that has not disappeared. Silos are seen as a growing pain for organizations of all sizes. Wherever it’s found, a silo mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles, lack of cooperation, and loss of productivity.

2. Build your collaboration strategy around the “human element”

In trying to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce, the public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, and intranets. But collaboration is more than the technology that supports it, and even more than a business strategy aimed at optimizing an organization’s experience and expertise. Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behavior of people throughout an organization. Successful collaboration is a human issue.

3. Make change management a team sport

Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked with a variety of very talented leaders, and one thing I know for sure: Regardless of how creative, smart and savvy a leader may be, he or she can’t transform an organization, a department or a team without the brain power and commitment of others. Whether the change involves creating new products, services, processes – or a total reinvention of how the organization must look, operate, and position itself for the future – success dictates that the individuals impacted by change be involved in the change from the very beginning.

4. Utilize diversity in problem-solving

Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged with a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge. The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverse thinking. Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.

5. Help people develop relationships

The outcome of any collaborative effort is dependent upon well-developed personal relationships among participants. Not allowing time for this can be a costly mistake. For example, all too often, in the rush to get started on a project, team leaders put people together and tell them to “get to work.” You’ll get better results if you give your group time (upfront) to get to know one another, to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to build personal ties, and to develop a common understanding about the project.

6. Focus on building trust

Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity, and honesty of another party. It is the expectation that the faith one places in someone else will be honored. It is also the glue that holds together any group. I recently conducted a survey of middle managers in an attempt to pinpoint the state of trust and knowledge sharing in their various organizations. What I found is a crisis of trust: suspicious and cynical employees are disinclined to collaborate — sharing knowledge is still perceived as weakening a personal “power base.” Leaders demonstrate their trust in employees by the open, candid, and ongoing communication that is the foundation of informed collaboration

7. Watch your body language

To show that you are receptive to other people’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Place your feet flat on the floor and use open palm gestures (which is a body language display inviting others into the conversation). If you want people to give you their ideas, don’t multi-task while they do. Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward is another nonverbal way to show you’re engaged and paying attention, as is head tilting. (The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.) To encourage team members to expand on their comments, nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals.

Today’s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever-shifting ocean of change. As a result, leaders need to rely more than ever on the intelligence and resourcefulness of their staff. Collaboration is not a “nice to have” organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an international keynote speaker and leadership presence coach. She’s the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt How You Lead” and creator of LinkedInLearning’s video series: “Body Language for Leaders.” For more information, visit CarolKinseyGoman.com.