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Collaboration Begins With You

Business women discussing reports in meeting

We all know about silos. They exist when people in organizations want to protect resources, such as information and talent, as sources of power. But to succeed, today’s companies must use the innovative thinking of people in all areas and at all levels.

Effective collaboration is imperative to run an effective project team, department or organization. A collaborative environment promotes communication, learning, maximum contribution and innovation, which all together produce great results and human satisfaction.

In our new book, “Collaboration Begins With You,” Eunice Parisi Carew, Jane Ripley and I share that when a leader declares the need for collaboration, many people’s first response is to start pointing fingers — at the other team member, the other department, or the other company. Instead, each person should begin by asking, “What can I do to help create collaboration?”

It’s about heart, head and hands. We see collaboration as an inside-out mindset. To collaborate successfully, you need to start on the inside with your heart because it speaks to your character and intentions as a collaborator. The head aspect concerns your beliefs and attitudes about collaboration. Your behavior and actions during collaboration are reflected in the hands element. These three components  form the center of the collaborative mindset.

Once people are on board with the idea of creating a collaborative culture, begin by assessing collaborative potential — strengths and areas that may need improvement. Analyze where you stand as a collaborator to identify first steps.

We believe effective collaboration addresses five factors. To make these factors easier to remember, we organized them using the acronym UNITE. Think about how you would score yourself in each of the following areas:

Utilize differences. Many people think if a group working together allows differing viewpoints, it might create disagreement and that would be a bad thing. However, conflict in collaborative groups is good, as long as it focuses on the issues and doesn’t get personal. Do you actively seek different points of view, encourage debate and feel comfortable moderating conflict?

Nurture safety and trust. Trust is key to effective collaboration. Be sure you are accessible, authentic and dependable. Do you consider all ideas before decisions are made and view mistakes as learning opportunities? Are you clear about your expectations for others?

Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values and goals. Leadership is about going somewhere. Work with others to create a clear purpose, values and goals. Then, set them in place for your department, project team or organization. Do you hold yourself and others accountable for adhering to theagreed-upon purpose, values and goals? Have you included collaboration as one of the stated values?

Talk openly. This ties back into safety and trust. People need to know it’s safe to express themselves, and that their opinions will be respected. Encourage everyone’s contribution. Are you a good listener? Do you share information about yourself? Are you open to feedback?

Empower yourself and others. Empowerment is all about people being able to take initiative, be accountable and bring their brains to work. Do you continually work to develop your competence? Is everyone empowered to contribute their opinions, even if they disagree? Are people encouraged to network across all levels and departments?

The main barrier to a collaborative culture issilos — people and departments hoarding information and power. In siloed organizations, people are more interested in organizational hierarchy and their own interests than in working together toward a common goal. When you put self-interest aside and commit yourself to the greater good, you become what we like to call a “silo buster.”

Establishing a culture of collaboration isn’t easy. It requires everyone to step forward with a completely new mindset — one of inclusion, trust, purpose, communication and empowerment — to create an organization where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When true collaboration happens, a synergy is created where one plus one equals 11 — and everyone benefits. Think of it this way: None of us is as smart as all of us.

Collaboration begins with you, and it can begin today.