Work silos are a big productivity damper. They lead to unintended rework and delays. Companies are fairly good in forming a cross-functional team for projects. When it comes to day-to-day operations, collaboration tends to fall by the wayside.
There is no debate that collective problem solving creates a better solution. Yet, it is difficult to keep collaboration top-of-mind. There are 3 ways to foster a collaborative culture:
1. Develop champions
Collaboration builds on a willingness to share knowledge and engage in frank conversations. This won’t happen unless there is trust. People are more open with their views when there is no fear of negative consequences. By developing champions of collaboration, they serve as role models. They practise collaboration. They speak about it and they reinforce its importance. The ideal candidates for these champions are leaders in middle management.
Employees look to their leaders for guidance. When they see that collaboration is a norm, they would incorporate the mindset into their work approach. The more often they share information and toss ideas around with their colleagues, the more at ease they would be with collaboration.
2. Encourage inclusive thinking
Most work has an upstream task and a downstream task. When there is an awareness of the needs, one would raise a red flag and alert the appropriate people to get involved. This requires people to think beyond their immediate work scope.
In order to encourage inclusive thinking, you need to education people on the big picture. Apart from providing the essential information on ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how,’ it is necessary to highlight issues that are on the radar. After all, you want others to provide ideas for improvement. There should be little reservation on communicating what is working well and troubles that impede performance. The ‘education’ could be done in formal sessions or informal conversations. The key is that people are not shy about asking for input. That paves the way for building strong rapport, all the better for collaboration.
3. Reward action
It takes time to initiate conversations and effort to follow through. Many people don’t want to bother because collaboration might slow them down. Why waste the time if their colleagues are hard nosed about their work or the effort could effect little change. Failing to take action when one is fully aware of the impacts is the culprit of work silos.
To foster the collaborative mindset, the champions need to recognize efforts made and acknowledge the outcome, good and bad. There could be sensitivity around turf and fear. But being open and honest is best. By holding firm to building improvements, it is worthwhile to give it a try. The champions have an important role in propelling the eager collaborators to take action.
Many companies have tried different approaches to encourage collaboration. Things like the ideas box or formal sessions for teams to present on what they do. These approaches lose their sizzle after a while because people feel that going through the motion is not a good use of their time. In fact, the routine becomes a liability because they don’t see any result. People must value collaboration before they act to support it. The more frequently they are exposed to it and practise it, collaboration becomes a habit. Collaborative thinking would then become top-of-mind.