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How to Promote Collaboration with Your Team

Data collected on organizations prove diverse teams that collaborate consistently produce better results. In a 2015 report by McKinsey & Company report, “Why Diversity Matters,” their research validated that companies that are diverse outperform those who are not as diverse. Yet most companies often fail to create an environment where diversity and collaboration can thrive. Why?

Let’s face it: diversity is challenging to navigate. What is commonly understood in one culture or group may not be commonly known in another culture or group. This creates barriers in everything from language nuances to differences in behaviors and responses. As a result, communication is a challenge.

A simple example from my personal experience proves it. Let’s say you tell me, “I’m going to run an experiment.” Because of my training as a scientist, I immediately think about planning and data collection. What you meant is “I’m going to try this and just see how it works.” I was thinking about hypothesis, data, and facts. You were thinking try, experience, and learn. A perfect scenario for misunderstanding is born.

As a result of this and many other challenges, our attempt to create diversity, especially within teams, often fail to thrive. Collaboration expert and scientist Bob Johnson points out a blind spot that prevents collaboration from developing. In Cheryl Connor’s interview with Bob Johnson, she discovers, “In so many cases, we don’t collaborate successfully because our current success gets in our way.” This creates an environment that is closed to opinions and thoughts that are different from the status quo. She goes on to point out, “After a while, success seems to create a blind spot in which they stop looking.” The status quo wins. Diverging opinions lose.

What can you do as a leader to promote a collaborative environment?

Leaders play a crucial role in helping a team navigate the difficulty involved when team members work with people who are different from them. In Kouzes and Posner’s groundbreaking book on thought leadership, The Leadership Challenge, they codify 15 specific behaviors leaders can use to promote collaboration.  Of these 15, one of them is extremely important when the team is trying to solve a tough problem.

Listen attentively to the opinions of others.

Most people believe that they are good listeners simply because they have learned to silence themselves when others are speaking.  A study by Harvard Business Review found that a highly skilled listener “asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light.”

One of the easiest ways to do this is by approaching the problem with a state of curiosity.  “I wonder…” questioning is a great way to invoke this curiosity in yourself and the other person.  When you invite the other person to “wonder” with you, it sets both of you up to imagine and create rather than criticize and judge.

Another great way to shift a team into listening mode is by creating a fun activity. Get the team involved in playing a game and watch as they listen, learn, and share. Gamestorming expert David Grey offers up an activity called, “Tell It and Sell It.”  It forces the team into creativity mode while setting up the rest of the group to listen intently.  Another game imposes a group rule to moderate discussions. No one speaks twice until everyone has spoken.  Whatever method you choose, remember that the goal is to get people to listen to one another intently and respectfully.  Any activity that can create a divergence in thoughts and enthusiastic discussion will work.

If you would like to understand more about how to promote collaboration within your team, I recommend a collaboration audit. You can find information about the audit at www.leadershipchallenge.com.

Rebecca Mott is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a self-proclaimed change agent and continuous improvement leader with over 20 years of utility industry experience leading technical teams to solve problems. She currently coaches leaders and teams to apply Lean Six Sigma methodologies and engage by focusing on the power of “we.”

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Great piece, Rebecca. I really enjoyed reading this and am excited to read more about The Leadership Challenge, especially the collaboration audit!