Learning how to collaborate effectively — whether that means honing your personal teamworking skills or improving your firm’s ability to work with outside partners — can help your company deliver higher-value offerings despite today’s tight constraints on resources. “By collaborating with complementary partners, you can go from supplying a commodity to supplying a premium solution,” says management professor Morten Hansen, author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results. “The new winners are going to be good at collaborating.”
5 Steps to being a better collaborator
- Shut up and listen: The next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to how you react to someone else’s idea. Do you listen, or do you talk over her dismissively? If it’s the latter, you’ve got a problem.
- Ease up on yourself: Give yourself permission not to have all the answers.
- Tap into smart questions: Cultivate your sense of curiosity. Ask your staff questions such as, “So you think this is the best way — why?” This will not only help you arrive at better solutions, but also make others feel that their opinions are valued.
- Challenge your assumptions: When you’re convinced you’re right about something, seek input from an employee, even a junior one. This could help uncover gaps in your thinking.
- Don’t worry whose idea it was: Build a culture that encourages everyone to share ideas, while understanding that most won’t be pursued in the end. Focus on finding solutions, not on bragging rights over who made that brilliant suggestion.
Get poor collaborators on board
A recent Cisco Systems study concluded that staff fall into four collaboration strata: collaboration enthusiasts, comfortable collaborators, relucant collaborators and collaboration laggards. The research suggests ways to warm employees up to collaboration:
- Adopt formal collaboration processes: Fully 86% of collaboration enthusiasts say their employer requires team members to use collaboration tools, such as weekly conference calls among project members, versus just 29% of laggards.
- Make teamwork a performance metric: An overwhelming 92% of enthusiasts are scored on collaboration, versus 64% of laggards.
- Have the big bosses get religion on collaboration tools: More than 90% of enthusiasts say their managers are good role models for using these tools — everything from teleconferencing to wikis and blogs — compared with 57% of laggards.
- Reward effective collaboration: Fully 81% of collaboration enthusiasts work for firms that give bonuses and other rewards to good collaborators, whereas just 19% of laggards work for such companies.