Creating the perfect collaboration ecosystem is a lot like buying a car: you need the right combination of hardware and software to meet your unique needs, and you need those various components to work together predictably and compatibly to keep moving forward. But even with all of those elements aligned, you won't actually get anywhere without the right fuel — that's where culture plays an essential role in collaboration.

You can have the fanciest workplace collaboration tools (messaging apps, video conferencing software, project management platforms, etc.), but without a collaborative culture, your projects will run into challenges. Here are some signs your culture could use a collaboration boost:

  • Collaborative projects seem to drag on without any progress
  • Employee engagement with collaborative projects is low
  • Projects are siloed in specific departments
  • There is no tolerance for experimentation or failure
  • Initiatives involving significant change or risk are quickly dismissed

While a lack of collaboration can manifest itself in various ways, there is a common thread in all of these scenarios: organizations that do not build and promote a collaborative culture get in their own way, wasting valuable time and money and missing out on opportunities to create better solutions.

If your workplace collaboration tools are failing to produce results, we have good news: with intention, encouragement and consistent action, you can improve your collaborative culture. These three tips will show you how.

1. Lead by example

Like many aspects of your organization, leadership sets the tone for how collaborative — or not — your culture will be. To demonstrate the importance of collaboration, leaders should:

  1. Approach problem solving with a beginner's mindset, earnestly inviting feedback and participation rather than assuming they have all the answers
  2. Draw upon the knowledge of employees from all levels and backgrounds to explore challenges or opportunities with as much diversity as possible
  3. Encourage exploration to develop better solutions than the status quo
  4. Encourage experimentation, embracing failure as part of the learning process

Harvard Business Review reminds readers that leadership should make this behavior visible; even if your company has thousands of employees, everyone should see and understand that collaboration is expected and encouraged from the top down. Leadership's continued commitment to collaboration sends the important message that collaboration is how things get done, and everyone has a meaningful part to play in the process.

2. Promote action

Collaborative cultures produce results by continuously designing, building, testing and learning from new ideas. They promote action with permission and remove barriers to collaboration — making it a priority to actually move projects forward.

Waguih Ishak of Corning Research & Development Corporation refers to this practice as "innovation parenting". He elaborates, "As an innovation leader, you must ground creative people in accountability for the organization’s objectives, key focus areas, core capabilities, and commitments to stakeholders. Then you give them broad discretion to conduct their work in service of those parameters." While this practice might seem scary at first, Ishak reminds readers that most organizations don't die of starvation from a shortage of good ideas, they die of indigestion from failing to act on these ideas.

If your organization is struggling to take action, ask yourself where this stems from. More often than not, fear of failure stifles collaborative action, leading to multiple "safety valves" that grind collaboration to a halt. Culturally reframing "failure" as an opportunity to learn and improve can help overcome this obstacle and relieve indigestion!

3. Foster open communication

If culture is the fuel of collaboration, communication is the fuel of culture — both from leaders and among employees. Research from Harvard Business Review found that team members collaborate more easily and naturally if they perceive themselves as being alike or part of the same community; organizations should therefore make concerted efforts to foster a sense of community among employees both inside and outside the organization. Creating opportunities for employees to participate in cross-functional activities and share their experiences, challenges and insights with each other can build mutual understanding and inspire organic collaboration across your organization.

From a leadership perspective, communicating and reinforcing clear expectations and objectives can help teams zero in on the most effective, worthwhile collaboration efforts. Frequent encouragement and constructive feedback will signal appreciation and permission to employees, promoting trust and a sense of purpose.

Overall, open communication is one of the essential building blocks of a collaborative culture, helping you:

  • Build a stronger sense of community and purpose
  • Eliminate organizational blind spots
  • Drive more impactful solutions

Culture: The Force That Drives Your Workplace Collaboration Tools

Increasing collaboration at your organization requires a multifaceted approach: you need a culture that supports collaboration, tools that help document and drive projects forward, and processes that marry these two elements with measurable and repeatable results.

While there's no one-size-fits-all solution for collaboration, a willingness to experiment and find what works for you will help you get there. For more information about how to get your employees excited and involved with collaboration challenges, check out our free guide to Generating Employee Buy-In for Your Challenges.

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Topic(s): Collaboration

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