Exceptional Leaders Excel at Building Collaboration in the Workplace

Workplace collaboration took center stage over the past several years, as separated teams scrambled to find ways to work closer, despite their physical distance. But much of the to-do surrounded technologies and platforms to enable collaboration. However, collaboration and the importance of collaborative skills have long been attributed to the higher team and business performance. In fact, collaboration would never happen if we relied on technology alone.

In nearly every organization, executives spend hours collaborating with colleagues, thinking together in meetings, acting together to drive business-critical objectives, and managing up and managing down. A recent study by MIT Sloan found nearly three-quarters (71%) of workers reported collaborating at least 41% of their work time.

Whether you love it or hate it, building collaboration skills is imperative to leading teams and employees to get work done effectively and efficiently. Acquiring the collaboration skills you need as an executive doesn’t happen overnight – it is a process that often requires development, coaching, and an honest appraisal of your capabilities and working practices. Yet, the same MIT Sloan study found that 31% of respondents said they had received no professional development for collaboration and only 26% said they had received substantial development – more than a couple of hours.

While interacting over Zoom, Skype, and other platforms is easier than ever… true, productive, value-creating collaboration is not. To help executives enhance and develop the critical competency of building collaboration, we’ve outlined what skills contribute to effective collaboration and how to develop them.

Builds Collaboration – Competency Defined

In general, collaboration skills can be defined as the interpersonal and intrapersonal qualities and competencies we leverage to collectively solve a problem or make progress toward a common objective. Intrapersonal development involves building self-awareness which in turn, informs the perception of our interpersonal qualities.

Many people and companies struggle to draw a distinction between collaboration and communication, as they are often so intertwined. The reality is, to collaborate you need to be able to communicate. However, communicating with colleagues or teams every day doesn’t necessarily mean you are jointly collaborating.

Collaboration is the action of working collectively with your team to produce something, accomplish a goal, or solve a problem. Whereas communication is the sharing or exchanging pieces of data or information. Simply put, communication doesn’t require collaboration but without communication, you can’t collaborate. It’s the difference between sharing information and combining shared information to create something new.

At XBInsight, we define this competency as building collaboration by establishing, communicating, and reinforcing shared values and norms; inviting and building upon the ideas and contributions of others; and promoting teamwork and celebrating accomplishments.

Collaboration & Partnerships.

A key component of effective collaboration is to establish and utilize partnerships across team members, other departments or divisions, and even outside subject matter resources. Every member of a team or group has different skills, creativity, and talent they bring to the table. So, honing your partnership technique to play to those strengths will allow executives to thrive and succeed.

By establishing and leveraging collaborative partnerships, and furthering your own collaboration skills, executives can enjoy a range of benefits, including:

· Creating efficiencies in work
· Ensure better problem-solving
· Provide team members and partners opportunities to learn from and utilize each other’s strengths
· Bring teams together and connect them to the bigger picture
· Drive more creativity and innovation

Virtual vs. In-Person Collaboration.

It’s also important to point out that collaboration goes deeper than sharing space – virtually or physically. With more people working remotely or virtually today, the need to collaborate with more skill and intentionality is more critical than ever before. To collaborate virtually most effectively, executives can’t rely on virtual collaboration tools alone.

There are ways to foster collaboration virtually that mirrors the benefits of in-person collaboration, where whiteboards, debate, and rapid brainstorming sessions in a conference room aren’t possible.

Collaborating virtually may look like:

· Using video conferencing with a team, splitting the team into groups of 3-4 members in breakout rooms to replicate the same brainstorming energy and excitement.
· Utilizing the chat feature in virtual meetings to foster greater engagement among team members.
· A greater focus on the interpersonal side of virtual collaboration by enabling team members to create connections, build trust and psychological safety, and maintain productive relationships.
· Encourage virtual “side by side” working where colleagues can work on a particular shared project at the same time, using real-time collaboration to move projects forward.

Executives in today’s business landscape will need to treat virtual and in-person collaboration as complementary ways of working, suited to different contexts and projects. Understand when virtual collaboration may be good at solving highly specific types of problems, such as enabling new and more diverse teams, working with a team or project that requires discrete tasks or defined knowledge sets, when you need a colleague’s input or task completion to move a project forward, or black-and-white answers to solve an issue.

Identifying the kinds of projects, tasks, and teams that stand to gain by collaborating virtually and that specifically leverage these unique benefits allows executives to get the most out of remote and in-person collaboration.

To help you optimize the power of collaboration, the following are crucial leadership behaviors and competencies to develop.

Open-Mindedness & Trust.

In order to invite and build upon the ideas and contributions of others, executives need to build an environment of trust and an open mind towards your team’s ideas and those of your colleagues. Effective leaders understand that for collaboration to succeed, team members must operate in an environment of trust and comfort to share their perspectives. At the core, executives must be of the belief that open-mindedness is critical to effective collaboration and innovation.

Successful collaborators seek out and build teams, often multi-disciplinary, to encourage and facilitate new perspectives on issues or challenges. They acknowledge that different views, skills, and experiences among their team ultimately benefits projects and the team overall while being stuck in a particular mindset or being unable to empathize is a major obstacle to collaboration.

In addition to an open mind, leading executives need to have open ears. This means having the capability to actively listen to others when soliciting feedback or advice on a project or issue. Active listening is more than just hearing what the other person is saying, it means listening without judgment and fully understanding the point being made.

Here are a few suggested action items to build this competency:

· Create a document to capture your key stakeholder groups and the individuals within those groups.
· Identify departments or groups across the organization to learn about their goals and priorities. Develop a structured set of questions to gather the key information on what they are doing, challenges, and expectations.
· Share what you learn with your team and ask them to exchange ideas about how they can support each other’s goals.
· Proactively engage with stakeholders who have different opinions than you to try and foster a more collaborative relationship.

Open, Effective Communication & Shared Goals.

One of the most important points of collaboration is to encourage clear and thoughtful communication, and that means executives need to maintain effective and open channels of communication. A key aspect of being a good communicator in workplace collaboration is to never assume people already know things. Keep communication open among your colleagues and team, and never avoid sharing information that’s needed to carry out tasks.

In addition to developing your own communication style and effectiveness, it’s also important to remember that people have different communication styles. To promote a culture of effective collaboration and communication, be mindful of these different styles and adapt the way you communicate accordingly.

An offshoot of effective and open communication is the ability to establish shared goals and clearly communicate those goals to your team. If the aim of the collaboration is not clear to your team because of an unclear company goal or vision, it can be a tremendous roadblock – often resulting in confusion and working in the opposite direction of what you’d intended. Employees need to not only understand the shared purpose or common goal but their specific role in contributing to the project or initiative.

Try these suggested action items:

· Embed regular meetings, feedback, and decision-making points throughout projects or initiatives.
· Seek feedback from peers to help continuously improve or adjust your communications approach.
· Make an effort to seek opinions, information and support from others before making decisions or taking action, especially when faced with complex situations and important decisions.
· Start to consider style differences of your audience and adjust your style as needed for effective meetings and conversations.

Recognize Accomplishments & Do Your Part Too.

At the core of collaboration is teamwork and the exchange of ideas, individual contributions, and accomplishments from each member of the team. Particularly in today’s labor environment, executives will need to focus on recognizing and celebrating the part others play in the success of the team and those around them.

Recognition also plays a critical part in employee engagement and can help create a more positive environment. Collaborators who give credit where credit is due are more enjoyable to work with and contribute to a stronger culture of workplace collaboration.

Similarly, a good leader is someone who isn’t afraid to put in the hard work to get things done and is an active member of the team. This includes stepping in to offer help and guidance to coworkers or team members who may be struggling and being accountable for the work you have a part in. Simply put, be willing to put the needs of your team before your own when necessary.

Use these suggested strategies:

· Set expectations by letting your team know that it’s your job to be there for them. Whether they want to talk about strategy, challenges, or career goals, let them know you’ll be there to chat whenever they need it.
· Announce the achievements of an employee or team publicly. You can do this by adding in shoutouts to your weekly team meeting agenda or sharing a note in your company’s communication tool.
· Recognize individuals privately during one-on-one meetings.
· Encourage the team to give one another recognition. After all, it shouldn’t just come from the top-down.

Developing Your Collaboration Competency.

Collaboration can be difficult, but it can also be developed and when done right, it can lead to amazing results for your team and the organization. Executives with strong competencies in building collaboration create environments where every employee can perform at maximum capacity with support – enabling efficiency, innovation, productivity, and engagement.

If you’re looking for help in developing your collaboration skills, an executive coach is a great place to start. Executive coaches will help you examine your current competency levels, identify areas to develop, give you the tools you need, and hold you accountable for your own success.