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Collaboration Culture: What is it and how to create it?

Why is a collaboration culture important and what can be done to „create“ a collaborative mindset in an organization or a team?

The importance of collaboration

Since I am working a lot with the topic of community building lately, it becomes obvious that one aspect of a community is crucial for its success: The community members. If those members are nice to each other, if they have a nice mood in their communication, if the members are polite and respectful, everyone will feel welcome.

But maybe even more fundamental is that the members are willing to contribute to the community. Contribution might be by answering others‘ questions, by sharing own experiences or just liking a blog post to show appreciation: Collaboration has to be high priority of any community.

In the initial words about my project, I already described the challenge that IT experts are currently in: An amazing amount of new technologies is arising and wants to be understood to be used in the next innovation project. It‘s totally normal that nobody understand every technology out there and is able to just develop a new app with it on day 1. To create new things, it’s absolutely necessary to team up with various people and their skills to achieve something great.

While in the history of professional organizations it might have been an asset for your value in the company to hide knowledge from others so it‘s harder to fire you, this attitude is absolutely toxic for any organization that acts in today’s world. It will make the whole organization lose the present battle of innovation in the 21st century. Problems will become more complex and should be solved in shorter time. To achieve this, it‘s necessary that the best available skills in your organization can be used to tackle upcoming challenges.

Could we be heroes, just for one day?

One reaction to the rising need for expertise can be found in the New Work Movement: there are trends to de-centralize competencies. (Daniel’s article highlights some aspects, for example). The insight appears that it might not be the best idea anymore to build hierarchy pyramids with one heroic leader on top from whom we hope to know the answers to all the problems. (Especially in tech) the world has become too complex to hope for this super-human being able to know everything.

A great example for a new concept of collaboration is WOL which is the abbreviation for Working out Loud. By coming together in self-organized WOL-circles, its members come together and intentionally share where they are currently struggling and hope to get feedback from others which can help them solve their problems. A little bit like free coaching / consulting for everybody in this circle. Isn‘t that great?

I am asking now: How can we create a cultural mindset that motivates organization‘s members to share as much of their knowledge as possible so everyone in the team can rise & shine?

But how to get there?

There is a ton of literature and theory around the topics of Cultural Change in organizations, but let me just highlight some ideas that I think might be helpful to foster a collaborative culture in a community / an organization or just inside your team:

  1. Communicate openly
    • The only way to transport your efforts of collaboration is via communication.
      In today’s world, most of us not only work with people that are in the same room with us. Virtual communication has become the standard. This introduces the risk that not all team members feel as warm and safe as they would feel in a physical office with their colleagues. Invest some thoughts on your style of communication in your virtual team. Let’s use Lisa’s blog as starting point.
    • Open communication can – as addition – also help to promote collaboration between departments inside your company. Unfortunately, that’s still a topic that is still very acute until today.
  2. Give & Take!
    • A healthy community will welcome you if you need help. That’s one of the reasons it actually exists, doesn’t it? But there should be a balance between what you take from it and what you give back to it. It’s like in most aspects of your life: We should focus more on giving, so we can feel comfortable to ask for help if we need it.
  3. Show respect and be thankful for your peer’s efforts
    • If a peer member is writing a blog to share their learnings or their expertise around a topic, be thankful for that! Life time is limited and they just spent a whole lot of it to contribute to the community. Isn’t a like for their article the least you could give back? If you think it was valuable, why not share it on LinkedIn or Twitter? Maybe write a comment to ask a question or state out the aspects which you think are the most important?
  4. Match people’s interests with their tasks
    • Both Forbes Magazine and Bodo Janssen talk about this topic, Daniel Pink even wrote a whole book about the topic around intrinsic motivation (the book is named “Drive”, I totally recommend it!). People are more engaged, more productive, the quality of their output is better, they feel more energized, more inspired, are more creative and even healthier when they can work on tasks which they are intrinsically motivated to finish. And if you work on something you believe is bringing value, you are much likelier willing to share what you have done. (Like writing a blog similar to this one, for example J )
  5. Understand the concept of Personal Branding
    • Back in the days, it must have been easier for managers to see whom of their employees is doing a good job. If they wanted, they could meet them in the office, see their “style of working”, if they e.g. are helping others a lot. In physically distributed teams, how can you as employee show leadership in your area of interest? How can you connect with others that share your interests in a certain topic?
      Actually, you have all the tools at hand to build your “personal brand”, inside your own organization and also externally. Use LinkedIn to connect with other experts, visit MeetUps and build a network. With that, you will broaden your experience, you will learn from other’s experiences and maybe also increase your market value.

Hopefully, some aspects might help you to foster better collaboration inside any community you might be part of. I truly believe: If we all work together, we can achieve much greater things than we could do alone!

 


 

Some of the sources that inspired me to this article:

5 Comments
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  • Hi Nico, nice blog post!

    I really think that you address a very present topic as in the course of digitalization many things are changing like you mentioned e.g. with the transformation from hierarchy pyramids to rather de-centralized competencies. I absolutely agree on the importance of contributing to the community and sharing your knowledge in order to create innovation. But I didn’t know about the WOL- concept which in my opinion is a great opportunity to learn from each other and should definitely be practiced more!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic!

  • Interesting blog. It seems to focus more on the external communities (understandably) but I wish you could elaborate on the internal aspect as well.

    For example, the question “in physically distributed teams, how can you as employee show leadership in your area of interest?” is a good one but it remained largely unanswered. While “building your own brand” and network can be helpful when looking for a new job, in my experience, it usually have limited usefulness within the organization where one works already.

    Actually, over the years, quite a few people on SCN expressed some concerns on how their involvement here could potentially have negative effects on their daily job. Not every manager seems to be supportive of “collaboration culture” (especially when it’s not just on paper) and this can present an unexpected challenge

    At every conference or ASUG meeting, I try to speak to people about SCN and how they could get more involved in contribution rather than consumption. On the list of “what’s preventing me” the top 3 reasons are usually: lack of time, “not sure if what I can share is of interest”, and “would my manager approve?” Clearly, there is no collaboration culture in such companies.

    • Hey Jelena,

      Thanks for taking the time to really read the article and even share your view to various points! I honestly appreciate it!

      Rg. Focus on external communities: I didn’t really want to distinguish between internal or external communities. (I assume with internal you mean “inside a company”?). I think in both cases, a collaboration culture is important and should be fostered.

      I fully understand what you say about the personal brand and the aspects of leadership not really being supportive when their employees “spend time on the internet instead of working.” I want to fight this mindset because I truly believe that – especially in our IT world – it should be common sense that higher quality of work is more important than just spending more hours. I mean, if we can learn from other’s best practices by being part of a community, we can avoid mistakes that others already made. That can really save a lot of efforts and therefore money. Maybe that is clearer understandable by traditional management 😉

      But I see that culture fading anyhow. The companies I work with grow into a more open and sharing culture!

      Where I disagree with your comment is the point of personal branding. Especially if your company is collaborating virtually, I believe being visible as expert in a certain area can help you being recognized as valuable contributor to your company’s success. But that’s just my experience working in a globally distributed organisation. Might be different in other scenarios.

       

      Have a nice weekend !