7 Ways to Inspire Your Team to Collaborate
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Some years ago, when I was speaking
to a group of executives about change leadership, the topic of
collaboration came up as a corporate initiative many in the audience
were dealing with. On a whim I asked, "How many of you are totally
comfortable sharing information with others in your organization?" I
was astonished when out of an audience of about 200, only three hands
went up. Clearly, if the people responsible for managing, creating, and
promoting collaboration were uncomfortable doing it themselves, we were
looking at a big problem -- a human problem. And that’s the element
that always interests me, because understanding people is at the heart
of all successful leadership strategies.
With collaboration, for example,
there are two basic instincts that are automatically triggered under
different circumstances: hoarding and sharing. The instinct to hoard
can be traced back to early humans hoarding vital supplies, like food,
out of fear of not having enough. The more food
they put away, the safer they felt. In an evolutionary sense, those who
hoarded food and other basic necessities, were better off, healthier,
and produced more offspring.
This emotional attachment to our
possessions has been hard-wired into our brains to help us survive.
And, still today, whenever we feel threatened, fearful, distrustful or
insecure, the “hoarding gene” kicks into high gear, urging us to hold
on tightly to whatever we possess – including knowledge.
Some corporate policies unwittingly
trigger knowledge hoarding. When an organization’s evaluation,
promotion and compensation systems are based on relative numbers and
individual achievements, it reinforces the perception is that sharing
knowledge reduces the chance of personal success.
Some managers undermine collaboration
by their own hoarding behavior -- withholding information from their
team or doling it out on a "needs to know" basis. And some bosses ask
for their staffs’ input, when what they really want is a "rubber stamp"
for decisions already made.
On the other hand . . . humans are
also a learning, teaching, knowledge-sharing species. This too has been
hard-wired in us. Experiments at Notre Dame support the notion that
cooperation helped our ancient ancestors survive. Computer simulations
add to real world evidence that teamwork in early humans was critical.
There are leaders at all levels of an
organization who create a collaborative environment within their work
group or team by nurturing the conditions under which people naturally
want to share and support one another. These successful individuals
realize that people are inspired to collaborate when they are part of
something that has meaning, when they feel safe, and when they are
valued as contributors.
Here are seven actions that inspire
- Take the time and effort necessary
to make people feel secure and appreciated. Co-create “rules of
engagement” that outline the ways in which your team members agree to
treat one another.
- Let your team know why this
project is important (you’d be surprised to know how often this is not
done) and then set clear expectations for group outcomes
and individual roles.
- Build trust by displaying
trustworthiness – be consistent, candid, open, vulnerable, and
- Tell stories to build community,
create a shared identity, and help people learn from successes and
- Respect and encourage diversity –
of background, of experience, of opinion, of thinking.
- Provide opportunities for team
members to interact with one another and with other parts of the
organization in order to develop relationships that are the bedrock of
- Watch your body language.
Collaborative leaders don’t just say they want everyone’s input, they
send nonverbal signals of inclusion – giving people their full
attention, listening carefully, and making positive eye contact,.
Collaboration is also intrinsically
inspiring because it has an emotional payoff. People like being part of
a winning team, and as one collaborative leader told me: "There is a
phenomenal sense of accomplishment in achieving as a group what could
never have been achieved as individuals.”
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is
an international speaker on “The Power of Collaborative Leadership,”
and the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language
Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.” Contact her by email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com,
phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website: www.CarolKinseyGoman.com.
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