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Building Future Fit Teams: Teams need to “Stop, Collaborate and Listen”

Maybe, just maybe Vanilla Ice was onto something with his opening line in the hit song “Ice Ice Baby” released back in 1990. Yes I know the rest of the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but he knew what he was talking about when instructed his crew “Alright Stop. Collaborate and listen.”

You see, collaboration is the spark of creativity and innovation. It’s the cornerstone of successful teams and translates directly into financial success for organisations. There is no denying that it’s the latest Buzz Word and every Leader is wanting to get in on the action.

Collaborative teams are characterised by shared values and intimacy. They dialogue around the team’s vision, align to it and share accountability.

There is a certain magic that happens in collaborative teams. One has to stand back in awe when watching them ideate and problem solve. But, there is a reason that I use the word magic. Witnessing such a team in action is about as rare as finding magician without a trick up his sleeve. Okay, I agree that is a bit of a stretch but you get what I mean. It’s infrequent!

Given this, my question is should Collaborative teaming be the only mode of teaming we strive for? We know that sometimes we thrive just as well with “Executive” teams whereby focus is solely placed on getting “stuff” done.

My concern is that if our focus is solely on collaborative teaming we run the risk of diluting our team’s ability to execute. This is most often the case when we have a few individuals identified as great collaborators being called into several meetings to collaborate on things that demand simple execution, creating an unnecessary layer of work.

If collaboration is your only mode you more often than not create noise and busyness in the system. Often tools used to encourage collaboration such as Instant Messenger or Yammer become a digital record of unproductive and uninspiring chit chat.

With these risks in mind, I am suggesting that we use “Collaborative Teaming” as a tool to achieve creativity and innovation when needed, as opposed to a pervasive mode of teaming.

As leaders it is our job to put in place guidelines that will foster and drive collaboration, when needed. We are responsible for helping our teams discern if a task needs execution or when collaboration is required.

When something does requires collaboration I would like to suggest the following tips to foster and support collaboration:

  1. Set clear goals: Ensure that clear goals are set for the Collaboration. If not you just might end up with noise, chatter and indecision that serves to distract and overwhelm your team rather than empower them to performance.
  2. Be present: Participate in the collaboration. Your teams need to see you as part of the process. Start conversations, send out links to relevant articles etc. seek to inspire and stretch thinking. Provide feedback and comment on your teams contributions. Participate as an equal not as a point of authority.
  3. Run the Gauntlet: Focus on removing obstacles in the way of collaboration. We expect our teams to perform and spend time collaborating whilst their capacity is “under siege.” We sometimes create so many stumbling blocks to collaboration that we end up with a gauntlet that not many will run. Lead them through this, carve out the way.
  4. Walk it don’t talk it: If you want your teams to be empowered and collaborative, check yourself! As leaders we often say we want to empower our teams but we disempower through the practices and processes we implement and the restrictive risk free mandates we assign. Look carefully at the processes you have in place, especially when it comes to decision making. Do these really support collaboration? Do they really reflect an empowered team?
  5. Coach to change: Help your teams develop strategies to cope with constant change. It would be so easy to just say “Stop moving the goal posts” but in reality with our fast pace and blindsiding disruption this is never going to happen. Too many things are changing at once and honestly I do not think we know anymore what the strategic game changers are so we will need to keep blindly swinging and making changes in the hope that we are pulling the right levers to achieve success. Bottom line here is that teams need to be “Change Fit.”
  6. Communicate: We struggle to collaborate because we have forgotten how to communicate. Make sure you and your team are skilled communicators. Bring your team into the decision making process. Allow time to practice and master communication skills. Encourage all members of the team to provide in the moment feedback. Make time for reflection on this to encourage mastery.
  7. Go “Gestalt”: We have forgotten our interdependence because we only recognise and reward our independence. It is only the “I” that is recognised, the “I” that gets praised, promoted, or gets the bonus. This promotes competition and erodes trust and respect.
  8. Arm yourself: Choose your collaboration tools wisely. Understand the benefits they can provide as well as the pitfalls or drops in productivity they can perpetuate. When choosing collaboration technology make sure you align this to what your culture will bear. Click here for a useful breakdown of available collaboration tools.

Following these tips and selecting the right tools will go a long way in helping your teams to collaborate purposefully and productively. However, please keep in mind that although collaborative teaming is being hailed as the silver bullet for dealing with disruption, it should be used as a verb rather than a noun.

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