5 Ways Leaders Can Build a Truly Collaborative Environment

Key Takeaways

  • When companies channel their competitive and collaborative instincts, embrace diversity and recognize the needs and emotions of their team —magic happens.

  • Okay, maybe not magic —but close. Studies show it improves performance.

  • Here are a few ways that leaders can build a truly more collaborative environment.

A recent McKinsey article suggests that over the past twenty years, academic insight and real-world experience have demonstrated that when companies channel their competitive and collaborative instincts, embrace diversity, and recognize the needs and emotions of their team members, they can reap dividends in performance.

Yet to do this, leaders need to be able to inspire a company culture that breeds collaboration, innovation, performance and more! That’s just one of the reasons why I think every company should have a Chief Culture Officer and why company values are so important. We are in a new world of what the workforce is looking for - and, as I always say,  it’s time to adapt or die. We all must really pay attention to what is happening with this new dynamic.

But, let’s take it a bit deeper. How can leaders make a more collaborative, open environment where team members can thrive?

#1. Consider the Human Element

We talk a lot about technologies that can help us be collaborative. In fact, at my organization, we’ve implemented a number of project management and communication tools that have made us infinitely more effective. Yet, it’s important for senior management to remember the human element. It's always better to communicate in person or pick up the phone and dial. Relationships are built much better and stronger this way —there are too many wrong interpretations arise via email or text.

Our team members are more than the portals and software that we invest in —and great collaboration can only come when team members feel empowered by their technology. But, at it’s core, collaboration is a human action.

#2. Use Diversity to Your Advantage

Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged with difficult problems, groups of highly adept members performed worse than groups that had varying levels of skill and knowledge. While the outcome may sound unusual, the explanation is easily understood.

Those with similar backgrounds, training or viewpoints can easily become insular in their ideas, while diverse groups often consider perspectives and outcomes that may otherwise be ignored. Use this to your advantage while creating a collaborative team.

#3. Focus on Building Trust

True collaboration can only happen when team members feel comfortable vocalizing their ideas, concerns and experiences. (No judging!) To have this level of comfort, there must be trust among team members, as well as with upper management —and there are a lot of resources on how leaders can build trust within their organization.

#4. Clarify Roles

Knowing everyone’s role and having an understanding of the responsibility that comes with those roles can not only create efficiencies, it gives team members the opportunity and freedom to thrive in their particular role.

Reviewing roles frequently and relating the team member’s role to how it accomplishes the bigger goal is vital to building a collaborative environment.

#5. Make Sure You’re the Right Leader  

While it might sound harsh. Make sure you’re the right leader to build a collaborative environment. According to a Harvard Business Review article, there has been much debate about the most appropriate style for leading teams. Some suggest a relationship-oriented leader is most appropriate, while others believe task-oriented leaders thrive in this situation. After studying 55 teams, they found the truth is somewhere in the middle.

If you follow these steps for building a collaborative environment, you’re sure to be on your way no matter what your leadership style. And, when in doubt, ask your team if it’s working! Their feedback can be invaluable in building a culture where collaboration can thrive.