Be a collaborative leader

Culture  Leadership
14 September, 2015

Replace the silo mentality with genuine collaboration

We all know that effective collaboration is critical to our success.  To create and deliver amazing products and experiences to our consumers, we can’t do it alone – we need to meld together a variety of experiences and perspectives. All the pieces need to come together. We talk about needing to become whole-brained as a company – collaboration is the bedrock for that.

Unfortunately, while the intent is there, I still see that many of us struggle to collaborate. We remain stuck to our traditional mindset and siloed mentality. We find it difficult to trust others and continue to protect our turfs. We play blame games and become passive-aggressive. And sadly, this behaviour percolates down to the rest of our team.

Frankly, we, the leadership team, are the biggest inhibitors to collaboration. Many times, I have heard that your team members are not being allowed to share information with other functions unless you have seen it before. Or you insisting on a parallel review in cross functional projects. I have also heard that in some cases, even a simple thing like an email to other functions can’t be sent without the boss seeing it first.  Or supervisors even asking team members to withhold information. Some of you even go as far as not responding to emails from other function team members in a timely manner.

The sad thing is that these examples are not from other companies. These are things that I see happening at GCPL. And as a leadership team, we need to seriously introspect what we are not doing right. And what we need to do differently to tap into our collective strengths and capitalise on our tremendous potential.

So, in my message today, I want to focus on fostering collaboration within and across our teams – and what you need to do to become a collaborative leader. Remember that this has to start with your behaviour and what you need to consistently do to enable others to collaborate.

A few things to keep in mind

1. Collaboration is an ongoing process

Collaboration isn’t a one-off event. It is a process and an ongoing one at that too. Just because you bring a set of people with complementary skill sets together, it doesn’t mean that they will collaborate. Pushing it to happen will only complicate things further. Collaboration, at the heart of it, is about people being able to let down their guard, being willing to borrow from and trust each other, being open with feedback and also with not getting it right. That takes time to build. You can’t wait to kickstart a project, put together a team and simply expect for all of this to happen. We need to make collaboration a part of our overall culture; a way of working. And find ways to build in more familiarity and networking across teams, on an ongoing basis.

2. Collaboration is not about consensus

Often, we mistake collaboration with the need to get everyone to say yes. But this isn’t so. You will not get everyone to agree all of the time. And the last thing that you want is for people to pay lip service. In fact, for collaboration to work effectively, people need to speak their minds and agree to disagree. Being able to get these discussions started is critical because without this, you will just remain siloed. To make this work, you need an approach that is based on trust and mutual respect.

3. Collaboration should not makes us less agile

One of the big worries with collaboration is that getting everyone on board could lead to unnecessary meetings and just slow you down. Often, this ends up being so because there are no clear structures and accountability in collaborative projects. So, it is important to be clear on roles and the decision making. As the team works together, there will come a point, where basis all the data collated and research done, you need to make a decision on the way forward. This is where there could (and most probably would) be conflicting opinions. And that is okay. At the end of the day, the purpose of this is to make the right business decisions. Someone will need to make a call and decide on the trade-off. Being very clear on who this is or what the process for making this choice will be, is imperative to ensure that you don’t get caught up in a counter-productive back and forth on decision-making.

4. Being cooperative isn’t sufficient

Being cooperative – friendly and approachable and willing to pass on data and information – doesn’t necessarily make you collaborative. Being collaborative involves much more. It is about working on shared goals (most of which are probably a smaller portion of your larger goals), some of which may even be In conflict with others. You need to get much more involved and figure out how to work through and align your different goals and priorities.

5. Collaboration requires trust

Bottom line, this is about trust. While you can figure out the right structure, have common goals, ensure that everyone gets enough visibility and match performance with rewards, none of this will really work without trust. Can you trust people to be honest? To put what’s best for the company ahead of turf issues? To be accepting of difficult feedback? To ask for help when they need it? To have each other’s backs?

Your role as a leader in fostering collaboration 

Collaboration starts at the top. As leaders, we play a defining role in creating a collaborative culture.

Ask yourself, honestly – how open are you to fostering collaboration? Do you really encourage your team members to collaborate with other people? What is it that holds you back?

Remember, your team will take a cue from your approach. So, you need to set the right tone and walk the talk. This is of course, easier said than done, because collaborative frameworks cut across traditional structures of reporting and accountability. Sure, it will have its challenges, but it is up to us to find a way to leverage this effectively.

Bringing together and engaging people from across teams, who often don’t report to you, and inspiring them to collaborate, can unlock tremendous potential.

We are becoming more global and becoming more collaborative will be a key part of our transformative journey. So, we need to get much better at this, together.

Here are seven aspects that you could focus on, to become a more collaborative leader:

  1. Trust your colleagues. Respect your colleagues. Don’t play blame games when things don’t go right. Don’t withhold information. Don’t always second guess the work or intentions of other team members.
  2. Besolutions focused. Don’t just criticise or pinpoint problems. Take the next step of being constructive and finding solutions.
  3. Operate as a team.Show that you are in this together. If you have a disagreement with a fellow leader, don’t send nasty emails copying everybody. Discuss your issues in private and resolve it. Don’t bad mouth your colleagues.
  4. Have clear team roles and goals. Be clear about what role each person will play and what the expectations are. Be clear on what the common goal is. What problem are you trying to solve? Why do you need to do this together?  And get people to buy in to it.
  5. Have zero tolerance for territorial behaviour on the part of your team members.Don’t encourage turf wars. Most collaborative projects blur traditional roles and hierarchies. This challenges accountability and authority. You need to be okay with this.
  6. Be humble. The very premise of bringing together different people and perspectives, is that no one, in isolation, can offer all the answers. And this can be difficult because it means accepting that you don’t know it all.
  7. Have a clear process for conflict management.There are bound to be conflicts. And you need to have a way to resolve them. Don’t make them about the person. Focus on the issue and the facts. Don’t hide behind email; try to resolve issues in person. Don’t go behind people’s backs. Call out issues if you see them.

So, in the true spirit of #monday8am, why not take a few minutes to reflect this Monday morning on what you can start doing differently to foster collaboration? If each of us commits to doing our part, we will make a big difference.

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