In this day and age, there’s not a single person who’d dare defy the idea that collaboration leads to better, more innovative business. After all, Forbes and Entrepreneur have been publishing pieces on it for years, and everyone – at some point – has witnessed an executive touting how “the next three months will all be about collaboration.”
Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Despite the coverage and repeat promises, more than half of businesses remain dramatically siloed and 86% of all failures in business are still attributable to a lack of collaboration. And that’s a real problem.
In fact, McKinsey Global Institute reports that collaboration failure creates a 20-25% productivity suck, which means that between a fifth and a quarter of your marketing and sales efforts, your product / service development, your customer relationships, your payroll, and your profit are being wasted each year.
But that’s not us, you might think. We’re collaborative, and we use Slack and Jira and have standups and… And maybe that’s enough. But probably not. Tech won’t solve culture problems, and with an uncollaborative culture in place, there’s not a tool in the world that can help.
So rather than throwing money at the problem and hoping it goes away (it won’t), consider adopting these strategies for fostering a more collaborative company culture.
Five Strategies for Fostering a Collaborative Company Culture
1. Encourage Your Whole Staff to Network
It seems counterintuitive to encourage your staff to leave the office as a way of bringing everyone closer together, but it’s not. In addition to the hidden business drivers embedded in it, networking offers external feedback vital to your employees and your company.
By bringing networking into the culture of your business, you do two things: 1) you empower employees to directly contribute to your company’s data quality and lead gen efforts by arming them with business card scanners featuring CRM export and, more importantly 2) you open the doors to testing company ideas on outside audiences, creating external feedback loops that can lead to the discovery of disruptive solutions for your business.
A culture of networking demonstrates that you’re invested in your employees and their ideas, and that you encourage whatever collaboration helps benefit the business.
2. Create a Reciprocal Relationship Between Sales & Product
Though sales and product only make up small parts of your larger organization, ensuring that there’s a consistent, reciprocal collaboration going on between them is one of the most important things you can do to function agilely while creating whole-org alignment. The reason?
The relationship between these two departments are where the majority of business tension rises from. Sales struggles because the product doesn’t offer the functionality certain customer sets need to bite while product struggles from sales over-promising or promising impossible deliverables.
The solution? Get them on the same page. Ensure bi-weekly (or monthly) meetings happen between the head of sales and the head of product. That way, new sales strategies can be discussed, and product roadmaps and timelines can be articulated, clarified, or modified.
3. Create a System to Actually Hear Employee Feedback
Your open-door policy isn’t working, and I’ll tell you why. At some point in every one of our careers, we’d had the experience of having a great idea and sharing it with execs only to be met by glazed-over eyes, glances at phones, and a sense that they weren’t listening even a little. Because of this, saying things like “any questions” or “my door’s always open” won’t exactly inspire that stream of great ideas that you’re hoping for.
Instead, create a transparent system for reviewing and responding to feedback. This can be done through anonymous surveys, a suggestion box, or – if you already have a fairly open relationship with your team – through informal meetings.
Just remember: you may not like what you’re hearing, but that’s not the point of this. The employees offering you feedback are invested in your company and its success, and you not hearing them or refusing to engage sends a message about how you – and your business – sees them.
4. Leverage the Pyramid Model for Strategy-Building
There’s no doubt that, as an exec, you have the experience and know-how to get your business where it needs to be. That said, to create a truly collaborative environment for your team, they also have to feel ownership for the pieces they contribute and the strategies that they own day-in and day-out. So what do you do? How do you balance your knowledge with their needs to be a part of your company’s direction? You build a pyramid.
The pyramid model of strategy-building works like this: you – as an exec – build the highest-level framework you can that clearly articulates your goals and expectations for the business. You’re the top piece. Then, circulate the strategy to those a step below you, asking the same of them. They’ll likely provide rough strategies for the entire function of their departments.
However, once they’re finished (and you’ve approved or tweaked their suggestions), the project is passed down to the specialists whose strategies are particularly granular, covering the details for being most effective at their particular roles. Once they’re done, you take it back, review it, and offer any feedback you need to.
The advantages are two-fold:
- Your high-level strategy is used to guide all work that gets done in your business. You’ve articulated the goals and set the expectations, and
- Your review of the strategy (and any necessary tweaks) don’t become micromanagement. They’re adjustments based on your experience.
That way, when your team is at work, you know that they’re doing exactly what you need them to while giving them the freedom to own and thrive in their contributions to the larger business goals.
5. Model Collaboration for Your Team
Modeling is one of the most powerful education tools you have at your disposal. With it, you show that you’re more than talk, and that you’re not one of those “do as I say, not as I do” people that no one respects.
What I mean is this: if you want a more collaborative team, but you’re not willing to own it yourself – leveraging other opinions for decision-making, participating in collaborative strategy-building, facilitating cross department initiatives – then you might as well quit. As a leader, you set the tone, set the social atmosphere, set what’s acceptable and appropriate and “standard operating procedure” for the environment you’re in. It’s on you to live and breathe (as opposed to enforce) the values you want to see in your office.