One of the most important traits among leaders is the ability to foster collaboration. Through collaboration, teams can achieve incredible things that no one single person would be capable of doing alone. Leaders at today’s most innovative companies understand the importance of fostering collaboration whenever possible because working together drives creativity. When people bring different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas to the table, the resulting product is an amalgamation of all of these insights.
Some companies such as Google and Facebook have revolutionized the office environment to make collaboration easier. Instead of cubicles, individuals work next to each other in open spaces. These open spaces have led to innovations such as Google Earth and Facebook Live. While the open-office floorplan has since spread to many other industries, leaders can do much more to foster collaboration and drive creativity at their companies besides removing walls. In fact, getting rid of cubicles will likely do little if leaders do not reinforce the importance of collaboration.
Following are a handful of tips to keep in mind for creating a collaborative and creative work environment.
Adopt resources that encourage collaboration.
Motley Fool recently hired a chief collaboration officer to help employees work together in new and groundbreaking ways. While it is not necessary for every company to go to this extent, leaders need to think about how the tools and resources available to employees will foster collaboration. Communication technologies that allow screen sharing, for example, will help people work together even when they are not in the same room. Leaders may even want to think of more out-of-the-box ways to foster collaboration. For example, a Motley Fool executive offered bonuses to employees who could accurately name all 300 of his colleagues, but the program required that everyone participate in order to obtain the reward. Knowing someone’s name is the first step toward asking that person for help on a project.
Provide rewards for the team rather than for one individual.
Often, companies push for greater collaboration among their employees, but then continue to reward individual performers rather than entire teams. When leaders take the time to recognize the team over the individual, they send the message that collaboration is what the organization considers important. By continuously recognizing individuals, leaders can unwittingly encourage employees to avoid teamwork or not give their all to the team so that they can outshine their colleagues. This sort of dynamic undermines the meaning of collaboration and can cause a great deal of tension among employees. Importantly, rewards are more than just recognition. Leaders need to think of creative ways to boost an entire team when it comes time for promotions and bonuses.
Be mindful of body language and the message it sends.
Even those leaders with the best intentions may accidentally send the wrong message through their body language. Collaboration starts at the top, and leaders should set an example by making themselves available to their employees. However, when a rather junior member of a team approaches a leader with an idea, it can be tempting to turn the person away or show irritation through one’s body language. However, in this situation, it is important to keep your body open and to maintain eye contact. Leaders who do this set a great example for everyone else at the company and demonstrate that everyone’s ideas are valid. However, if a leader instead seems disinterested, employees will soon get the impression that they can ignore people if they wish. This attitude quashes collaboration and puts a damper on creativity by creating invisible walls between employees.
Create opportunities for building trust among employees.
While trust should naturally develop between employees in time, great leaders can speed up the process by giving individuals opportunities to get to know one another. When team members have better personal relationships, they work more effectively as a team and waste less time. Thus, it makes economic sense to encourage relationship building through fun, social events. Something as simple as a Friday team lunch on the company’s dime is a great way to encourage people set aside business and become friends. Leaders may even want to talk to teams to get an idea of what they might want to do outside of the office, ranging from bowling to going on a team hike. During social events, it is critical that leaders show up and verify that they are also part of the team, but it is just as important for them not to overstay their welcome so that employees can relax and be themselves around each other.
Ensure that no “silo mentality” exists in the company.
Organizations that embrace a “silo mentality” suffer when it comes to operational efficiency, morale, and overall productivity. In a silo mentality, departments keep to themselves and may even refuse to share information with colleagues in other departments. Unfortunately, a silo mentality tends to lead to power struggles, which means that individuals are no longer willing to cooperate, and productivity drops. More importantly, creativity is completely stifled. People in each department have unique ways of looking at a problem, and the most innovative companies understand that bringing people together from different—even seemingly unrelated environments—to work on a problem can produce amazing results.