Collaboration is a powerful tool organizations can use to boost employee engagement. Working together toward common goals creates a sense of shared values and identity, and strengthens relationships among employees and teams.
Those relationships are key to employees’ engagement levels, which is why engagement surveys often include questions about whether people have friends at work or enjoy the people they work with. And working in a collaborative environment can make people more likely to answer “yes.”
Collaboration improves outcomes
Organizations often try to build a culture of collaboration because it can lead to innovation and higher levels of productivity. Exposure to and incorporation of diverse viewpoints as people work enriches the entire environment. In that way, collaboration has a direct effect on the bottom line.
It also has an indirect effect on the bottom line by helping with employee engagement. Collaborative work gives employees the opportunity to show up and contribute, because everyone has an opportunity to be heard in that type of environment. People who feel like they have a voice at work are more likely to feel like they belong and are part of the workplace community. In that sense, collaboration helps build a framework of relationships that drives engagement.
One of the challenges in creating a collaborative culture is you can’t force it. It’s not something you can make happen by decree. I’ve seen people try, though.
For example, a leader or department manager decides collaboration needs to be happening in the organization. She may try to implement a “collaboration hub” or some other management idea meant to foster collaboration. But if people don’t know how to work together and collaborate, these initiatives will fail every time.
Employers don’t teach employees how to listen or “play well” with others. But if they want to create an environment of collaboration, they will need to train managers and equip employees with the soft skills needed to do just that.
3 skills that help in collaboration
If you’re looking to build a culture of collaboration at your organization, providing education or training in these skills and hiring people who already possess them can help.
- Listening. People who can listen well to what others say and incorporate others’ viewpoints are essential to building a collaborative culture. Listening with respect and making sure people know they’ve been heard is a strong business skill everyone should work on, but it’s especially important in collaborative teams.
- Connecting. People who can make connections that others don’t or who can identify hidden opportunities are often useful collaborators. They can help find commonalities among different people, or can take different ideas and forge them into a single new solution that works for the entire team. Collaborative teams also need a point person, who can draw together various ideas and identify a path forward. This person engages the entire group and curates insights and input. People who can make connections do well in this role.
- Having an open mind. To be effective collaborators, people need to believe that working with others will help them come up better ideas than they could conceive on their own. If people don’t believe their co-workers have the power to create great solutions, they won’t collaborate well. This willingness also comes from company culture, so if you have a hard-charging, independent culture, it may be hard to build a collaborative one.
You can’t force people to collaborate. But looking for collaborative skills when you hire, helping employees develop these skills and fostering a culture of collaboration can help you boost both employee engagement and the bottom line.
Chris Powell is the CEO of BlackbookHR, a software company on a mission to create more engaged and connected workplaces and communities. He previously served as executive vice president of human resources for Scripps Networks Interactive (HGTV, DIY, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, et al.), as vice president of human resources for the global financial services company ING, and in various corporate HR roles at Marriott International.
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