Instead of drawing lines in the sand, a number of prominent organisations are doing away with outdated and unyielding workplace structures in favour of fostering more collaborative workplace environments.
And for good reason - organisations that promote collaborative working are five times more likely to be high-performing, according to the Institute for Corporate Productivity.
As a concept, collaboration is relatively simple - everyone works together to get the job done – but knocking down a few walls and restructuring a few teams won’t be enough to encourage a truly collaborative culture.
One of the main obstacles blocking collaboration from taking place is people’s limited understanding of the other functions within their organisation; people tend to only advocate for their own job functions because that’s the only function they understand.
But there are some ways to actively encourage a more collaborative and agile work environment – here’s how:
1) Distribute the workload evenly.
Just like your high school science projects, when it comes to collaborative projects in the workplace, some people will take on the brunt of the workload while others will be a little too happy to fade into the background.
The harsh reality is that the people who make valuable contributions to the project will become burdened by too much work and eventually buckle (taking their knowledge with them). And the people who aren’t actively involved will struggle to stay engaged - particularly if they have no idea what’s going on.
To balance the workload and create a truly collaborative environment, you’ll need to find a suitable way of distributing tasks so that everyone is equally involved. Encourage overworked employees to delegate some of their tasks, and communicate clear expectations to less engaged team members.
Make projects as simple and time-efficient as possible by keeping meetings short and goal-orientated, utilising communication tools such as Trello or Slack, and allowing time to plan and redistribute tasks.
2) Identify people with potential.
Newcomers to an organisation are often left on the fringe during their first few months. While their competence is often assumed, it takes time for new starters to earn people’s trust.
But, in order for newcomers to be truly engaged - and in order to benefit from a collaborative team dynamic - you’ll need to get these people heavily involved on projects straight away.
So, if someone excels in a particular area or niche, identify these skills and get behind them by positioning them as go-to experts in that field. A good way to achieve this is by pairing new starters up with experienced and trusted leaders within your organisation and letting them co-lead together. This not only takes some of the pressure off of others, it demonstrates to the rest of your team a willingness to trust the newcomer.
Another worthwhile idea is to get new starters involved in your office mentoring programme, provided they want to, of course. With a mentor, your new starter will not only gain valuable insights and advice – they’ll also earn people’s trust, as someone from your senior team is essentially vouching for them.
A good way to identify high potentials within your organisation is with the Leadership Blueprint – a data-driven tool that maps out all talent based on their performance, potential and the likelihood of derailing.
3) Build bridges between your teams.
One of the main hindrances to workplace collaboration is people’s lack of knowledge regarding their colleagues’ field of expertise.
This can only be expected – after all, we can’t know everything. But, in order to share knowledge and effectively work together, you’ll need to create some bridges between your teams.
Look out for people that are knowledgeable or passionate about a particular topic that strays outside their traditional job function, and get them to act as bridges of information.
For instance, let’s say an organisation’s finance team is working alongside the product development team to create a new feature for their website. The functions of these two teams are very different, but you could build a bridge between the two parties by finding someone in the finance team with an interest or background in technology, and letting that person take the lead on the project.
This way, your bridges will help keep things moving, and be able to relay information back to their teams in a language everyone understands.
It’s also worth building bridges within your organisation on a larger scale. For instance, you could try connecting people across different departments or locations that are doing similar functions, and encouraging them to share resources and information - or even try getting them to work together on bigger, higher-value problems.
4) Get to know each other.
The very mention of team building workshops will undoubtedly bring back a flood of memories involving trust falls and unnecessary hand-holding - but the science around corporate team building has come a long way in recent years.
There is huge value to be unlocked in having your team better understand who they are, what everyone does and how they can collaboratively work together.
For instance, we recently worked with Brunel University London’s newly formed Information Services department to establish a shared sense of purpose. The department, which was a combination of three pre-existing teams (IT, library services and media services), participated in a workshop that analysed their work preferences and, subsequently, helped them gain a better understanding of everyone’s function. They ended up leaving with a shared sense of purpose and a clear understanding of how they could work together more effectively and efficiently.
Creating a collaborative and agile work environment requires continuous reassessment, but these ideas are a good way to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Find out more about the new world of work – download our executive briefing.