Collaboration is one of the newer buzzwords to make its way into the businesspersons’ vocabulary. Social media sites like to emphasize the fact that they’re designed to enhance collaborative activity. Collaboration should be encouraged in the workplace as well. So, how do you know when and how to ensure employee collaboration?

employee collaborationWhat Does Employee Collaboration Mean?

Collaborate means “work together to accomplish a goal”; the word comes from Latin, “work with”. Collaboration implies that two or more people are working as equals (or close to it) to make something, to solve a problem, etc. John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated on much of the Beatles’ early work, for example.

What does it mean to collaborate within your organization? Do employees cross boundaries all the time, or do they stay in their comfortable little silos? As a leader/manager, you may think employee collaboration isn’t possible. You might picture yourself “up here” and your employees as “down there” — you might feel if your employees get the notion they’re your equals, you won’t have control of the organization.

I say you’ll never see true employee collaboration if you have that mindset. Your employees may be able to collaborate without you, but are you not collaborating with them? Do you discourage independent thought, or the sharing of ideas? Do you not want your employees to grow? If so, you’re in more trouble than you know.

Why Do We Collaborate?

We’re essentially social beings. Some of us think we work well independently. While that may be true at times, over the long road of life we need others to help us accomplish tasks and achieve goals. We need input from other sources, whether it’s measuring devices or people, to assure ourselves that we’re doing the right thing in the right way, or at least headed in the right direction.

Employee collaboration can help ensure and improve quality. There’s this old saying that”too many cooks spoil the broth”, but that’s only true when the cooks are working at cross-purposes, each trying to stake their claim as the best cook. That’s obviously not collaboration.

Employee collaboration comes about through a shared vision, shared priorities, and shared objectives. We get things done when we work together, don’t we?

When Should You Collaborate?

As important as employee collaboration is — as much as it helps you and others accomplish — it can’t possibly be a “24/7” activity. We all need time alone to think, review, contemplate, and decide. And there are, of course, those personal needs and interests that make us complete and help us collaborate much better.

For instance, if my Bizmanualz colleagues and I are together the entire workday, reading the same material, eating our lunches together every day, even spending every break period together, we wouldn’t get the cross-fertilization of ideas that we would if we occasionally spent time tending to our own interests. Another way to put it: When you spend a week or two on holiday with your family, aren’t you just a little sick of one another toward the end? Don’t you need a little time apart?

How Do You Ensure Continual Employee Collaboration?

Collaboration cannot be a one-time event. Treat collaboration like any business process. You can model it on the Deming (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, for example. Of course, I’m not suggesting you write an employee collaboration procedure — you really can’t. Some of the best collaboration comes about spontaneously, after all. You wouldn’t want to restrict the collaborative process by saying, “It has to be done this way“.

Instead, you should write up guidelines for sparking or encouraging collaboration so your employees will recognize — and be prepared to take advantage of — problems or opportunities that are solved best through collaboration. You need to make it part of your company culture. While they’re working together, people should be inclined to take note of what works and what doesn’t, so they can add to the collective knowledge and continually improve the process of collaboration.

To Get Your Employees to Collaborate…

  • Provide the right atmosphere;
  • Provide a common vision and sense of purpose;
  • Provide your employees with the means and the time to collaborate freely;
  • Don’t do anything that would restrict collaboration or encourage “siloing”;
  • Open up as many avenues for collaboration as possible, including software; and
  • Lead by example.

Other Resources

  • Sampson, Michael, “The Right Way to Get Employees to Collaborate”, Information Week, 9 May 2011
  • Anderson, Chris, “Why Should You Publish Your Policies and Procedures Online”3 Jan 2011
  • Burrier, Dan, “Create Better, Collaborate Better“, Harvard Business Review (online), 25 May 2011