“If the group is an art form of the future, then convening groups is the artistry we must cultivate to fully explore the promise of this form.” — Centered on the Edge, 2001, Fetzer Institute
We live in a global society that uses teams to create wealth, market share, customer service, competitive advantage, and other markers of organizational success. Teams provide the social “glue” in organizations that meld together people, processes, and technologies to produce services or products. Organizations cannot function without teams; however, teams must be designed properly to fit organizational cultures and vice-versa.1
As Meg Wheatley remarked in an interview for Orchestrating Collaboration at Work:
In North American culture, we have so conditioned people to be competitive and to look out for themselves that teamwork has become a problem. Yet working together is a more natural state for humans than working in isolation, and teamwork is a natural tendency. The arts, and sports as well, provide people with the experience of what it’s like to work together.
Organizations need teams to produce creative products, just as artists need the tools of their work. There may be a science to orchestrating team collaboration, but there also is an art. Artists often cannot predict the outcomes of their creative endeavors any more than managers can predict outcomes for their team challenges. Management “science” is necessary and contributes practical theories for teams to work better together. A more balanced approach, however, might blend science with art and magnify team effectiveness. 2
How to enhance creativity and collaboration in teams
- Talent. It’s crucial to have the right people on your team capable of adding their brilliance to the project. Collaboration works best when team members have complementary skill sets required to complete the project. To create innovation that your customers actually want, consider collaborating with them, as well as with experts within your organization, including tech, design, marketing, and finance. This will help you access collective intelligence and make informed decisions.
- Healthy relationships are at the heart of collaboration. Appreciating others, engaging in purposeful conversations and the ability to resolve conflicts are essential ingredients for collaboration. Find ways for the team to get to know each other not just as professionals, but as human beings, to build trust and provide occasions for informal social interaction. The easiest way to do this is to share meals together.
- A guiding vision and clarity of purpose are key to collaboration. Warren Bennis said “Great Groups think they are on a mission from God… Their clear, collective purpose makes everything they do seem meaningful and valuable.” Use storytelling and imagery to engage the hearts and minds of your team.
- Provide a clear mission objective. Team members jointly prepare a written purpose statement for their collaboration and define rules of engagement which include goals, roles, responsibilities, and deliverables. Communicate how decisions are made.
- Connect the project with big picture company objectives. Create meaning and value for the organization and customers.
- Create an atmosphere of safety, trust and respect. Encourage multiple perspectives, diverse viewpoints, and creativity. Keep members energised through stimulating, quality discussions around cutting-edge issues.
- Make your ideas visible and tangible by building prototypes, or drawing diagrams so everyone can see what you mean.
- Provide an infrastructure and resources that enable learning, communication and collaboration. Address cultural issues that defeat collaboration.
- Provide great leadership. Nurture the brilliance of your people and do everything you can to remove barriers to high performance. Avoid being too autocratic and allow time for the team to weigh in on decisions. Help build team connections across the organization. Give credit where credit is due and recognize team performance as well as individuals.
- Use coaching to reinforce a collaborative culture. Coaching for improved teamwork, emotional intelligence, and navigating difficult conversations can produce dramatic improvements to the group. Ask open-ended questions like Why? What if? What else? and How might we? to open up dialogue and tap into creativity.
- Add zest factors. (Hargrove) Make collaboration fun, and celebrate completions before moving on.
- Capture best practices and mistakes to learn from. Publish on your intranet or wiki to give everyone access to your wisdom.
When is it a bad idea to collaborate?
Don’t collaborate for the sake of collaborating. Sometimes all you need is cooperation. As Morten Hansen asserts in his book, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results asserts: “The goal of collaboration is not collaboration, but far better results.” The only reason to collaborate is to add or create value; to achieve things collectively that you cannot achieve individually.
References: (Available on Amazon)
1 Orchestrating Collaboration at Work, by Arthur VanGundy and Linda Naiman
2 Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration, by Robert Hargrove
Organizing Genius, by Warren Bennis