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Culture of Collaboration Series – Part 1

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, yet technology has helped many of us in corporate, non-service and non-industrial settings continue to work and deliver for our clients. Yet collaboration has been stifled by the need to isolate and practice social distancing. Now that we’re moving forward in what is likely to be a permanent change to our working environment, the culture of collaboration must be developed with intention more than ever. Creating this culture of collaboration is key to any organization’s ability to attract, retain and develop talent to support their vision and mission.

There are 5 major elements to consider when you’re developing a culture of collaboration:

  • Trust – Building, rebuilding, and maintaining trust through empathy, respect, and authenticity.
  • Innovation – Developing new ideas into products and services that have intrinsic value.
  • Communication – Listening, understanding, and validating each other’s opinions and ideas.
  • Knowledge Sharing – Leveraging each other’s expertise, wisdom, and experience.
  • Execution – Showing up and bringing it all together to execute and deliver.

Trust – The first element of collaboration

During my professional career, spanning the last four decades, I have been blessed with many great mentors and leaders who have shaped my beliefs, values, and guiding principles in how I approach the work environment in particular – and life in general. What each of these great leaders have taught me is that trust is the most important aspect of any relationship, whether it be with a business partner, life partner, employee, vendor, or friend. When you have trust, you can overcome any problem or challenge through communication, mutual understanding and problem solving. Apply the same principles to a new opportunity or business idea and you can amplify the potential exponentially.

Do the right thing

“Do the right thing, and then do the next right thing”. This simple phrase helps remind us that trust is built through action and execution, not some abstract concept of what things should be. As one mentor told me way back when, “it takes years to build trust, but only moments to tear it down”. This is an important thing to remember when working to build or rebuild trust. It’s an incremental thing. It must be built over time, with care and consistency. If it’s ever lost, it can be rebuilt, but it will take just as long if not longer to rebuild than it was to build it in the first place.

Exercise: When faced with a decision about how to handle a conflict, ethical or policy decision, try speaking with a colleague and discuss out loud what you both feel the right thing is, and what that decision or action will lead to.  Play out the whole scenario together and see how it aligns with what you would have done intuitively. 

Be humble and vulnerable

Vulnerability and humility play a big role in building trust with individuals and the institutions that they represent. Come from a place of great intention with respect to integrity and recognize that perfection is unattainable. People fail to deliver, to communicate, have taken on more than they’re capable of, and have shame and guilt – usually one’s actions are not intentionally malicious. This doesn’t make us unworthy of being trusted, it is part of being human. And recognizing our own “human-ness”, is one of our greatest strengths. The ability to acknowledge limitations is what enables growth, allows us to learn new things and benefit from the capabilities of others.  This underlying humility and vulnerability allow us to relate to others in a way that is authentic and genuine and starts the conversation that leads to and reinforces trust.

Exercise: The next time you’re working to build trust in a relationship with someone, try getting them to articulate what they’re anxious or worried about, and work to put them at ease by showing them that they’ve been heard by addressing their concerns.

The magic of being heard

Once the conversation gets going, the real magic comes through empathy, active listening, and respect. If we can truly listen, without constantly thinking about what we want to say next, we can open ourselves up to true understanding of another person’s perspective and viewpoint. Only then can we truly empathize with them from a place of compassion and truth. Allowing the awkward silence to occur between the exchanges not only means that we’re listening and processing what others have to say, but it also means that our partner is being heard. When we feel that we’re being heard, we also feel respected. When we feel respected, we feel that we can trust the other person in the conversation. You can’t be told to trust; you have to feel it.  When’s the last time you trusted someone when they said, “Trust me”?

One of the most magical and meaningful outcomes of a trusted relationship is the ability to embrace new ideas and let go of old behaviors and concepts that hold us back. By trusting the people we work with to do the right thing, and follow through with their commitments, we increase the ability to execute. This is where the concept of collaboration really starts to take hold.

Exercise: The next time you’re working through a difficult or complex problem with a colleague, resist the urge to layer on your ideas to what the other person has just said. Rather repeat back to them what you think you’ve heard, starting with “This is what I think I heard you say …”.  Then sit back and listen to their response and watch their facial expressions.  Do they seem more relaxed as they confirm your understanding? Usually, people will open up more as they see that they’re being understood or given a chance to adjust your understanding of their perspectives.

The antidote to fear

By trusting others and working to earn other’s trust we can move forward confidently without fear and doubt, knowing that whatever obstacles we encounter, we can rely on each other to work through them with authenticity, empathy, and transparency. 

The elements of creating a culture of collaboration that we’re exploring in this series of posts are trust, innovation, communication, knowledge sharing and execution. In this new hybrid world of remote and onsite work, creating the culture of collaboration takes more intention and more patience as we are both connected and separated by technology at the same time. By taking our time to build on these elements one at a time, we can create that culture and achieve greater success limited only by our imagination and ability to communicate.

Stay tuned for next month’s post on the 2nd element of collaboration, Innovation – Developing new ideas into products and services that have intrinsic value.

When we can communicate, we can collaborate … Together we can execute.

John Henning is the Chief Client Officer at Granite Solutions Groupe. He has over 35 years of leadership experience in the financial services and technology industries, and currently oversees all client account management, professional services, marketing strategy, business development and sales operations for GSG.