Collaboration is reciprocal. It requires a continuous and conscious effort to open yourself to the views and ideas of others different from yours. That difference may be related to culture, work/life experience, age, gender, and the conversations that come from those differences hold the promise of creative and imaginative dialogue that results in innovative ideas and actions.
Generating innovative ideas is at the top of my list and should be for every leader. How can you inspire the ideas that will propel your company forward? Cultivate a collaborative environment, that’s how.
My first collaborative aha moment was when I was a young sales executive who had the good fortune to have access to an executive coach. He told me that the people who worked for me enjoyed doing so, but the teams in other departments not so much. Why? Because here I was head of sales, and I had yet to make any efforts to collaborate with marketing and strategy. Today, the connection is immediate. I would throw operations and customer service into the collaborative mix, as well as finance and human resources. They all play a role in achieving the end game and they all come with a different perspective of how to make that happen.
Now, I’m not suggesting we just throw everyone together and have an endless exchange of ideas because nothing else would get done. Collaboration must be intentional, and two key elements to focus on are relationships and communication.
Like collaboration, relationships and communication are only effective and impactful if they are reciprocal. You can’t have either without a healthy exchange: a willingness to give and receive. So, what does that look like?
- Build trust. The goal is to encourage people to share and talk about different ideas. To make that happen, everyone needs to feel respected and heard even if others don’t agree with their perspective. Create that environment.
- Communicate the company’s values, vision, and goals clearly and then keep your employees updated on changes, challenges, and progress.
- Be visible and approachable. Spend time in all areas of the business and engage with your employees. Ask them about the work they’re doing and encourage them to share ideas to achieve their individual, team, and company goals.
- Follow up and follow through: Respond to employee ideas, questions, and concerns in whatever format that looks like for you and your company—but do respond. Do what you say you’re going to do. Acknowledge contributions even if that path wasn’t chosen. Don’t let shared ideas and concerns fall into a black hole.
Companies, by design, are not naturally set up for easy collaboration. There’s the siloing by departments and the distancing of the leadership hierarchy. It takes time, effort, and commitment to welcome others into our silos and to close the distance up and down our leadership ladder.
What would that look like for your company?