29 February 2016
2 min read
Successful collaboration is built on responsiveness and empathy, “so building an environment where staff can work flexibly with the appropriate tools is critical”, says Barry Hoffman, group HR director, Computacenter.
Mr Hoffman says: “Traditional hierarchies and silos need to give way to project teams and working groups in the modern SME.”
Keep the faith
Cynthia Stuckey, a business coach and MD of The Forum Corporation EMEA, says: “Respect and trust between team members is the foundation of collaboration. Foster it through visible goals and fairness in how leaders manage performance and understand what erodes it, such as missing commitments, not doing what you say and not admitting mistakes.”
Workplace psychologist Julian Hall agrees, “Until a team can trust each other, be able to be vulnerable with each other and, really importantly, have regular healthy conflict, they will not be effective," he says.
"We have found that working through these areas in detail lays essential foundations for really high-performing teams. The alternative is mistrust and conflict politically acted out through power moves, passive-aggression and pointless positioning.
"These very behaviours leak essential energy away from a team and destroy its efficiency.”
Clarify your values
Paul Macbeth, MD of fast-growing Reading firm Macbeth Insurance, argues it’s about being clear about your values. “We’re a small team, but client-facing or not, everyone understands our core values and uses them in the way they work – within the team and with our clients,” he says.
“Communicating these is vital – your team needs to understand what these are. Our values are intentionally practical too – professionalism, enthusiasm, quality – and often we recruit on how candidates connect with these, which by definition, brings in a more collaborative personality.”
This includes role clarity. When people understand what is expected of them and how their role relates to others in the team then this fosters a collaborative environment, says Ms Stuckey, adding: “When a team has shared objectives and each person can articulate how their actions support these objectives, you create a higher level of accountability, which fosters a higher level of collaboration.
"People take ownership for their decisions and actions and feel empowered to hold others accountable.”
Let it grow
Dilys Robinson, Institute for Employment Studies principal research fellow, says: “Fostering collaboration is easy in micro-companies, where people know each other well and are united in a common cause.
"Increasing size means having a structure and formal procedures – bewildering for free-thinking entrepreneurs that find themselves not only having to appoint staff to new roles, but having to follow rules to do so.
"But engaging managers communicate clearly and listen well; they involve people in decision making; they expect high standards, but coach people who fall short, rather than shouting.”
Use collaborative tech and share data
“An open data ethos is key to fostering collaboration,” says Paul Joyce, CEO of KPI dashboard application, Geckoboard. “When data is only shared with the senior team, a culture of mistrust can grow amongst the wider team. Information becomes power instead of acting as a tool for collaboration.”
You can also actively encourage the use of tech that assists with collaboration, such as Skype or OoVoo, which allows group video calls, or other apps which aid screen and file sharing, such as project management tool, Asana, which encourages you to “like” an achievement from a fellow collaborator.