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Collaborative Culture


Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have worked with several teams that appear to have a kind of magic power to get amazing things achieved. The people gel, understand what is needed, and support each other to deliver a great outcome.

This is not to say everyone was best friends, or that we all agreed on everything, however there was some chemistry that enabled us to bring out the best in each other.

The Elixir

Many processes and systems aim to find a way to replicate this chemistry or magic. I have met many people claiming to have this magic bottled and ready to consume by your team, all you need to do is follow their steps, or pay the consultants, or go on a boot-camp, or team building exercise.

While these elixirs do sometimes add value, I do not buy into these as the solution. A system or process cannot replace the value of a team that views itself as a team on a mission.

On a Mission

One of common factors I have observed in teams that work well together is a clear understanding, amongst everyone in the team, of what they are trying to achieve. This shared vision would appear to be a critical component of a strong collaborative culture. This makes sense, as it reduces the interpersonal frictions that often occur when people have different agendas.

Knowing the goal can be strengthened by everyone understanding why the goal is important. Having a why to the what will help reinforce the motivation of the team to help each other achieve the goals.

The nudges

There seem to be some other commonalities in a culture that is collaborating to deliver an outcome. I will call these nudges as they help, however are not some magic solution.

People in teams that are collaborative leave their egos at the door. The outcome of the team is considered more important than who did what. By valuing the mission above the recognition of being right about something, the culture moves away from a hero culture and towards a more collaborative culture.

Once the outcome of the whole team gains greater priority than individual goals, people will help each other to make more happen. This leads to a supporting and coaching culture, instead of an each person for themselves culture.

A good way to assist a team to focus on the overall outcome is to only measure the outcomes and deliverables from the team. Many organizations still want to measure each persons contributions, against the other people in the team. This is counter productive. If a team has people competing against other members of the team, the culture will be combative and not collaborative.

In a collaborative culture people will help each other even if they disagree about certain aspects of the project or mechanics. The bigger picture overrides the conflict and disagreements.

When a team is embarking on anything that requires innovation, problem solving, or creativity, the measurement of adherence to defined processes should be secondary to (or removed altogether) measuring the outcomes. If the deliverable is something that has been delivered multiple times before, then a defined process can make sense, to ensure the same expected outcome is reached. If the team is attempting to deliver something that no one in the company has delivered before, then it is impossible to define the correct way (process) to achieve this result.

Whenever I have observed an organization attempt to apply a defined process to a creative output, the process becomes a tax. The tax is sometimes paid by applying the process, and taking more time, or failing to deliver the outcome desired. More creative teams find ways to pay the tax while doing what they need to deliver the desired outcome in spite of the process. To be clear this is not to say a the art of a craft should be thrown away, a good craftsperson knows their role and how to achieve the results they are aiming to deliver.

Objectives and Key Results

I stated there is no elixir that will provide the magic solution, however I see OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as another good tool to nudge people towards a more collaborative culture. A team that has OKRs that are clearly stated and understood by the whole team, is the first step. Team leaders can then help each person in the team create personal OKRs that tie into the team OKRs. This ties each person together in clearly stating the goals they are working towards and how they map into the team goals. This becomes even more powerful if the larger group (or the whole company) has clear OKRs, then each team can tie their OKRs into the larger OKRs. In this way each person can see how their objectives map into the bigger picture. This helps creates collaboration, as people see how their personal goals align with other peoples goals to reach the team, and company goals.

Leading with Vision

As a shared vision appears to be a central feature to creating a collaborative culture, it is worth considering the factors that lead to a team sharing a vision. A shared vision can be achieved by having a strong leadership, with good story telling skills. Telling a good story takes practice. The story needs to be based in reality, and believable, and be something the team members take on-board, and buy into, as a mission together. The best stories have an emotional aspect to them, the story triggers a feeling in the people that are listening to it. Big (hairy audacious) goals are good for a company or a collection of teams, however smaller teams need realistic goals that they can comprehend, and envision themselves delivering. It is even more powerful if those smaller, realistic, goals are clearly tied to the bigger (hairy audacious) goals.

Last update: October 16, 2022 08:55:17
Created: October 16, 2022 01:35:55
Authors: Neil Roodyn