How to Truly Collaborate With Others

Everyone Knows It Is a Good Thing But It May Not Be Clear How to Collaborate.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the workplace is to truly collaborate with other people. We struggle for various reasons; one being a big part of our culture is rugged individualism. Our country’s heritage is filled with stories of the pioneers and industry leaders who made it on their own, blazing trails that others followed, and learning to succeed without the help of others.

The majority of the goals we have each year are centered on our individual department doing well. Collaboration is tough to measure. At the same time, we know that better ideas and performance come from working well with others. So, how do we effectively collaborate with others, instead of just nodding politely?

Below are different areas of your organization where collaboration is vital.

With your boss. Obviously, it is important to work well with your direct supervisor. That does not mean you do everything your boss asks, serving blindly. Effective leaders look for people that will challenge them regularly and doing it in an assertive, yet tactful, manner.

You both are looking for solutions that will benefit your company the most. If you think you have some input that is better than what the boss has come up with, or perhaps has not thought of, offer it. I see too many employees, instead of speaking up, sit and suffer in silence then complain about the decision that was made. True collaboration involved give and take, even with the person you report to.

With your employees. As a managers, it is important to create an environment where your employees feel comfortable bringing up ideas that are counter to yours. The best ideas come together from a lot of varied input.

Your direct reports are not likely to challenge you, or bring up ideas, unless they know it is “safe” to do so. Become skilled at asking good open-ended questions then waiting for employees to answer. Priming the pump for frequent collaboration involves seeking and receiving ideas. In employee meetings you should speak 20 percent of the time and employees 80 percent. View yourself and your employees as partners working together to accomplish things that are good for everyone.

Other operational departments. Cross-functional collaboration is a critical component of successful companies. Of course, as humans, we get involved in corporate politics from time to time. It is unavoidable, but it can be minimized.

Consider where your team fits in the process of getting products out the door to customers. In that chain, you have departments that are suppliers to you and you have departments that are your internal customers. It is important that you work well with both. Your supplying departments need to know exactly what your needs are so you can be effective in your part of the product chain.

In the same vein, you need to know from the departments you serve what their needs are and how you can best meet them. Meet with the heads of other departments regularly to get and give feedback on how your departments are collaborating. If there are issues going on, it is your responsibility as the face of your department, to get them worked out. Consider holding teambuilding inter-department teambuilding sessions every now and then to build relationships and trust.

Staff departments. Even though staff departments like HR, IT, Finance, Marketing, etc. do not contribute directly to the end product; they have a huge influence on the overall success of the company. A solid relationship with all of the staff personnel will allow you and your team to focus on the operational things you are held accountable for.

If the HR folks are constantly knocking on your door, or the IT folks never return your calls, you probably need to focus a bit more on building better rapport with them. Just like the other operational departments, take the time to understand what the staff departments need from you and share with them the things you need. The lack of good rapport and collaboration with staff functions can play a big part in determining your team’s success.

Outside parties. In this world of social responsibility, transparency and instant notoriety, it is important that you and other leaders of your company collaborate well with your neighbors. We all know about the environmental issues that our neighbors get concerned about, as an example. Find out who your neighbors are and go meet with them. Trust only happens face-to-face. Hold open houses and invite your neighbors to see your operation.

True collaboration takes more than words and platitudes. It takes a plan and concerted effort to match collaborative actions with the words. When you take collaborative steps, others will do the same in return.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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