Most of us need to have meaning and purpose in order to be happy at work. We want to spend our time adding value to a product, a team, an organisation, and to ourselves. It's a state of working harmoniously with others that enables this, and helps create as much of a “joyous" workplace as is possible.
When we walk away from our desks at the end of the day, a truly collaborative culture leaves us feeling like we're better people, and even that we're better members of society.
Such a work culture benefits everyone involved: our team, our customers, our stakeholders, and ourselves. It helps us push the boundaries of our skills – and with a great team, make something together that's bigger than ourselves.
Even if company leadership prioritises a collaborative culture however, it doesn't just happen as the result of a dictum from the top. For such a culture to emerge, it has to be fostered and nurtured at every level of the organisation. So what are we to do to unlock the power of greater collaboration amongst our peers?
The first thing that has to happen is a shift in our thinking.
Changing the zero-sum game
Not too long ago, a model of organisational work culture emerged in the USA that said that there was a fixed amount of value in the world. Everyone – individuals and corporations alike – were meant to scramble and scoop up their piece of the pie.
Of these fixed resources, the most valuable was (and frequently still is) expertise. Expertise was so treasured that we built organisational structures to silo it away from other portions of the business, as the cost of collaborating was seen as too high. Compliance was desired; collaboration was only to occur on demand. This model is reinforced by Frederick Taylor's scientific management theory and proved to be useful for the companies that were building an industrial world.
And now? The game has changed completely. Businesses that fail to harness the collective strength of their teams will fall prey to those that operate faster, flatter, and more dynamically through the power of collaboration. What can be done to keep pace?
We need a new mental model. We need a model that recognises that working life is not a contest for fixed resources, but instead one that creates more value through collaboration, innovation, and leadership. It means that the pie – key lime, perhaps – magically keeps growing even when slices innumerable are taken from it.
Belief in our adaptable nature
How do we move toward this collaborative culture when we're doing our jobs, dealing with customers and bosses, and handling all of the other things that we need to day-to-day? How do we work against a model that's been around for so long, that actively discourages collaboration?
To begin to turn the tide, we've got to find a way to shake up that status quo and get collaboration flowing. And it starts with our mindset: we have to accept the fact that people can change!
A simple concept, maybe, but again there are forces from the past at work. Once upon a time, pervasive thinking said that a person's psychological development ceased when physical growth ended. We simply became fixed at a point and never changed again. We became the type of person we were always going to be, and that was that.
Yet this idea is a holdover that's been disproven in modern times. In fact, most of us can observe ourselves changing over time in one way or another if we only take a moment to realise it.
Let go of the ego
To truly engage in collaboration, we have to shift our mindset and become the type of person that can let go of as much ego as possible. We also need to release the idea that our expertise is infallible – that we know everything about a topic that we think we know everything about.
Again, a simple idea in principle. But the rewards of letting go of this baggage are massive. It's Marie Kondo for the mind/soul at work and in life. Letting go of these things puts us in a position to be humble. We can accept points of view we haven't considered before, and embrace the diversity of thought and opinion that our colleagues can offer us.
You've been here before
Mindset is something most of us are not often asked to change in our day-to-day jobs. It may sound daunting, but there is plenty of reason to be hopeful.
When you stop and think about it, there are times in all of our lives where we've encountered a challenge that we thought was impossible to surmount. Sometimes we overcame the problem, and sometimes we failed and hopefully learned. The important thing is that in each instance we did indeed get through to the other side.
The outcome of such trials actually becomes irrelevant. What matters is that we can look back at the thoughts and feelings we had before the obstacle and say that some of them were right, some were wrong, some helped, and some hindered. In the end we're different than before we went through the trial, and that's where the true value lies. You might even call that a shift in mindset.
If these ideas are resonating, perhaps you're ready to change your own thinking and unlock a world of deep collaboration. "But how do I go about actually doing this?” you’re likely asking. Great question! Try starting here:
Three shifts to make
Ask yourself, "Am I more interested in saying the next thing I'm thinking of, or am I listening and really trying to understand my colleague's statement?”
It's essential that we're fully engaged with what others are saying – really take their statements in and actively look for the value. Doing it will require a healthy dose of humility. To help get there, remember this very important fact: being humble isn't a sign of weakness!
Raise your self-awareness game
Hold yourself accountable when you fall short of the values you want to see, and ask others to do the same. If you're ready to step way out of your comfort zone, ask others to help hold you responsible.
If you recognise behaviour in yourself that is counterproductive to your goals or counter to the values you espouse, ask your team to check you when you fall back into those habits. This sort of effort takes practice and patience, but the value it returns can be immeasurable.
Lastly, ask "Are we talking about the problem, or are we dancing around the edge of it?”
If you find yourself avoiding the real issue at hand, take a moment to think about how can you move on to the heart of the matter. Is it "safe" to do so? If it isn't, maybe it's time to step back and have a think about how to surface the real issues (and about who can help you to do it).
Sunshine of the collaborative mind
Having already changed before, who is to say that we can't change again? One thing is certain: if we want to be able to genuinely engage in deep collaboration, then change we must.
We must accept that there are many things we do not know, and be more interested in helping others articulate their view (especially when we don't agree with it) than we are interested in expressing our own. All of this has a massive impact on the conversations we take part in. Without a change in mindset there can’t be change in conversation – and therefore, no change in collective action.
By truly collaborating, new ideas can emerge and grow, and our whole world can have more value to take from the pie. In collaboration, we can make magic happen! A new culture blooms, and as a bonus, we make a better place to work – a more joyous place.
Want to learn more about the role mindset plays in workplace collaboration?
About the authors: John Turley is a pragmatic leader with 25 years’ experience working in companies at all levels, from teams to c-suite, bringing concrete, value-adding change to the way organisations really work. Dissatisfied with the standard discourse around transformation and agility he is passionate about applying cutting-edge knowledge from fields as diverse as complexity, sociology and psychology in practical, proven ways that immediately increase productivity at the same time as embedding continuous learning in ways of working.
Sharing a story with an audience has always been Ryan Spilken's passion. Throughout his time as Technical Trainer, Senior Account Manager, and now as an Evangelist, he's told and continues to tell stories that inform, inspire, and encourage. Well-versed in creativity and communication, Ryan brings an inimitable style to his efforts in sharing the good word of automation and pragmatic efficiency to enterprises both large and small. He helps companies adapt, transform, and thrive.