Getting to the collaborative mindset

While technology does get the most attention as the most critical for collaboration in an organization, it is actually the least critical factor for success. What is most critical is getting to a 'collaborative mindset.'

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Our research on the factors necessary for successful collaboration has shown that although technology is an “enabler” of interactions, collaboration is a collection of human behaviors. What we found most critical are two things: a “collaborative mindset” and learning how to collaborate successfully.

One of our assessment tools (TCEP, which I wrote about in my last blog), is a metric of how collaborative a team or organization is. This metric is subjective, but it does allow everyone to put themselves on the same scale, so groups, teams, and departments, can compare themselves to each other.

One of the characteristics we are able to tell from these TCEP scores is if the team, group, or department has a collaborative mindset. Often the behaviors of an organization follow the behaviors of the leaders. One of the latest “bad” examples is Travis Kaplinik, the former CEO of Uber.

When I worked at Oracle (employee 300), it was clear that Larry Ellison’s behavior affected the behaviors of most employees. From him, I learned “it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Not a great strategy for collaboration, but often a good way to make quick progress on a project, rather than succumbing to “analysis paralysis.”

Leaders also have a big effect on the collaborative behaviors of groups, teams, and departments. If a team leader has a collaborative mindset, he can also infect his team with this mindset.

What is the collaborative mindset?

This mindset is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Some of the components that make up this mindset include:

  • A focus on “we” rather than “me”
  • Looking at what is best for the group, team or project
  • Great interactions between team members (more below)
  • Alignment of purpose or goal
  • Willingness to continually learn
  • Having an open mind, and willingness to hear from other team members, or experts
  • Willingness to entertain multiple strategies at the same time
  • Willingness to learn from past relevant experiences
  • Not afraid of technology, and willing to use new ones to support interactions
  • Understanding the proper collaborative tool for different types of interactions
  • A willingness to enter into and work through conflicts

I have seen teams with almost no collaborative tools do great things, and teams with a plethora of collaborative tools fail miserably.

How to support good collaborative interactions

I have seen a variety of techniques used. Often they are exercises, games, or scenarios that make the best behaviors simple. Early in my career, I went around asking everyone I met if they were good at collaborating? Everyone said yes. Unfortunately, I did not ask them to prove it.

Later I developed TCEP and other metrics, which gave me more insight into “good collaborative behaviors” and how few people have actually learned these “good behaviors.” Most people learn how to collaborate either by trial and error, or by watching others, and often they learn and perpetuate bad collaborative behaviors.

For example, I tell most of my clients that it is bad to break up with your girlfriend/boyfriend over text. Yet every time I use this example a few people in the audience smile, acknowledging that they have either done this or been the recipient of this.

If asked why this is bad collaborative behavior, I explain that text does not convey emotional content, only factual content, and that breaking up with someone is certainly an emotional conversation. Telephone, video conference, or an in-person meeting is the best way to have such an emotional conversation. But most people, especially millennials, tend to be familiar with text, and so use that communication form in the wrong way.

Tool dependency

Familiarity with a collaboration tool often encourages employees to use the tool sometimes in the right circumstances, but many times in the wrong ones, i.e., for a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

The other problem is that employees can often “hide” behind the tool in collaborative interactions – often texting can make them less effective. Other employees, especially those in the C-suite, are often unfamiliar with various collaborative tools, and so unwilling to use them, as they don’t want to look foolish or dumb. This is easily overcome by doing one-on-one training and making them allies rather than obstacles.

One of the results of our research is that teams that collaborate effectively often are 20 to 25 percent more productive than teams that don’t. So it is really worthwhile to help teams adopt a “collaborative mindset,” as it can really effect the bottom line.

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