Let it go: Collaboration only prospers when leaders trust their teams

I had the good fortune last week to attend the CIPD’s “Coaching for Business Performance” Conference. The quality of speakers was excellent – for me personally, though, the highlight was a talk from Paula Ashfield from Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition. She guided us with skill in how to leverage team coaching in order to get to (my favourite subject of) a more collaborative culture. In the process, she showed us impressive numbers for increased morale and improved cooperation within and between teams, plus an ability for teams to meet challenges more effectively.

Initiatives of this sort have to start somewhere though – and Ashfield spoke warmly about the conversations she had had with a senior colleague who, while pushing her very hard to justify her ideas at the outset, had backed her resolutely thereafter. It reminded me that I had had the good fortune to talk recently to a CEO enlightened in promoting closer collaboration within his business. He wanted to eradicate the infamous “silo mentality” – the cause of so much wasted energy and mistrust.

I asked him how he would know when a culture of collaboration had taken hold. He told me: “When we as leaders are delighted to tell our teams that we don’t have all the answers. They are right to look to us for a sense of direction, but in return we embrace knowledge and ideas from them. We need to allow ideas and initiatives to percolate up from all areas of the business and, crucially, for us all to see this as the “normal” way of working. Finally, we want teams in our business to say with confidence: “Look we see the big picture and know what we’re trying to achieve. And for our part of the business, this means X, Y and Z – tell us if we’re wrong.” Unless they really are wrong, we should be happy to give them the autonomy to go and deliver.”

As Ashfield clearly showed, great team coaching can will build a more collaborative culture and lots of great ideas. And, crucially, teams also need the confidence to know that those above them trust them to come up with these great solutions to mighty corporate challenges.

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