Smash down the walls (and let your leader swing the sledgehammer)

I am greatly encouraged by the reaction to this series of blogs on collaboration in the workplace.

In the first, we showed that the cleverest organisations are finding that a step change in intensity in collaborative working is unleashing enormous gains in engagement and productivity. They smash down unnecessary hierarchical and functional walls within their businesses to realise these gains.

In the second, we talked about how businesses can harness this potential. Most of us try gamely to collaborate with others in their everyday lives, but are rarely incentivised to do so by organisations. The value from a step change in collaborative working lies in an intensified “project mentality” – that is to say learning in specific situations or projects through sharing knowledge across the business.

Most recently, we argued that business has a powerful role in the current climate via collaborative working and technologies to play in making sure that people and countries do not turn in on themselves and against one another. Smart businesses ask themselves which of the physical or psychological walls within their business actually need to be in place. This, at a time when many politicians are seeking to build rather than tear down walls.

The benefits of a collaborative culture in your business can build quickly over time. But initially, it may feel difficult to decide whether the investment in learning to collaborate will pay off. So the collaboration mentality must start at the very top, with the leader swinging the sledgehammer to smash down the walls that damage and divide businesses from within.

It’s not good enough for current CEOs to spot the potential for collaboration and then throw their most talented people together with a vague “get on with it” message. They must set the standard by being good collaborators themselves in deed, as well as in word.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with a CEO already enlightened in swinging the sledgehammer, in order promoting closer collaboration within and across his business. He wanted to eradicate the infamous “silo mentality” – that cause of so much wasted energy and mistrust. We asked him how he would know when a culture of collaboration had truly taken hold. He told us: “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 it’s clearly time for us to collaborate too, to embrace knowledge and ideas from our teams.”

In other words CEOs must lead the culture of collaboration, not merely encourage others to do so.

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