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Getting Team Collaboration – By Design

Getting Team Collaboration – By Design

Teamwork is an overused phrase. We need to move beyond the ‘no I in Team’ concept and recognize that most of the structures we put in place don’t foster a true teamwork / collaborative environment. And often, that‘s not something you can change, it’s driven by your organization’s HR department and overall culture.

The trick is to understand it exists and find ways around it.

First, what are the challenges? Look closely at your pay-for-performance system, whether it’s for bonuses or annual increases. How much emphasis is on individual results and target achievement and how much is for team effort? Then when you look at the team effort, is it a small team the employees can relate to, such as their specific department or group, or is it company wide?

Add these together and sometimes there is little incentive for employees to help their team members, whether they feel they are in a 'team' or not - simply being a colleague and working in the same company should mean they help out, but the reality is many people focus on their own success. This is particularly a problem if they know there is a defined pot of bonus or annual increases to go around, and their position relative to their peers has an impact on what gets into their pay check.

The other factor to consider is who typically gets promoted? My first experience, working for McDonalds during high school was the clearest example – The promotion of a fellow worker to a shift supervisor was obviously based on the person’s ability to identify tasks that needed to be done just before the rest of us got to them and point it out loudly enough for the boss to hear. To the boss, that must have looked like management potential.

While it may not be as obvious in a typical work environment like the one you are in, you can bet that this type of thing is going on by others in private conversation or by innuendo. Think carefully about what your own staff talk to you about and whether this is going on, particularly when they talk about a colleague struggling but haven’t bothered to help out.

Many studies show that working together to solve problems or get results is much more effective than working along. And the simple reality is that your team members can’t possibly be the best at everything they do, so sometimes they will stumble. The question is whether the rest of the group is willing to help out  - to the advantage of the group, and for your success.

The best thing is to recognize that these realities exist. They exist partly because of the organizational culture or design, but it’s also in our nature to one extent or another. Sometimes it is a simple focus on their own work. It may be a reluctance to get involved with something else since they feel overloaded already. The key for you, as a manager and most importantly as a leader, is to recognize the issues and work to change it.

When working with your staff, continually emphasize the need to work together. Point out things that worked well because someone who didn’t need to help a colleague actually did. When you identify a need for support or a weakness in knowledge or capabilities withing your team, look around for who can help best and ask them to do it. This way, you remove the problem with colleagues identifying these gaps themselves and provide direction to them to help. If you get push back about it, you should re-evaluate the team member.

Be careful that it's a two-way street. Don't always call on the same person and make sure a truly weak member of your team isn't consuming too much time from others - this is another way to evaluate and make changes to team members.

After you have a few successes to show, start to promote, encourage and reward that behavior within your group and even between your group and your colleague's group. Then, add collaboration to your staff's personal performance objectives.

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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