Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Don’t Leave Collaboration To Chance

Collaboration is a hit-or-miss proposition (and mostly a miss) in today's organizations, according to Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew, a teams expert with The Ken Blanchard Companies. The result is a huge loss in productivity and potential as "pseudo-teams" struggle with tasks that could have been accomplished more successfully if the team members worked together more effectively.
 
As Parisi-Carew explains, "The business landscape is so complex and competitive that the organizations who are going to succeed in the future are the ones that are nimble and innovative. That only comes when you are able to capitalize on different perspectives and can collaborate across departmental lines effectively.
 
"But, we are so embedded in a hierarchy where leaders and managers maintain control and see managing people as a means to an end that it can be a real challenge."

Leaders need to see teams as a unit—not a collection of individuals

"The biggest challenge is that we tend to think in terms of individuals, even when we are talking about a team. We don't see the team as a separate entity with its own pattern of behavior. Instead, we see a group of individuals.

"We need to look at the unit as a whole, not as individuals. And that's where leaders get tripped up. For example, if someone on the team is misbehaving, rather than allowing the team deal with it, the leader feels compelled to go in, take that person out, and deal with the disruptive behavior. And while that action may be expedient, it deprives the team of the opportunity to work through that experience, benefit from it, and move forward as a group."

Individuals need to be willing to share

At the individual level, collaboration means being mutually accountable, sharing the workload with everyone focused on the same goal. Collaboration is a willingness to share expertise, to jump in and help someone, and to cross organizational boundaries.

"And the reality is that everyone has issues when they get started with a team," explains Parisi-Carew. "Yes, there is excitement, but people also wonder if it is in their best interests to work together and share openly. Knowledge is power, and people are afraid to give it away—especially in an organization that values individual accomplishment."

Prescription for team leaders

Most leaders know that they can take six high-performing individuals, put them together on a team, and still not get the best results. So what can a leader do to increase the group's chance for success?

According to Parisi-Carew, leaders can start by bringing together team members who have good teaming skills. By bringing together people who have diverse skills, leaders can develop a group of people into a champion team instead of trying to field a team of champions.

For leaders looking to improve their ability to bring people together to work collaboratively, Parisi-Carew recommends focusing on three key areas.

Lay a strong foundation. You've got to know where you're going—a vision of what excellence is and then, secondly, you have to set a foundation that includes a purpose and a charter of what the work is and how you are going to get there.

As Parisi-Carew explains, "Many teams are brought together with no more thought than 'We need a team to do this.' So teams get formed rather sloppily many times, with only a vague charge. That typically translates into a team that doesn't have a clear purpose or goal. So many teams get off on the wrong foot because they don't know where they're going, or why they are a team."

Deal with conflict effectively. A second big issue is an inability to deal with differences and conflicts when they come up. Decision making is also related to dealing with differences. What do you do when there is a difference of opinion and how does the group decide on a course of action moving forward?

As Parisi-Carew explains, "Learning how to deal effectively with conflict is important in so many ways. Avoiding differences of opinion will usually blow a team apart or turn it into an apathetic group. But done right, conflict can lead to higher levels of trust, creativity, and accountability."

See yourself as a servant. Finally, being a team leader includes a willingness to see yourself as a servant who guides the development of the team. To do this, remember that the end result is for the team to accomplish the task and the team leader's role is to help the group along the journey.

Parisi-Carew explains that "An effective team leader's role is to diagnose what the team needs as a whole. So, in the beginning when the team doesn't know what it's doing, a leader needs to provide high direction. The team leader's role is to grow the team to self-sufficiency—not accomplish the task personally.

"That is a huge attitude change and that is why a lot of people struggle. They want to hold onto the power, but as long as they do, you'll never have a high performing team. If the leader holds on to control, you are in trouble. If you follow the curve as the group develops and you move from providing direction in the beginning, to offering support, encouragement, and recognition, you will have much greater success."

Conclusion

The most successful companies use teams effectively. A team will outperform a collection of individuals if it is set up correctly. Good teaming and collaboration impacts productivity, morale, and creativity.

And, as Parisi-Carew reminds, a new generation is coming into the workforce that expects and knows how to work together collaboratively.

"Organizations that are not prepared to take advantage of teams are going to disappoint younger workers used to working together collaboratively. And they may be in for a shock when they try to squeeze collaboratively minded individuals into a hierarchal structure."

Don't let that happen to your organization. Take advantage of the benefits of collaboration. Help your leaders succeed by making sure that they know how to transform groups of people into teams effectively.

Thanks to Ken Blanchard

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