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Building Collaborative Teams

Posted June 29, 2012 1:04 AM by Brandon Kline

Recently, I read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams." The article was based on a study that examined 55 teams across 15 multinational companies, and provides valuable insight into the primary drivers of strong teamwork and high levels of collaboration. Both collaboration and teamwork are vital if your organization plans to run effectively and efficiently. So, with that in mind, I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight the eight key factors in building collaborative teams. As laid out in the article, the eight factors are:

  1. Investing in signature relationship practices
  2. Signature relationship practices are those that are unique to your team or organization. They fit well within your organizational culture and are often tough for others to replicate due to the individuality of your specific organization. These relationship practices are very team oriented and are often memorable for those involved. By making visible investments in these practices, leadership encourages, and demonstrates their commitment to, collaborative behavior.

  3. Modeling collaborative behavior
  4. As one might expect, in organizations where the leaders themselves demonstrate highly collaborative behavior, so do the teams within that organization. However, that is not typically the challenge. The challenge often times revolves around making the executives' behavior visible. Only when that behavior is visible does it have the "trickle down" effect.

  5. Creating a "gift culture"
  6. At first glance, this particular element seemed a little odd to me. However, after reading in more detail, it makes perfect sense. A "gift culture" refers to the mentoring and coaching that happens within an organization. The "gifts" are the experiences and wisdom that is transferred between individuals in the firm. What I found thought-provoking about this section was the emphasis on informal mentoring. The informal aspect creates much more of a two-way dialogue between the mentor and the mentee, allowing for increased levels of learning and collaboration.

  7. Ensuring the requisite skills
  8. Building collaborative teams requires certain skills and characteristics for everything to flow smoothly. When leadership can teach employees to build effective relationships, appreciate others, communicate well, and resolve conflicts in resourceful ways, the teams will naturally be more likely to develop a collaborative atmosphere.

  9. Supporting a strong sense of community
  10. Have you ever been part of team in which you felt like an outsider? Not only is it no fun, but it also makes it incredibly difficult to get anything meaningful accomplished. When an organization cultivates a strong sense of community, individuals feel more comfortable reaching out to others, sharing knowledge, and helping to solve problems.

  11. Assigning team leaders that are both task- and relationship-oriented
  12. The ability to coalesce many of the above ideas and still allocate tasks in a productive manner requires a well-rounded and developed leader. Both maintaining relationships and assigning responsibilities are essential skills for any leader, and the study found that the most productive and innovative teams were typically led by people who were both task- and relationship-oriented.

  13. Building on heritage relationships
  14. When building teams, especially in a large organization, the ability to capitalize on preexisting relationships, or "heritage" relationships, plays a major role when transferring skills and institutional knowledge across business units or clients. This is also important in small organizations as well, especially when hiring a new employee. The ability of a preexisting team to seamlessly incorporate a new member into their network not only directly impacts the success of that individual, but it will also influence the future success of the organization.

  15. Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity
  16. Collaboration and cooperation greatly improves when individual team members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. It becomes much easier for teams to collaborate towards achieving a common goal when that goal is clearly defined. Flexibility in terms of how to achieve that goal provides the individual or team an opportunity to develop a sense of ownership, but the final end state must be clear.

The above eight focal points highlight the core characteristics of highly collaborative teams. The extent to which your team or organization is able to collaborate and work together effectively will have a direct impact on the implementation and execution of your strategy. So, if you are in the early stages of developing your team, or are simply looking to increase collaboration among an already existing team, the above eight factors should, without a doubt, be taken into consideration.

Happy 4th of July and happy collaborating!