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5 Questions to Encourage Collaboration

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

We can all agree that the world today is more complex than ever, and that we are in unprecedented times. This new world challenges us to find new ways to work together. Our actual survival as crew members on “space ship earth” may be at risk if we do not create new ways to collaborate and work in teams to solve the challenges in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous) world.

Given those realities, the myth of the "lone ranger" leader is dead. The leadership required in a world demanding global interdependence is far beyond the scope of a single leader.

So what needs to change to shift the focus from developing individual leaders to developing teams that are able to generate more effective, value-adding solutions by applying a collaborative mindset (and skill set)? Here are five questions to find out.

1.What underlying assumptions (or beliefs) do managers bring to the table when it comes to the potential of people to get the work done? Are they negative or are they positive assumptions? Positive assumptions are absolutely needed and serve as the foundation to enable us to function with a collaborative mindset. Positive assumptions include the assumption that people are basically good, and that they do want to contribute and do well.

2. What values do we hold to support team performance? Typically, these are closely aligned with underlying assumptions. Are they individual values or are they team values that support collaboration? Because most people don't know really know how to collaborate in organizations with cultures that promote individual performance over team performance, the challenge is changing both individual and organizational values to encourage genuine team collaboration. As I said in Focus On Them (ATD Press, 2018), “just as good is the enemy of great, could it be that individual values are the enemy of organization values, such as teamwork?”


3. What operating principles will the team adopt to harness the power of connections across the team's network, demonstrating a collaborative mindset to produce win-win outcomes? These are shared principles embedded within the team, applied to promote team interdependence (along with related processes and protocols). For organizations seeking to practice genuine team collaboration, a high level of interdependence is required. In my book The Collaborator (DW Press, 2007), I introduced 11 operating principles that provide the team with the framework to practice team interdependence. Rely on each other, focus on team—not position, and charge the team to perform the work are just three principles teams must learn to effectively collaborate.

4. What competencies are in place to support collaboration? Described as a skill set, these are competencies focused on collaboration and aligned with the team's operating principles, and they can be learned. Competencies like conflict management, change agility, team management, creative problem solving, and communicativeness are a few examples.


5. What commitments are you and your organization willing to make to team coaching to sustain performance improvement? Research demonstrates that team coaching is necessary to sustain team performance improvement. Without it (from either an internal or external coach), team performance improvement will most likely suffer.

The end-game here is to develop a team platform using assumptions, principles, values, and competencies to describe a collaborative mindset (and skill set). This platform is then used to support people on teams practicing genuine team collaboration in the workplace.

We’ve all heard the Peter Drucker quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We know this quote is true since about 75 percent of all strategic acquisitions have failed due to the incompatibility of cultures to mesh. We also know that culture is the overwhelming reason why collaboration eludes organizations. So, having a team platform, as described, all by itself will not get the job done unless other cultural aspects such as hiring processes, promotion processes, training and development processes, compensation processes, and more are aligned with an organization’s commitment to establish and sustain a culture of collaboration. When that’s been established, the team platform can be used to drive all decisions regarding hiring, promotions, training and development, and so on.

Many professionals lament a seeming lack of collaborative leadership role models to emulate at the top of many of our organizations to help close the deal. It’s obviously a very important ingredient to support a culture of collaboration. The good news is that team leadership and team intelligence using the team platform, as described, can produce the appropriate role models to solve the challenges presented in a VUCA world.

About the Author

Winsor Jenkins is president of Winsor Jenkins & Associates, LLC, based in Portland, Oregon. As a leader who served in senior HR positions and contributed to the professional development of countless business executives, including HR managers, Winsor brings a deep knowledge about what it takes to achieve executive-level leadership in today's changing business landscape. He is the author of The Collaborator: Discover Soccer as a Metaphor for Global Business Leadership.

1 Comment
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Given an all-encompassing complex Work environment, & VUCA intended, I wonder why you don't include the concept of Emotional Intelligence; if Skill sets are all that is focused on, then a valuable part of the equation should include a huge dose & Value of Emotional Intelligence! Wouldn't you agree?
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