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Building Blocks of Effective Collaboration
Thursday, September 25, 2014
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Collaboration is more than an activity. It is a process with associated behaviors that can be taught and developed—a process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximize individual contribution while leveraging the collective intelligence of everyone involved. 

A new whitepaper from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture, co-authored by UNC Executive Development  Director Kip Kelly and Alan Schaefer, founder and CEO of  Banding People Together, explores the building blocks for effective collaboration and provides steps for making collaboration work within the workplace. 

Kelly and Schaefer discuss how “management and knowledge silos that were created in the 20th century are no longer tenable today if organizations are to succeed.” Fortunately, collaboration helps break down those silos so that organizations can be “creative, flexible, and ready to meet the changing, demanding needs of business today.” 

Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture outlines specific building blocks that “must live within leaders and individual contributors to ensure that collaboration is part of an organization’s culture,” including trust, communication, and shared vision and purpose. 

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  • Trust. In the collaborative process, trust means creating an environment where everyone can openly express concerns, fears, and differences of opinion without fear of rejection, aggression, or retaliation. Talent management professionals can assess the level of trust in an organization through employee surveys and confidential one-on-one interviews.  

  • Communication. Leaders must communicate why collaboration is important to the organization’s success and must outline the strategy and roadmap for how the organization will work collaboratively. Both employees and leaders must share and build ideas, constructively criticize, and provide feedback.  

  • Shared vision and purpose. This is about taking the time to articulate the “why” to everyone involved in the collaborative process on a particular project or initiative. Leaders must ensure that all employees understand how their work contributes to the goals of the team and organization and how collaboration will help them meet their goals.

To sustain a culture of collaboration, Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture advises talent management professionals to consider using the following steps:

  1. Define what a collaborative environment looks like for the organization.
  2. Offer training that teaches specific collaborative skills.
  3. Make sure the metrics for success are aligned among different business units.
  4. Ensure that leaders understand their role in facilitating collaboration and maintaining a collaborative environment. 

Finally, Kelly and Schaefer want to remind organizations that “talent management professionals who take the time to teach and nurture these building blocks—trust, communication, and shared vision and purpose—will lay the groundwork to create an organizational culture based on collaboration. As a result, they will see improved employee retention, less conflict, lower stress, an improved competitive advantage, a higher level of performance, and a healthier bottom line.” 
For more on how to build a culture of collaboration, download the complete UNC Executive Development whitepaper at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School  Resource Library.   

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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