Getting all employees to work together to achieve the central goals and objectives of the company is simply business common sense. Common sense, however, is not necessarily common practise. As a company grows, more departments and divisions are created to fulfil specific functions and roles, hopefully providing necessary focus and energy to tasks that need to be performed – a good strategy. There’s a down-side to this, however, as departmental objectives and goals start taking on lives of their own, often totally out of proportion to the larger aims of the corporation. Managers become self-important and start building their own little empires. Destructive competition for power, position, budget and access to resources ensues to the detriment of a quality culture and effective collaboration. The environment becomes one marked by suspicion and distrust. Communication becomes guarded and anxiety starts to spread. A cultural cancer has taken root.

Sound leadership, on the other hand, can create a climate of constructive collaboration. A collaborative environment is marked by team members working well together, respecting and trusting one another. The team, in this instance, typically has a well-defined structure and clear goals. The link between the existence of the team and company objectives has been well articulated and company values drive team behaviour. Accountability is intact and performance measures are in place. Team members actively engage around problem issues and solutions are found quickly. Teams like this are often decisive and, although mistakes are sometimes made, these become stimuli for further learning.

A leader should be focusing on the following foundational tenets to create a climate of constructive collaboration:

  • Trust within relationships – high quality relationships that provide the platform for crucial conversations concerning attitude, behaviour and performance. Company values are seen as guiding principles for all interactions.
  • Clarity on collective goals – individualism and selfishness have no part in teamwork as all in the team need to work towards the same end.
  • Equal investment by team members – everyone should be playing their respective roles with similar energy application. All should be contributing as active participants.
  • Collective accountability – ensuring that no-one is going to stand on the side and blame and point fingers when things start to go wrong. The team needs to have the ability to address issues as a collective entity.
  • Leadership and team integrity – demonstrating an honesty that translates into being forthcoming, forgoing exaggerations, being willing to accept and not ‘cover up’ or minimise mistakes, sharing honest observations respectfully, apologising swiftly.
  • Embracing diversity – open enough to move out of any comfort zones and listen to the perspectives, ideas and suggestions of others that may have not previously been considered.
  • Personal consistency – behaving in ways that are predictable, responsible and reliable. This assists in establishing interaction and behaviour parameters.
  • Mutual respect – every team member should be treated fairly and with dignity. This includes verbal and non-verbal communication (body language).

Constructive collaboration is essential to achieve worthy company goals. One of a leader’s roles is to create a climate of respect and participation in order to reap the many benefits of constructive collaboration. Freeman Thomas, of the automotive industry, noted: “Good design begins with honesty, asks tough questions and comes from collaboration and from trusting your intuition”.

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