So much is being written about team collaboration and cohesiveness currently – perhaps more specifically, the electronic and digital tools associated with keeping team members in touch with each other and working towards the same goals. So Deloitte, The Digital Workplace, even notes this by means of a definition: “…to solve business problems and operate productively, organizations need the ability to leverage knowledge across the enterprise with online, seamless, integrated and intuitive collaboration tools that enhance your employees’ ability to work together”. Manufacturers and retailers alike are upselling the features of their product lines, attempting to get customer buy-in to systems and their respective related subscriptions. What they are not mentioning in the sales pitches, however, are the real costs of effective collaboration within teams.

While it is true that collaborative teams seem to be able to produce results that outstrip other groups working on the same project (up to five times more according to one study), despite these known benefits, collaboration is rarely prioritised nor measured by managers. A recent study from Salesforce has revealed that this is the case – of the 1 400 executives, employees and educators surveyed, 86% noted a lack of collaboration was responsible for failures in the workplace. Creating and sustaining a collaborative team environment is challenging and requires a concerted effort by all in leadership positions to integrate co-operative values within the company culture.

So then, what is the real cost associated with establishing a culture of collaboration within teams? Those in leadership need to focus on:

  1. Dismantling institutionalised power pyramids – breaking down old ways of getting things done and flattening authoritarian structures. Decision-making opportunities need to be offered to the lowest levels possible to engender a sense of ownership among all employees.
  2. Shattering the glass ceiling – make deliberate efforts not only to include women in all activities and operations of the company, but appoint women to the most senior positions.
  3. Dealing with any surfacing unconscious bias – challenge decisions before they are communicated to the company employees or the customers to check for anything that even hints of prejudice.
  4. Establishing diversity as the standard operating procedure – for all meetings, make sure that there is diverse representation present (the leader could say, for example: “We know that the three of us have similar thoughts and opinions on the matter, so let’s postpone the decision until we have more different opinions available for our discussions”).
  5. Communicating the collaboration expectation clearly – make collaboration part of the on-boarding process so that even new recruits know minimum expectations at the outset.
  6. Rewarding collaboration primarily – not downplaying individual excellence, but encouraging the team to succeed as a whole.
  7. Publishing and celebrating collaboration success stories – ongoing demonstrations of the benefits of collaboration and how they can far exceed expectations.

Promoting and sustaining collaborative team work comes at a price – leaders must model collaboration at all levels, e.g. responding to requests, listening well, valuing diversity, challenging bias, promoting inclusiveness and eliminating power plays. As collaboration is embedded systematically within the culture, levels of trust will increase and team work will be enhanced.

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