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A company’s very survivalÂ may depend on how well it can combine the potential of its people and theÂ quality of the information they possess with their ability â€“ andÂ willingness â€“ to share that knowledge throughout the organization.
Deloitteâ€™s recent Future of Work research found 65 per cent of the chiefÂ executives surveyed have a strategic objective to transform theirÂ organizationâ€™s culture with a focus on connectivity, communication andÂ collaboration.
But collaboration doesnâ€™t happen in a vacuum. It takes strategicÂ leadership. Whether youâ€™re an executive, team leader or first-lineÂ supervisor in an organization looking to build a more collaborative culture,Â the requirements for your job have changed.
In contrast to control-minded leaders of the past, todayâ€™s most effectiveÂ leaders exercise a different kind of power. As one Silicon Valley CEOÂ told me, â€œThere is absolutely nothing wrong with command and control. Itâ€™sÂ simply irrelevant in the 21st century.â€ The new leadership is a blend ofÂ personal and interpersonal skills that form the basis of your ability toÂ impact, influence and inspire others.
To help you optimize the power of collaboration, here are six crucialÂ leadership behaviours:
The collaboration thatâ€™s so critical for engagement, innovation andÂ financial success is being blocked by knowledge-hoarding silos.
Silo is aÂ business term that has been passed around and discussed in boardrooms overÂ the last 30 years. Unlike many other trendy management buzzwords, this isÂ one issue that hasnâ€™t disappeared. Silos are viewed as a growing pain forÂ organizations of all sizes.
Silo mentality describes the mindset present when departments, divisionsÂ or sectors donâ€™t share information with others in the same company. WhereverÂ itâ€™s found, this mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles, lack ofÂ co-operation and loss of productivity.
Silo mentality can causeÂ organizations to misallocate resources, send inconsistent messages to theÂ marketplace and fail to leverage scale economies. Silos can be monumentallyÂ inefficient and, worse, a major barrier to innovation, profitability andÂ customer satisfaction.
Silos get busted when senior leadership sets unifying goals and promotesÂ a reward structure that emphasizes co-operation and collective success.
Business unit leaders must understand the overarching goals of the totalÂ organization and the importance of working in concert with other areas ofÂ the business to achieve those crucial objectives.
A collaborative team isnâ€™t a group of people working together. Itâ€™s a groupÂ of people working together who trust each other.
Trust is the belief orÂ confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity and honesty ofÂ another party. Itâ€™s the expectation that the faith one places in someoneÂ else will be honoured. Itâ€™s also the glue that holds together any group andÂ the foundation of true collaboration. Without trust, a team loses itsÂ emotional ballast.
In an environment of suspicion, people withholdÂ information, hide behind psychological walls and withdraw fromÂ participation.
As a leader, you need people to trust you. But how do you show that youÂ trust them? The way information is handled determines whether it becomes anÂ obstacle to or an enabler of collaboration. Some leaders (who profess toÂ value collaboration) undermine their effectiveness by withholdingÂ information or doling it out on a need-to-know basis. Others ask forÂ input when what they really want is a rubber stamp for decisions alreadyÂ made.
Leaders build trust through honest and transparent communication, which isÂ often trickier than it sounds. For example, itâ€™s fine to emphasize theÂ positive aspects of a situation, just be careful not to omit or sugar-coatÂ the negative.
You may think youâ€™re protecting people by doing so â€“ but theÂ signal youâ€™re really sending is that you think they canâ€™t handle the truth.
In an atmosphere of high trust, where communication is candid, goals areÂ co-created, setbacks are analyzed for the purpose of learning (not blaming),Â and successes are celebrated and shared, people respond by taking ownership,Â becoming even more engaged and forthcoming.
And nothing builds trust fasterÂ in a leadership team (or any team, for that matter) than getting to know oneÂ another as individuals. When you hold offsite retreats or workplace events,Â be sure to create opportunities for social time to develop or deepenÂ personal relationships. Reinforcing these relationships at the beginning ofÂ any new initiative will also increase effectiveness throughout the process.
Warming up their body language
There are two sets of body language cues that people look for in leaders. One projects warmth and caring, and the other signals power and status.
Both are necessary for leaders but, in your role as chief influencer,Â the warmer side of non-verbal communication (which has been undervalued andÂ underutilized by leaders more concerned with projecting strength, statusÂ and authority) becomes central to creating the most collaborative workforceÂ relationships.
The body language of inclusion and warmth includes positive eye contact,Â genuine smiles, and open postures in which legs are uncrossed and arms areÂ held away from your body, with palms exposed or resting comfortably on theÂ desk or conference table.
Mirroring is another non-verbal sign of warmth. You may not realize it butÂ when youâ€™re dealing with people you like or agree with, youâ€™llÂ automatically begin to match their stance, arm positions and facialÂ expressions. Itâ€™s a way of signalling that youâ€™re connected and engaged.
Facing people directly when theyâ€™re talking is also crucial. It shows thatÂ youâ€™re totally focused on them. Even rotating your shoulders a quarter turnÂ away signals a lack of interest and makes the other person feel as if theirÂ opinions are being discounted.
Of course, giving others your completeÂ attention when theyâ€™re speaking is one of the warmest, most inclusiveÂ signals you can send.
Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged withÂ a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worseÂ than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge.
TheÂ reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverseÂ thinking. Group members who think alike or are trained in similarÂ disciplines with similar knowledge bases run the risk of becoming insular.
Instead of exploring alternatives, they allow a confirmation bias to takeÂ over and tend to reinforce each otherâ€™s predisposition.
Innovation is triggered by cross-pollination. Creative breakthroughs occurÂ most often when ideas collide and combine. And, by the way, innovativeÂ breakthroughs today arenâ€™t taking place in a lab, but rather are a result ofÂ conversations with customers (internal and external), suppliers andÂ outsiders who know enough about the problem to contribute, but bring aÂ unique perspective.
As one GE executive put it, â€œCross-functional teams are enhanced by outside experts who know enough to understand the terms of theÂ question but not so much as to run into the same stumbling blocks as theÂ subject experts. Chemical problems at GE are almost never solved by aÂ chemist.â€
Development Dimensions International has studied leadership for 46 years.Â In its latest research with more than 15,000 leaders from more than 300Â organizations across 20 industries in 18 countries, DDI looked at leadersâ€™Â conversational skills that had the highest impact on overall performance. AtÂ the top of the list was empathy â€“ specifically, the ability to listenÂ and respond empathetically.
In his book On Becoming a Person, psychologist Carl Rogers wrote, â€œRealÂ communication occurs when we listen with understanding â€“ to see the idea andÂ attitude from the other person’s point of view, to sense how it feels toÂ them, to achieve their frame of reference in regard to the thing they areÂ talking about.â€
A further discovery in the DDI report was that only four out of 10 leadersÂ in their global study were proficient or strong in empathy. As a leader, ifÂ you already rank high in empathy, you gain a genuine professional advantage.
If not, empathetic listening is a skill worth developing.
Creating psychological safety
Humans have two primitive instincts that guide our willingness toÂ collaborate â€“ or not â€“ and they are triggered under very differentÂ circumstance.
The instinct to hoard can be traced back to early humans hoarding vitalÂ supplies, like food, out of fear of not having enough. The more they putÂ away, the safer they felt. Still today whenever we feel fearful, distrustfulÂ or insecure, the hoarding instinct kicks into high gear, urging us to holdÂ on tightly to whatever we possess â€“ including knowledge.
When insights andÂ opinions are ridiculed, criticized or ignored, people feel threatened â€“ andÂ they typically react by declining to contribute further.
But humans are also learning, teaching andÂ knowledge-sharing. According to evolutionary psychologists, thisÂ trait is also hard-wired, linking back to when humans first started gatheringÂ in clans. Leaders trigger the sharing instinct when they createÂ psychologically safe workplace environments in which people feel secure,Â valued and trusted.
In the age of digital transformation, evenÂ high-tech companies need soft-skilled talent. In researching what makesÂ teams successful, Google’s Project Aristotle found that psychologicalÂ safety is key. Googleâ€™s most effective teams also exhibited â€œsocialÂ sensitivity,â€ meaning that members spoke about equally (usually short andÂ sweet) and were able to pick up on each otherâ€™s interpersonal cues,Â including body language.
Todayâ€™s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever-shiftingÂ ocean of change. As a result, collaboration is not a nice-to-haveÂ organizational philosophy. Itâ€™s an essential ingredient for organizationalÂ survival.
So leaders of collaboration (at all management levels)Â may need to redefine their roles and update their skills.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language ofÂ Leaders: How Body Language Can Help â€“Â or Hurt â€“Â How You Lead.
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