To see what happens when people don’t work together, look no further than Washington, D.C. Instead of pooling their talents for a common goal and the common good, Congress is mired in gridlock, recrimination and petty squabbles. And nothing is getting done.
Sound like your workplace? I hope not, because if your company is as dysfunctional as D.C., Chapter 11 can’t be far behind.
The fact is there is nothing more important to leadership and organizational success than collaboration. It exponentially increases the odds of amazing things happening. But it can be tough to achieve. Bringing people together and then igniting and nurturing a collaborative effort is a key test of leadership and workplace culture.
Technology provides amazing tools to make this happen. It is nothing short of a game-changing community-builder. As Nick Kellet, the smart and savvy co-founder of Listly, says, “2013 is all about being worthy together.” I cannot agree more. Curating social experiences, sharing and learning from each other is important and … it’s fun.
Here Are 5 Ways To Make Smart Collaboration Happen:
1) Build An Online Infrastructure For Social Learning And Networking. A framework for sharing puts everyone on the same page and allows people to get to know each other in new and exciting ways. When a vibrant online community is created, wonderful, insightful, spontaneous connections are made. We’ve all been there: someone posts something so cool, inspiring, elucidating that all you can say is “Wow”. Social networks are a powerful collaborative tool, open for business 24/7. They build trust and brand in ways not available to leaders until recently.
2) Set Limits. Collaboration is not about being best friends. It’s about bringing your best self to the table and understanding that the chemistry will be great at times, not so great at others. Respect everyone’s personal digital space. Go slow at first, especially with any personal questions. Some people love to let it all hang out online, others like to keep their private life private. Honor everyone’s limits. Yes, it’s wonderful when new connections develop, and they will, but if someone is more shy and wants to limit the discussion to the task at hand, that’s his or her right. Always focus on the work first and you can’t go wrong.
3) Get It Off Your Chest. Nothing undermines collaboration more insidiously than festering resentment. If something is bugging you, let the appropriate people know. If you feel dissed, deal with it quickly and honesty. The more this kind of healthy exchange happens, the easier it becomes. The fact is when disagreements are dealt with openly, they usually disappear pretty quickly. In fact, an honest disagreement can build trust, and the aggrieved parties often end up with more respect for each other. Have a framework in place for making this happen in the workplace. And remember, if someone wears a scent you hate, has an annoying habit of smacking his lips or littering her posts with emoticons (does anyone still do that?), suck it up. Other people’s personal idiosyncrasies are not legitimate work gripes.
4) Ignite Inspiration. I was once at a morning meeting with a famous business leader. He showed up at nine in the morning carrying an oddly-shaped beer can. He set it on the table and said with real passion, “I love the shape of this can.” He explained he had been picking up a cup of coffee when he spied the can, and it thrilled him with its beauty. It wasn’t a design meeting per se, but he got us all focused on the fact that inspiration is all around us everyday. Encourage people to bring in their personal beer cans, to share them in the workplace and in your social enterprise. Passion and engagement are contagious, they make us feel alive and inspired. And they often come out of left field. Create a culture of sharing that allows this to happen.
5) Be Yourself. This is my mantra. And it’s the mantra of every smart and successful person I know. Why? Because we see what happens when people aren’t themselves. Sustained, collaborative success can’t be faked, it comes from being true to yourself. If you have weakness in one element of your project, or are intimidated by another part, just say it. Pretending you know more than you do is a sure prescription for messing up. Collaboration depends on you bringing your best self to the effort every day in every way. In my experience, when people are true to themselves, amazing things happen.
There are few experiences in life more exhilarating than being part of a successful collaboration. Being part of creating something larger than our individual self touches our souls, connects us to people, and brings a bone-deep sense of career satisfaction and strong workplace culture. You can do it, you can be it, you can have it.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 07/28/2013