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8 Ways To Build Collaborative Teams

AUTHOR: Erickson Coaching International
DATE: 8 January 2014

This article addresses collaborative teams, and how executives can strengthen an organizations' ability to perform complex collaborative tasks, and maximize the effectiveness of large, diverse teams, while minimizing the disadvantages posed by their structure and composition. 

Teams of people are often assembled quickly, and reactively to meet an urgent need. Significant time and travel savings are of course apparent in working virtually and online collaboration, especially over large distances, but are there hidden operational cost lurking in the shadows?

A new year has dawned, and we find ourselves growing further into our teenage years of the 21st century. If 13 was anything to go by, 14 will surely deal us our fair share of daring adventures intertwined with the obligatory mind-blowing confusion, commotion and curiousness that is adolescent life. Welcome! As with many systems, the larger it grows, the more complex it becomes, much like growing up. The same can be said for business. Technology fuels globalization, and the rapid growth of multinational companies brings fascinating new challenges, most interesting of which are of course, people related.  

Using a report by Lynda Gratton and Tamara Erickson for Harvard Business Review, this two-part article summarizes eight ways to build collaborative teams.  

According to Gratton & Erickson's research, many complex tasks within multinational companies involve teams of 100 people or more. That number might seem huge to some people. However consider that the research also found that as a team increases beyond 20 people, the tendency to naturally collaborate decreases. In fact, members of complex teams are less likely - absent of other influences - to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly, to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another to complete jobs and meet deadlines, and to share resources - in other words, to collaborate.  

The 8 ways to build collaborative teams can be roughly categorized into 4 groups: Executive Support, HR Practices, Team Leader, and Team Structure. Executive Support is considered in part 1 of this article, with the remained covered in part 2.  

Executives Investing In Relationship Practices

Gratton & Erickson found that productive and innovative teams perform higher when top executives had significantly invested in building and maintaining social inter-employee relationships throughout the organization. For example, Royal Bank of Scotland's CEO, Fred Goodwin demonstrated his commitment to this initiative by investing $560 million to open a new headquarters building in 2005, with the goal of fostering productive collaboration between employees. The indoor atrium, set up like a small town includes retail shops, restaurants, and a leisure club, accommodating over 3,000 people from the firm. The new building allows employees to rub shoulders, share experiences and become a stronger community.  

Modelling Executive Collaborative Behaviour

Do you know what your senior executives do on a day-to-day basis? Gratton & Erickson's research found that even the perceived behaviour of senior executives play a significant role in determining how cooperative teams are prepared to be. Standard Charter is used to illustrate a competent example, mentioning that members of the general management committee frequently serve as substitutes for one another. Standard Charter's executives all know and understand the entire business, and can fill in for each other on almost any task. To aid visibility of executive collaboration to other staff, every site around the world is filled with photos of groups of executives, country and functional leaders working together. The resulting effect is trickled down throughout the organization, with employees quickly learning that the best way to get things done is through informal networks.  

Executives That Create a "Gift" Culture

Unsurprisingly, Gratton & Erickson placed an importance on mentoring and coaching throughout the organization. They explained that embedding mentoring and coaching into executives' behaviour, as well as throughout the company helps tremendously in encouraging team collaboration. Interestingly, less formal mentoring and daily coaching was more effective than formal in creating collaboration, helping to establish a cooperative "gift culture" in place of a more transactional "tit-for-tat culture." This is especially true in technology giant, Nokia, where mentoring and coaching start as soon as someone enters a new job.

Typically, within a few days, the employee's manager will sit down and list all the people in the organization that the employee is encouraged to meet, no matter where the location. The manager explains to the employee why each relationship on the list is important and suggests topics the employee should discuss with them. It is standard for the new employee to seek out the individuals and set up meetings, even if it means traveling. The employee is given the gift of time - in the form of hours spent on coaching and building networks, which is seen as crucial to the collaborative culture at Nokia.  

Erickson Coaching International knows that coaching in a team environment increases efficiency exponentially: From role conflict to poor time management, instilling coaching competencies within your team is guaranteed to help you achieve your goals.

Read Part II Here

Learn how you can bring coaching into your organization with Erickson's Coaching Competencies For Leaders training.