3 Myths That Get In The Way Of Collaboration

ETHAN MCCARTY, Global Head of Employee Communications at Bloomberg Business, on how his organisation promotes collaboration.

3 Myths That Get In The Way Of Collaboration

Many companies invest in collaborative software or hardware, and expect collaboration magic to happen. But collaboration requires hiring the right talent and thinkers, then putting best practices in place to enable them to work together efficiently.

Understanding the ecosystem and forces needed to make collaboration possible is crucial for business success. What’s needed is a culture that not just allows for collaboration, but demands it. To create that, leaders have to dispel certain myths.

Myth 1: Collaboration is for staff, not bosses

Collaboration needs to be infused at every level of a company’s structure, from the bottom to the top. Collaboration works when those at the top set the example and are collaborative themselves.

One thing I have seen at Bloomberg and other organisations where I’ve worked is the adoption of Agile, or “Scrum”, method of working. Typically, teams use this method to develop software, but some organisations adopt it (at least in part) for other corporate functions as well. The method demands total transparency, particularly from the leader in a group.

For the most part, the group is self-organising when it comes to what work gets done. But for how work gets prioritised and when individuals seek help, the “Scrum master” takes on the role of a servant leader. He or she demonstrates leadership by removing blockers for the team, not by applying pressure. It’s still true that great managers know how to delegate well, but in this case, the leader as a practitioner is critical — whether you pitch in to write code, do user-testing or any tasks.

Myth 2: Collaboration is one person’s responsibility

Collaboration isn’t a solitary task, but many businesses let the responsibility fall on one person who is supposed to make collaboration happen between disparate teams and people with little support. Sometimes, companies will name this person the Community Manager or Knowledge Manager.

While I applaud the effort of those cast in such roles, I think there is something dystopian about such an assignation. For one thing, this allows others to abdicate their own responsibility to take collaboration seriously. Moreover, it is incredibly diffcult for an appointed collaboration manager to be viewed as anything other than an interloper by the team.

Myth 3: Collaboration self-organises

Just as collaboration isn’t a solitary task, it also does not organise itself. Handing a piece of collaboration software (even a really great one) over to your teams and expecting them to organise themselves is a set-up for failure.

There needs to be structure — a team of people who understands the company’s collaborative model and philosophy, and can facilitate the process across all departments and levels. This team must communicate collaborative goals and organise everyone around them.

Most importantly, it must be understood that everyone collaborates in every job role. Responsibility for collaboration and accountability for it has to be baked into job roles. The successful firm will: 1) teach people how to collaborate, 2) make collaboration part of people’s jobs, and 3) publicly recognise collaboration when it is happening well.

Besides having open offices, adopting Agile and an unrelenting focus on transparency, we ensure this through our employee communications. We regularly highlight those who have done an outstanding job collaborating — especially efforts that satisfy a customer or win a new one. Recently, we had a very hard sale to an enterprise customer that required us to build a significant piece of new infrastructure to meet their needs. We told this story in detail with a video — putting the project teams in the spotlight — and shared it with all our employees globally.

So, watch out for those myths. Confront them with an open willingness to work together and you will be on your way to creating a collaborative organisation.

    May 11, 2016
    Ethan McCarty
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