Working together. Collaborating. Teamwork. Team player. They may sound like overused office buzzwords, but today's workplace demands a high level of co-operation among employees. While everyone likes to think they're a team player, we might not be as good at working with others as we think.
"We know we need to collaborate, but what typically happens is we're still battling deeply ingrained habits that focus on rewarding individual success," said Dorothy Hutt, president of Ottawa executive coaching firm Collaborative Leadership Institute Inc.
That kind thinking can result in competition instead cohesiveness. Seventeen per cent of Canadians admit to having sabotaged a co-worker to get ahead, and 20 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women say they have taken credit for someone else's work, according to a Harlequin Enterprise Ltd. online poll of more than 3,000 people.
"We may be working together, but we're often not thinking together," Ms. Hutt said. "We're so busy getting things done we don't step back to see the big picture."
That leaves a huge opportunity for companies that can pull people together, and truly share ideas and decision-making and power. "We are better at individual success, but there is a real sense of urgency to be more effective collaborators because of the pace of change and the need to respond to changes in the environment."
TRAITS OF A GREAT COLLABORATOR
• Inspires others.
• Is willing to share ideas and perspective and engage others.
• Is open-minded.
• Is an active listener.
• Can get along with people who have diverse capabilities, experience and personalities.
• Is reliable. Holds themselves and others accountable.
• Is generous and empowers others.
• Is empathetic.
Source: Dorothy Hutt, president Collaborative Leadership Institute Inc., Ottawa; Antoinette Blunt, President, Ironside Consulting Inc., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
"In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."
- Charles Darwin
1. Set clear goals.
2. Build a framework. You need guidelines for behaviours and attitudes.
3. Clarify everyone's roles and duties.
4. Set expectations and hold people accountable.
5. Determine how you'll measure success.
Source: Antoinette Blunt, president Ironside Consulting Inc., Sault. Ste. Marie, Ont.
Taking the trust out of teamwork?
E-mail may be a convenient way to communicate with colleagues, but that efficiency can strip away the personal interaction needed to breed trust, according to research from the University of Illinois and George Mason University in Virginia.
The study, conducted by Gregory Northcraft and Kevin Rockman and published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, put more than 200 undergraduate students through two separate teamwork exercises - face-to-face and e-mail and video-conferencing. The groups that met face-to-face were more trusting and co-operative than the groups that negotiated by e-mail. Those who used teleconferencing fell in between.
That could be because face time allows workers to assess their colleagues trustworthiness, typically based on visual clues such as tone of voice and facial expression. Another factor: E-mail can give users a sense of anonymity that can bring out the worst in people - they write things they might never say. "Face to face, people have more confidence that others will do what they say they'll do. Over e-mail, they trust each other less," said Gregory Northcraft professor of executive leadership at the University of Illinois.
The study suggests businesses might want to examine its employees' use of high-tech communication tools, especially among co-workers that must collaborate. "If I'm not confident other people will do their share of the work, I'm less likely to do my share because I don't want to be taken advantage of," said Prof. Northcraft. "And then nothing gets done."
TOOLS FOR COLLABORATION
Percentage of workers who say they use e-mail.
Percentage who share a workspace.
Percentage who use voice calls and teleconferencing.
Percentage who use Web conferencing.
Percentage who use instant messaging.
Percentage who use social networking.
Source: Harris Interactive/Cisco Systems 2010 survey of 1,000 U.S. workers
Special to The Globe and Mail
FIVE STEPS TO A COLLABORATIVE CULTURE
Environics Communications Inc.
The challenge: Each Environics employee is part of the "company" team, while also working on a smaller dedicated team that serves a specific industry sector, for example, financial services or pharmaceuticals, said Environics CEO Bruce MacLellan. In addition to ensuring those dedicated teams work seamlessly together, the company needs to ensure everyone gels strategically. Here's his action plan:
1. Hire team players. Mr. MacLellan said Environics looks for people who show a history of collaboration and support for fellow professionals.
2. Create an idea-friendly zone. Make it clear that everyone is expected and encouraged to speak up. If someone is quiet in a meeting, they're pulled aside afterwards and reminded to not be shy. "If you're invited to a meeting, it's a pretty strong signal that we want to hear what you have to say," Mr. MacLellan said.
3. Cross-pollinate. Environics invites employees from different teams to participate in daily, weekly and monthly meetings and brainstorming sessions, seek input and share experiences.
4. Celebrate team success. Aside from employee anniversaries, it's rare to see an e-mail praising the efforts of just one person. Instead you'll see the names of everyone who worked on the project.
5. Push people together. Collaboration is enhanced when employees get to know one another, so staff enjoy regular social outings, from ski trips to concerts to hockey games, as well as an annual retreat.
Biggest collaboration obstacle: "Anxiety. People tend to be reserved and are hesitant to put their thoughts out there. You have to give them a sense of comfort and respect so they feel comfortable contributing," Mr. MacLellan said.
Payback: "We're more and more driven by ideas. In consulting, intellectual property is key. You're only as good as your last idea. You need a steady flow of thinkers. When employees collaborate, you get the maximum number of ideas coming forward," Mr. MacLellan said.
PROS AND CONS
Percentage of managers who say enterprise-wide collaboration is the key to business success
Percentage of mangers who say collaboration among colleagues elicits the best work
Percentage of Canadian managers who say that people problem-solve less on their own today
Percentage of Canadian managers who say there is less ownership over certain tasks because of collaboration technologies.
Percentage of executives worldwide who say they dread collaboration because of the time and energy it wastes.
Source: Kelton Research/Avanade Inc. 2010 online survey of 538 C-level executives in 17 countries Special to The Globe and Mail
If words could kill, Tour de France biker Nicolas Roche would have offed fellow rider John Gadret for his egregious and public display of anti-teamwork this week.
Mr. Roche was livid when his teammate with AG2R failed to come to his aid when his tire went flat, but also went on and challenged for the lead himself.
"I couldn't believe what happened next. He just shook his head and said, 'No.' At first I thought he was joking, but soon realized he wasn't when he kept riding past me."
"If John Gadret is found dead in his hotel room in the morning, I will probably be the primary suspect," Mr. Roche wrote in his blog for the Irish Independent newspaper. The two had been team mates for two years and had a good working relationship. "But after today's stage, as he sat beside me on the team bus I had great difficulty in not putting his head through the nearest window," Mr. Roche wrote
It may not be in the team's contract, but it is an unwritten rule in the sport of biking that supporting riders are responsible for doing what they can to keep the team leader in the lead. it the boss needs a wheel you give him yours or your entire bike if he can't keep riding his own.
Team coach Vincent Lavenu told Cycling Weekly that he had held a meeting and calmed the tensions.
"I got the whole team together last night and we talked about it," Lavenu was quoted as saying. "There are big problems at the Tour de France, but yesterday's was a small one."
Mr. Roche was more conciliatory later, but said the relationship with his teammate was still strained.
"I am not going to go for a pint with him yet," he told the magazine.
*Editor's Note: Environics CEO Bruce MacLellan's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.