People work in collaborative, team-based activities 50% more today than twenty years ago. That’s the findings of research by Rob Cross in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review. The complexity of challenges to be solved in the business world can best be tackled by collaborative teams — groups of people from various disciplines and roles coming together to share their knowledge, skills, expertise, time, and energy to accomplish a significant task together . For organizations to be agile, it’s more important than ever for individual employees and managers to be strong collaborators. Collaborative capability is so essential, Cross believes. It is time for organizations to hire chief collaboration officers dedicated to promoting and fostering team skills and great teamwork across organizations.
In the 1980’s the study of how teams work boomed. For the next decade and a half, self-directed teams, teambuilding events and assessments like Myers-Briggs and DISC became all the rage in corporate training calendars. Finally, team-building fatigue set in. Once everyone had learned there was no “I” in team, ropes courses went fallow and the “trust fall” fell to the wayside. In its place, organizations have spent the last decade dedicated to developing project management and leadership skills. The key to organizational success was to come through strong leaders and defined projects. The assumption was, and has been for the last decade, that employees know how to work in teams. Developing individual collaboration skills had become unnecessary.
Beliefs about teamwork are shifting again. Fast changing organizations realize they need strong collaborators at all levels of their organization to stay agile. Success is not the result of one or two great teams, but from a deep bench of people who can be members of multiple teams and make each high performing. Team development is not only a group process to follow, but also a set of individual skills for members to learn and apply.
There are three conditions of high performing teams that strong collaborators are skillful in creating: expansion, exchange and integrity. Whether team leader or member, anyone can ensure these conditions are in place.
- Expansion – Strong collaborators create a collective belief that the benefit of working together is great and far outweighs the benefit of working alone. People come together when the work that needs to get done is too big or too complex to do solo. By creating a goal that is big, significant and worthy, people are compelled to take action together, despite their differences or competing priorities. Expansive goals pull people forward into the future.
- Exchange – Strong collaborators foster internal interactions that ensure equitable exchange between members. There is an equal exchange of give and get. Members share information, knowledge, perspectives and opinions by talking and listening and by teaching and learning. Google’s in-house research reveals that in high-performing teams, members talk in essentially equal time. Everyone has an opportunity for their voice be heard and to listen to all other voices.
- Integrity – Strong collaborators reinforce the integrity of the group by developing and reinforcing shared agreements and norms. Agreements create a context for trust to build. When goals are expansive and information is exchanged rapidly, team integrity is critical for the team’s ability to sustain a shared identity.
Organizations in the rapidly changing industries are keen on developing employee cultures of innovation. The first place to start is to return to the 1980’s fade: develop employees’ collaboration skills.