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7 Ways for Managers to Create a Culture of Collaboration and Trust

Collaboration is the new norm in business, and for good reason. Building a collaborative environment requires trustworthy people, processes and technologies. Since the latter two advance concurrently and together provide structure and tools for collaboration and mutual trust, there has never been a more opportune time to create a collaborative organizational culture.

Learning how facilitate this organizational culture development is a key benefit of studying leadership and organizational behavior through degree programs like the University of South Carolina Aiken online Master of Business Administration (MBA) General program. These studies provide aspiring managers with the tools to foster the cohesion and collaboration that drive effective teams which, in turn, drive business success.

What Is Collaboration in the Workplace?

Collaboration has always been an ideal worth attaining — a mode of working that promotes common goals. Teams that function this way share high personal integrity and dedication, value and leverage the contributions of each team member and motivate and inspire employee engagement, leading to improved culture alignment, retention, productivity and innovation. A highly collaborative team has the potential to be more effective and impactful than the sum of its parts, while at the same time promoting employee well-being and job satisfaction.

Beyond people, processes and technology, collaboration requires organization and specialization, so it changes not only the way we work but what employers seek in employees. Cross-functional collaboration is also essential for scaling the strength of teams to bolster the strength of an entire organization’s culture. Thus, collaboration on the part of teams, departments and leadership at all levels is critical.

With its shared goals and strong commitment, collaboration differs from the often-associated terms of cooperation and coordination. Cooperation involves broad but mandated goals, driven by directives to meet business needs. The commitment is often uneven, and while trust is important, it is not essential. Coordination involves narrow goals, driven by directive, but with independent activity and even less need for trust. Collaboration involves striving to achieve a shared vision through creating something new. This relies on a foundation of trust.

The essential component of trust in collaboration is difficult to build because the qualities that suggest trustworthiness in individual contributors — honesty, ethical behavior, motivation, respectfulness, communication skills — are not always present. Given this less-than-ideal condition, managers need to think strategically about how to invest in building the trust required for true collaboration.

Consider the following seven methods for creating a culture of collaboration and trust:

1. Create a Vision

To align with a vision and work together toward achieving it, employees must clearly know what that vision is and why it is important. This involves not only establishing the vision and goals driving collaboration, but also articulating that mutual trust is foundational to that vision. Employees who feel invested in working together will trust one another to accomplish goals through cooperation, forming the bedrock of collaborative cultures.

2. Team-Building Exercises

As a manager, you may not have the luxury of developing team cohesion over time. Whether you have a newly assembled department or are quickly replacing multiple employees, team-building exercises can accelerate the process for building a collaborative culture.

  • Negative & Positive: In this exercise, the group is divided into pairs. In each pair, one partner shares something negative that has happened to them in a professional setting, then the second partner presents the same experience but tries to find a silver lining. Then the two switch roles. Objective: Collaborate in turning adverse situations into productive experiences.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Divide the group into pairs and provide a list of absurd tasks for each team to complete on deadline. You might ask one team to make a funny video with a stranger at lunch, or another team to find odd objects planted outside the building. Whichever team completes the list quickest wins. Objective: Use humor to facilitate bonding and collaboration.
  • Escape Room: These trendy places are perfect for fostering group problem-solving. Escape rooms have different themes, such as fleeing captivity, breaking out of prison or surviving a failed mission to Mars. Assemble teams of four with different abilities and perspectives. For example, pair creative types with scientific types. Enabling people to contribute using their distinct skill sets outside the office helps improve communication, foster respect for different approaches and demonstrate how complementary skills can bring team success.

3. Hold In-office and Out-of-office Events

Informal events during work hours may seem a distraction, but they offer benefits. Whether you host a panel of industry experts to give a seminar, have groups demonstrate the results of their work to other departments or even conduct an informal cross-departmental discussion of industry trends, events lower barriers to participation and help accelerate connections between people.

Beyond the office, encouraging employees — and providing them with opportunities — to spend time together in different environments can be beneficial for building relationships and team cohesion. Allow employees to leave work early for a team happy hour get-together. Set up volunteer opportunities during the workday, encouraging employees to collectively contribute to their community as a team. This can reinforce the value placed on the team, collaboration and trust being inherent parts of the vision.

4. Be Both Task- and Relationship-Oriented

Managers have traditionally been task-oriented, delegating responsibilities and monitoring projects through to completion. Building a collaborative culture depends on instilling trust between yourself and your subordinates, and between team members. Good leaders can be both task- and relationship-oriented, changing leadership emphasis on the fly depending on what’s best for the team and the desired results.

5. Model Collaborative Behavior

Demonstrating desired behaviors is a powerful way to produce them. Managers have opportunities in interdepartmental meetings to bring members of their teams so they can observe higher level collaborations and learn about the processes that produce positive results. Another constructive way to model collaborative behavior is to detail successful collaborations in writing and share them with the team.

6. Stop the Finger-Pointing

Blaming and shaming are ugly traits of distrustful teams. When truly collaborative teams fall short of their objectives, there is no finger-pointing. Instead, team members work together to identify areas of improvement, learn from the experience and grow together. Blame undermines trust and lowers morale.

7. Talk About Trust Issues

Given that building trust between individuals hinges on their shared values, it often takes communication to raise the levels of personal integrity, honesty and mutual support. When trust issues emerge, you will need to know what they are so you can overcome them. A good way to do this is through anonymous questionnaires that identify where the lack of trust originates. Share with the group the overall findings but not the individual responses.

A team without trust is not a team; it is a loose collection of individuals who happen to be assembled for cooperative purposes. When true collaboration is the goal, building trust is the first imperative.

Learn more about the University of South Carolina Aiken online MBA General program.

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