Across sectors and sub-sectors, collaboration is considered critical to organizational success. Has your organization identified collaboration as a fundamental leadership skill? Do you deliberately and consistently shape your organization for impactful internal and external collaboration? Leaders need to spend the time and energy to focus on three organizational pillars—culture, people, and leadership.
To shape culture and embed collaboration as an integral part, leaders need to be explicit about its importance. Here are the steps to embedding a culture that brings about impact:
Go beyond identifying collaboration as an organizational value, and make it part of your employer brand. Identify what is unique and positive (in addition to mission) about being part of the organization. During strategic planning meetings, ask what kinds of relationships do and don’t add value. Where can we exchange or combine resources to achieve greater results? Who could or should we be talking to?
Encourage discussion and sharing among staff and with external partners about finding and executing collaborative opportunities. Understand why and how successes happened, and draw those insights into everyday conversation to spread the learnings throughout your organization.
Talk about collaboration from the start. It’s far easier to set the course and stay on it than to redirect a ship after it has set sail. Every conversation with a prospective employee or potential stakeholder is an opportunity to establish collaboration as an organizational pillar from the beginning. As you encounter potential staff, board members, and volunteers, talk about the value you place on internal and external collaboration, and its role in accomplishing the mission. Make that conversation part of all onboarding processes. Emphasize that each person—regardless of their role—is encouraged to discover and pursue synergies.
Seek out collaboration stars. Staff your organization, volunteer ranks, and governing bodies with people who will actively look for collaboration opportunities, support the process, and contribute to successful partnering. People good at this usually have strong communication and empathy skills.
Reward team members who help foster collaboration. When developing employees, strengthen skills around collaboration. Finally, leverage the most important relationship with staff—managers. Managers should not only carry forward the messages, empowerment, and culture cues around collaboration and cooperation, but also embed collaboration in performance management via employee goals and outcomes assessment.
Ensure that all levels of leadership align around the value of collaboration. Leaders set and reinforce an organization’s message and tone, and when actions don’t match organizational messages, it creates a credibility gap. Leaders should also model collaborative behaviors by sharing information in all directions, and constantly looking for synergistic relationships internally and externally.
Empower and energize by explicitly making it everyone’s responsibility—whether intern or board member—to seek out and act on alliances that further the organization’s mission, and encourage creativity and experimentation. Frame collaboration as a path to success.
Focusing on these pillars can help infuse collaboration into all aspects of your organization, and eventually reap the rewards that come with working together.