Keys to Collaboration

Friday, February 1, 2008
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Tamara J. Erickson, president of the Concours Institute in Lowell, Mass., and co-author of Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams published by Harvard Business Review in November 2007, offers these ways to encourage collaboration.

She bases these strategies on recent research on how best to create an environment that encourages collaboration -- a key ingredient in successful global enterprises.

Strategy 1.  Invest in practices that promote personal relationships. The bottom line is that personal relationships, and the trust that comes from knowing someone, count.  Successful companies create as many opportunities as possible for people to get acquainted and make face-to-face contact, despite physically dispersed home locations.

Strategy 2.  Model collaborative behavior at the executive level, particularly through informal mentoring. How executives behave, particularly how they reach out to others through informal interactions, is important. 

Strategy 3.  Focus HR investments on creating a strong sense of community through induction and rotational assignment processes. One of the most important roles for HR is to create community through practices that ensure people get integrated into the community quickly and form personal relationships. 

Strategy 4.  Choose employees who prefer to work in a collaborative environment. Not everyone likes to collaborate.  The hiring/screening process should emphasize the importance of this preference.

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Strategy 5.  Choose leaders who excel at both task management and relationship skills. All the teams in the research that demonstrated strong collaborative behavior were led by individuals who scored high in both task management (program management, organization, clear communications, etc.) and relational skills (sensitivity to forming networks among team members, strong sense of inclusion).  Having only one or the other was insufficient.

Strategy 6.  Train employees in the requisite skills (constructive conversations, appreciative inquiry, program management, etc.) Training investments should aim to give people both relational and task-oriented skills.

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