Too often, companies breed a culture of competition in which employees, departments and offices contend with each other instead of collaborating. But if an organization breaks down internal silos and works in concert, then it can partake in meaningful discussions that ultimately will push innovation forward.
In developing this collaborative climate, companies must first get buy-in from leadership. Then they must communicate the initiative so employees understand the direction of the organization, train employees on the skills necessary for effective collaboration and, lastly, provide coaching and mentoring to support the transition, said Stephen Frenkel, director of negotiation programs at Mediation Works Inc., a provider of dispute resolutions services and training to resolve disputes.
“An effectively run shift in culture has top-down as well as grassroots growth because the people below see the value. They can start to be heard, and their contributions are valued. The people from the top start to get more innovative, cutting-edge ideas that they hadn’t solicited before,” he said.
Frenkel sees training as an important element in this shift, as employees need to understand what’s changing, why it’s changing, the value of the change and what the necessary skills are for the change to happen.
“There [are] some components of training that help people understand that my success hinges on your success. So rather than breeding a competitive culture where you’re negotiating over fixed resources, [instead you’re] helping people realize that you can create mutually beneficial agreements — that together you can create more value and opportunity for each other than you ever could on your own,” he explained.
To develop this collaborative spirit, Frenkel recommended that organizations use a “structured, strategic framework,” in which employees first think about their goals and what they’re trying to accomplish and then think about their peers’ goals.
“Once we understand each other’s needs better, we can start to create solutions to those needs,” he said. “We go through a process of brainstorming where we generate as many ideas as we possibly can before evaluating them. So creativity is flowing, judgment is stifled [and] evaluation is withheld until all the creativity comes to the foreground. Then we’ll evaluate [the ideas] based on other objective criteria and standards of legitimacy that we can use to determine what is the best outcome in this case.”
This generosity, in which both individuals’ needs and their peers’ needs are considered, will create better solutions in the end.
“What we find is the companies that are going for the culture shift that we’re talking about, they’re innovative, they’re on the cutting edge. And what they’re developing is an ability to have more efficient conversations with an outcome that’s more durable, long-lasting [and] mutually beneficial for everybody involved,” Frenkel said.