Collaboration as Currency in Training

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Collaboration as Currency in Training_Four hands of businessmen collect gears

Even if you’re not an economic expert, most understand the value of currency. In very basic terms, the better the economy the stronger the currency value. When the value is up, people are more willing to spend and thus the economic wheel turns.

But what currency do organizations have when it comes to training? Is it the content? The content delivery? One could argue one or even both, but for my money… it’s neither. It’s actually collaboration.

And what gives collaboration its value? The answer is trust; trust that exists between people and teams. The question is how trust relates to training.

While collaboration can happen without trust, it occurs at a much higher level when team members and employees trust one another. As a result, both are tied to training in that trust in the content and the learning involved will be put to use by the employees in service to the company and will aid one another in continued growth and success. Without the two, training becomes just another every daily task that needs to be completed.


The Increase in Necessity

Collaboration at all levels has always been critical for business success, especially when it comes to training, because it keeps the organization aligned across the board. How? When people share ideas and receive feedback, it improves the quality of training. It also improves self-awareness as “employees realize their strengths and weaknesses and how they measure against the rest of the group.”

Collaboration that exists within an organization, regardless of physical location, is reliant upon the need for real communication. It must be honest and constructive. This leads to a foundation of trust.

Without trust, people and teams can easily become suspicious of one another. Motives will be questioned. Within no time, collaboration will be damaged and so too will the organization’s ability to be successful.

In recent years, collaboration has been gaining momentum within organizations especially as you consider the need to constantly and consistently innovate. It’s become the backbone of many different strategies. Examples include employee engagement, recruitment and learning/training.

That said, encouraging consistent innovation in the ever-changing workforce in turn encourages collaboration. Organizations embracing this construct are not afraid to let people experiment even if it ultimately leads to failure. By allowing employees the freedom or explore ideas, leaders encourage continuous innovation.

Why? The reason is simple, employees, especially Millennials and those from Generation Z, expect employers to be more open and engaged. Without it, these employees will simply disappear and move on to competitor companies.

Effective collaboration isn’t that simple, however. It almost requires leaders and employees understand one another at a cognitive level. Remote groups or employees who don’t work alongside one another directly can, and in some cases, avoid these types of conversations and that creates misunderstandings.

Building Collaborative Teams

So, how do organizations bridge the gaps between employees and even learning leaders?

In a Harvard Business Review article written by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, the two discussed research in which they examined team behavior from 15 multinational companies. What they found is described as an “interesting paradox.”

“Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done.

To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success. Members of complex teams are less likely—absent other influences—to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines and to share resources—in other words, to collaborate. They are less likely to say that they “sink or swim” together, want one another to succeed or view their goals as compatible.”

To overcome this, Gratton and Erickson present eight ways to build collaboration between teams. Essentially, the steps break down into four general categories which they labeled as:

  1. Executive Support
  2. HR Practices
  3. Team Leader Strength
  4. Team Structure

Executive Support

This category can be defined simply as the impact of executive leadership on the organization as a whole. In other words, if executive leaders walk the walk and talk the talk, and are collaborative themselves, then the impact will trickle down to their employees and their teams.

Signature Relationships

Teams that performed in a “productive and innovative manner” did so by embracing signature relationship practices. Gratton and Erickson defined these as practices that are hard to replicate given the organization’s unique situation and are heavily tied to that singular environment. And those processes were varied in terms of execution.

The two pointed out a couple of examples including the Royal Bank of Scotland in which the CEO designed one of its newest headquarters around a large open atrium with the purpose of fostering collaboration between thousands of employees, and BP who fosters the building of social networks by moving employees across “functions, businesses and countries as part of their career development.”

Demonstrating Collaborative Behavior

If we go back to Gratton and Erickson’s definition of executive support, one can understand why “modeling collaborative behavior” is important. Employees who see leaders collaborate are much more likely to embrace and practice collaboration in their daily work.

The “Gift Culture”

The final piece of the executive support category includes the creation of a gift culture. They describe it as “one in which employees experience interactions with leaders and colleagues as something valuable and generously offered, a gift.” In a gift culture, mentoring and coaching are both useful… but coaching yields the highest impact in terms of results.

The example the authors give is one from Nokia. In that particular organization, coaching begins within days of employment. New employees are given a list of fellow co-workers, regardless of location, and are encouraged to meet with and learn from these individuals.

HR Practices

HR his a high-touch department within any organization. As a result, executive leaders aren’t the only people who can impact collaboration. Many HR practices by their nature have some form of effect on collaboration between people and teams. In terms of collaboration, much of the focus is put on training employees how to be collaborative and build community.

Collaborative Skills

In their study, Gratton and Erickson came across teams that were encouraged to collaborate but didn’t have the necessary skills to do so. Skills crucial to collaboration include:

  • Appreciating others
  • Being able to engage in purposeful conversations
  • Productively and creatively resolving conflicts
  • Program management

When these skills are learned and implemented, Gratton and Erickson say the human resources or corporate learning departments within organizations can make better team performance.

Community Support

The authors also indicated the need to support the diverse community that exists within each organization. For instance, HR should help develop and cultivate that community. This can be any number of things such as the recognition of different cultural holidays, employee sporting events, family event opportunities or even women’s networking events.

Team Leader Strength

There is something to be said for the impact of leadership on a team. As mentioned previously, leadership can have a trickle-down impact on employees. By “practicing what they preach,” leaders can set a positive example for employees to follow, and in many cases, they do act accordingly.

Tasks and Relationships

Noting the often-cited debate between task-oriented leadership and relationship-oriented leadership, Gratton and Erickson make the observation that it’s not just one or the other, but both that have a positive impact on teams. Studying 55 teams, the pair found “the most productive, innovative teams were typically led by people who were both task- and relationship-oriented.” Even more interesting, these leaders were able to and did frequently change styles during projects… and this led to a positive outcome for the organization and team.

Team Structure

Teams are built and changed regularly within organizations. Doing so often benefits continued productivity and helps support continued innovation among employees. That said, there is some consideration that must be given to the embracing of, what Gratton and Erickson call, heritage relationships.

The success of teams is often built on the familiarity each team member has with another. Between those individuals, trust and familiarity rank supreme and form over time. In fact, the authors point out that “20% to 40% of team members” who were already connected experienced strong collaboration from the start.

For newly formed teams, the two found members often struggled to form relationships and collaborate accordingly. The remedy comes in how leadership cultivates relationships across the whole team. They gave the following example:

“Nokia has also developed an organizational architecture designed to make good use of heritage relationships. When it needs to transfer skills across business functions or units, Nokia moves entire small teams intact instead of reshuffling individual people into new positions. If, for example, the company needs to bring together a group of market and technology experts to address a new customer need, the group formed would be composed of small pods of colleagues from each area. This ensures that key heritage relationships continue to strengthen over time, even as the organization redirects its resources to meet market needs. Because the entire company has one common platform for logistics, HR, finance, and other transactions, teams can switch in and out of businesses and geographies without learning new systems.”

One note of concern. The authors point out too many heritage relationships can actually stunt collaboration.



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