Create a culture of collaboration at work

(Submitted by Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center, OSU South Centers)

By Ivory Harlow, Cooperative Development Specialist

“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.”
– Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

Team work makes the dream work, but how do business owners create a culture of collaboration for problem solving? By bringing people together, identifying strengths, and encouraging participation with discussion techniques and digital tools.

Bring people together

Invite potential team members to a meeting to propose collaboration. Doodle.com is an online scheduling solution that finds the best time for people to meet. Although videoconferencing can make meetings more convenient, especially for groups that are wide-spread, in-person meetings are recommended at the beginning of a new project. Body language, eye contact and tone can be lost on video, but are critical to establishing group dynamics. Videoconferencing and online meetings can be used to bring people together once collaborators are well-acquainted, have developed a project plan and have a good sense how they will work together as a team.

Identify individual strengths

Honing in on individual strengths may seem counterproductive to creating a collaborative culture, but identifying how each collaborator can best contribute utilizes personnel resources effectively. Honoring individual strengths empowers collaborators to do their best work in an area they thrive. A football coach does not play the quarterback in a linebacker position; the coach optimizes each player to do what they do best for team success.
Don’t assume a person’s job title is their only strength. Instead, ask each collaborator what he or she is good at or what kind of work they enjoy doing. You may discover the front desk clerk has a knack for numbers, and the tech guy has a gift for design!

Encourage participation

Collaborators are more likely to contribute when they feel their voices are heard and their ideas are valued. Using discussion techniques like stop-watch brainstorming is fast-paced and fun. Collaborators are given a time limit to blurt out as many ideas as possible. A scribe records the ideas to return to after brainstorming is complete. This discussion technique inspires creative problem solving.

Sometimes it is necessary to tease ideas out of introverts or new team members who may not feel comfortable speaking up in the group. The around-the-room discussion technique gives every collaborator an equal opportunity to share ideas.

The digital age of business offers a ton of tools to create a culture of collaboration at work. Office 365, Google Hangouts and Google Docs, Dropbox, instant messaging and apps like Evernote and Slack are examples. These tools can be used to supplement in-person meetings, host working documents or track progress on a project.

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