It might be the most exasperating problem in the world of work. Enterprises invest heavily in training, tools and technologies to accomplish what certainly sounds like a reasonable and realistic objective: improve collaboration. But instead of moving towards that goal, many enterprises find that when it comes to collaboration they’re spinning their wheels, or even falling backwards.
This paradox would make sense if employees felt threatened by collaboration, and sought to undermine it at every turn. Except they don’t and they aren’t. Employees understand that collaboration improves productivity and performance. And on a personal level, they also know that “we’re all in this together” is more intuitively and instinctually appealing than “it’s every woman and man for themselves.”
And so, if employees admittedly want to collaborate and enterprises are demonstrably trying to enable collaboration, why isn’t outstanding collaboration the norm rather than the exception? Surprisingly, it’s because many enterprises don’t have a collaboration problem. Instead, they have an engagement problem.
That is, many enterprises aren’t empowering and enabling their people at a level that lays that groundwork for collaboration. Simply put, employees need to feel supported to truly collaborate. Otherwise, collaboration will always be an effort; never an expression.
This isn’t semantics. The difference between a collaborative effort and a collaborative expression is profound. The former is an activity that employees must consciously focus on day in and day out, or else it wanes and fizzles. The latter is embedded into the cultural fabric, and is part of the language and mindset of work. In other words: collaboration becomes a habit, not an undertaking.
In light of this, the question that enterprises should be asking isn’t necessarily “how do we improve collaboration around here?”, but instead “how do we increase engagement levels, so that our intentions, investments and efforts to collaborate will take root and flourish?” Here are the core work experience features that point enterprises in the right direction:
- Personalization: Allow employees to work in the manner that aligns with their preferences and supports their strengths.
- Control: Make it simple and easy for employees to follow and track any relevant project.
- Clarity: Instead of struggling in silos, enable employees to work together on a centralized platform so they can share resources, develop strategies and align communications.
- Inclusion: Make it safe for employees to share knowledge and provide input; whether they’ve been around for decades, or just started work last week.
- Visibility: Give employees the tools to find out what’s happening with their projects vs. having to ask managers for updates — or wait for problems to erupt.
- Transparency: Let employees look beyond their business units and projects so they can connect their contribution to the bigger picture.
- Automation: Liberate employees by automating repeatable processes, alerts and workflows, so they can spend more time on high priority activities.
- Recognition: Boost morale by recognizing and rewarding employees on a regular basis, such as at weekly status meetings. A little praise goes a long way.
When all of the above are established in the environment, then collaboration ceases to be an uphill, often exasperating struggle. Instead, it becomes the natural expression of an enterprise culture that embraces the truth that both the bedrock and gateway to effective collaboration has, is, and always will be strong employee engagement.