Collaboration is the Future

The current pandemic has driven many changes in workforce behaviour when it comes to using new and different technology, working from different locations and placing significant importance on developing new ways of connecting with managers, colleagues and customers.

This has raised the need for increased networking and collaboration to drive operational performance and resolve daily challenges. Surely, this is now the way that all organizations should be thinking about operating once the ‘New Normal’, that everyone is talking about, has evolved.

In my recent book ‘Introduction to People Analytics’ my research highlighted that one of the key strengths of the HR community based upon evidence, was collaboration and the ability to build effective working relationships across an organization. Therefore, how can HR help to improve this collaboration dilemma that before the pandemic, was one of the ongoing challenges that most organizations faced?

The biggest challenge for organizations to acknowledge is that a one-size fits all approach to work no longer fits the diversity of today’s workforce given the flexibility that the recent pandemic has demanded.  Working virtually may bring huge benefits in terms of both productivity and wellbeing, but if teams don’t physically see each other regularly and only communicate over email or via video channels, they may not trust each other or have the affiliation that co-located teams find easy to develop.

Collaboration, especially amongst virtual teams, doesn’t happen easily so how can HR help to promote and develop these approaches in the ‘New Normal’?

I believe that five key themes are crucial, albeit they are not easy to embed in an organization:

  • Developing Trust

Rather than starting from the position that trust needs to be earned, teams need to start from an assumption that co-workers are indeed trustworthy.  This needs to be underpinned by leaders who act as a role model and lead by example especially when physical face to face interactions become less of a feature in the workplace.

Technologies can help teams to get to know each other better and from a process perspective, engage and involve people in operational activity, but trust is based upon relationships and the perceptions that those relationships create.  HR needs to ensure that trust is constantly on their agenda as they move about the organization viewing how leaders and employees behave and need to have the courage to ‘shout out’ and help to address issues around trust.

  • Creating a Shared Sense of Purpose

Research has shown that high performing organizations instil a strong common sense of purpose among employees. This is about the motivation that drives the workforce towards a fulfilling future so that the workforce gets the most out of what they do and achieve at work.

Ensuring that everyone understands their role and their impact on business goals will ensure that employees will feel more empowered and supported in their work, wherever they operate from. Again, HR can ensure that this is a regular conversation that leaders and managers are having with their teams, especially if their organization is involved with employee experience and employee engagement initiatives.

  • Collaboration Capabilities

From my experience the desire to collaborate is talked about a lot, but the skill in how to collaborate isn’t necessarily always there. There needs to be a focus on appreciating others contributions, having focused dialogues, resolving conflicts and disagreements positively, embracing diverse opinions and insights and being able to see issues from others’ perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a training event, as micro-learning (short bursts of content for learners to study at their convenience via blogs, videos etc.) can be highly effective.  HR can drive this as an organizational effectiveness initiative, again with measurement and accountability via surveys and continuous listening data. The pandemic has raised the importance of better collaboration, so it could be part of the ‘return to work’ or ‘re-boarding’ strategy that needs to be developed.

  • Sense of Community

Constant change will continue to be a way of life for everyone and if the pandemic has done nothing else it has forged a sense of community across organizations. HR can ensure that this ‘spirit’ isn’t lost when the ‘New Normal’ emerges. Informal networking and communities can remain a feature or even ‘pop up’ events that instil a sense of fun and camaraderie across functions, teams and the organization.

  • Organizational Design

This is a critical capability which I fear HR doesn’t focus on as much as it should.  It is the one strategic intervention that can align HR with the business imperatives of an organization.  This type of initiative will inevitably address the make-up of work units, work teams and roles and architect the way in which employees are supposed to behave in these roles.

Reinforcing the importance of collaboration, as organizations look for more flexible and cost-effective solutions, is an area where HR can add real value in terms of focusing on what that collaborative behaviour should look like and provide solutions to aid any perceived skills gaps that may need to be rectified.

There is no magic bullet to resolving the collaboration conundrum.  Having a culture of collaboration helps organizations maximize the deployment of employee knowledge, capabilities, ideas and information across functional and departmental boundaries, which can have a positive impact on organizational performance.

The pandemic has reinforced the importance of being able to operate both as an empowered individual and as part of both traditional and collaborative teams. HR has a part to play in reinforcing the impact that collaboration can have on both the workforce perceptions of the organization, but also on the ‘bottom line’. It may have to shout loudly to be heard but this is a topic that will not go away!

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