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When creating or developing an existing team, no one really expects one employee to solve everything. Challenges worth overcoming are complex, practical, and more often than not, interdisciplinary in nature. Distributing tasks among diversely skilled members is usually the way to go.

Creating a team that is meant to be collaborative is however everything but a trivial task. Cooperation in teams may fail for several reasons. One of those is the lack of a clear definition. So in this article we are going to discuss how and why you should define your own collaborative culture.

Define your collaboration

Ask 20 people for a definition of collaboration, and you might get 20 different answers. Hit up Wikipedia, a dictionary or just simply google it, and you might delve further into confusion. Why is that? Because collaboration is heavily dependent on context. Tree loggers and Java programmers collaborate in different manners.

Only you know your company enough to define your own way of collaboration. Every collaboration is a type of joint effort, but with whom, by what means and for what value? For example for an online bookstore, collaboration might mean the joint effort of customer experience and developer team, to raise customer satisfaction by including customer feedback in the website development.

Define a clear, measurable and motivating goal. Think on the values you seek and the steps you need to acquire them!

If you are a team leader, you can define collaboration on team-level as well, using the same principles. If you have defined it, you need to organize your team around the definition, measure the efficiency of your joint effort, reshape the team based on the outcomes, and start over. Development of your culture should be endless iterations of defining, organizing, measuring, redefining cycles.

Collaborative team should be shaped by…?

Assess the efficiency of the team’s collaboration with automated network analysis tools as easily as writing your teammates name. Team structure and good project management are essential in forming a collaborative team. But what form should it take?

An ideal structure is one that does not hinder work – for example with unnecessary steps of bureaucracy -, but helps it, for example by directly connecting people who are meant to work together.

The use of bureaucracy in companies dates back to sociologist Max Weber, who in his essay in 1922 declared it as the ideal form of public administration. He used it to define clear roles and hierarchies inside companies, which that time were mostly industrial in nature. Today’s overuse of bureaucracy and hierarchy can be limiting in a creative, collaborative environment, and can kill effectiveness.

The goal of the game is to create motivated, engaged and empowered teams, who have what we call an “ownership mindset”, always seeking new ways to better their work. These are the teams that can achieve high performance.

Science says efficient teams:

  • are well connected, but
  • not burdened by overconnection
  • are diverse in skills, gender and culture
  • value honesty and transparency
  • have strong trust in each other
  • communicate outside meetings

Collaborative leadership is in the interaction

According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, collaborative leaders recognize, that there are critical business relationships that “cannot be controlled by a formal system, but require a dense web of interpersonal connections”. In this sense, a leader is also a partner in the collaboration and is, in a sense, in constant interaction with the team. This interaction may not strictly be communication, however.

It is good practice to always measure what motivates employees and what groups do they form on the common grounds. Why is that? Management science has been around for almost hundred years, but we are yet to find a single set of skills or traits that predicts a good leader. Scientists did, however, find, that good leaders always know what their employees desire. Transactional leaders motivate through fulfilling individual needs and desires. In turn, the employees fulfill the leaders needs and desires by doing their job.

Transformational leaders go way past the transactional paradigm. They don’t just listen to their employees motivation, they give them new goals, through shared vision, charisma, the delegation of authority, and democratic decision making. They transform their employees into their best selves – this is why they are called Transformational leaders.

Transactional management motivates people to fulfill the goals of the company. Transformational leaders motivate people to own the goals of the company. Thus the latter builds real engagement, commitment, generates intrinsic motivation, work satisfaction, even organizational citizenship behavior.

Zappos has chosen Holacracy over management

Transformational leadership is the traditional way of making employees commit to the goals of the company. There is a new way however that makes employees literally own parts of the goals and processes. And this is Holacracy.

For the sake of delivering happiness, Zappos ditched management altogether. In the well published case, CEO Tony Hsieh voted on a company culture of dynamic self-organization, empowerment, and collaboration. This is Holacracy, an organizational structure, supposedly without management and explicit leadership.

According to Holacracy Constitution, employees freely define Circles around company functions, with their own Governance Process. Circles are broken down to Roles, which have acting power over their own Domain. Roles are designed to address every task in the company and are expected to work together to achieve common goals. Basically, Holacracy is a company structure that has collaboration coded in its DNA.

To define and keep track of the new company structure, companies like Zappos can get help from HolacracyOne and use the GlassFrog application. Additional benefits might be gained from using tools of CX-Ray with applied network science to map work structures to define Circles, effective collaborating units to show interconnected Roles, communication routes, etc.

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