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A Culture of Collaboration

    When people come together, extraordinary things happen. Imagine a workplace where collaboration reigns supreme – a place where productivity soars, and employees are excited to stay. But what does true collaboration look like, and how can you, as a manager, create an environment that nurtures a collaborative team? Let’s take a journey to uncover the secrets of successful collaboration.

    Collaboration Check-Up

    We’ll start with a quick check-up. Pause, observe, and listen. Take a good look at your team.

    • Is collaboration alive and kicking in your workplace?
    • Are there some cliques forming?
    • Any employees not getting along?
    • Do you have any lone wolves who prefer to do things solo? 
    • Do personal goals and agendas get in the way of teamwork?

    We all know it happens. But don’t worry, we can fix it!!

    Lessons From the Orchestra

    I had the pleasure of attending a conference where Benjamin Zander, an orchestra conductor, took the stage. At first, I was like, “Wait, what? An orchestra conductor talking about leadership?” Is this a new company fad where we all need to learn to play the tuba? The theme was collaboration, and his message hit home. I never thought of collaboration in the context of an orchestra, but boy, did it make sense when Mr. Zander started talking.

    You see, in an orchestra, each musician has a role to play. They know their part inside out and understand the importance of practice and honing their skills. And each person knows how their role impacts the whole. If anyone drops the ball, the whole thing could collapse like a house of cards. Oppositely, when they work in harmony, a musical masterpiece unfolds.

    Individually, they can play beautiful music. Together, they create magic.

    What’s even more fascinating is that Benjamin Zander, as the conductor, doesn’t play any instrument. His job is to lead the ensemble. He brings out the best in each musician, leveraging their unique talents, and they all blend together seamlessly. It’s like witnessing a masterpiece being crafted right before your eyes – collaboration at its finest!

    The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.

    Benjamin Zander

    If you need a break from reading, let me treat you to a little symphony piece, led by Benjamin Zander:

    YouTube player

    Misunderstanding Collaboration

    Let’s bust a myth about collaboration. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns where everyone is tripping over themselves to help others for the greater good. It doesn’t mean all people conform or that they never disagree.

    In the orchestra, the musicians are focused and intense, yet aware of each other’s moves, and playing together towards the same goal. The beauty of individuality shines bright in this scenario. Imagine if everyone in the orchestra only played the violin or even different instruments, but they all played the same note – that would be a bit dull, wouldn’t it? The magic happens when each person brings their unique flair to the mix with their focus on a common goal. What if the cellist suddenly went rogue and started a wild solo performance. Chaos, right? That’s not collaboration!

    Sure, conflicts are bound to happen. You’ve got tense moments as everyone hones their skills, occasional disagreements, new faces joining the team, and a mix of personalities. But hey, that’s just part of the package, and every workplace deals with it. The key to success lies in the environment you create to manage these situations – that’s what determines whether it becomes a collaborative masterpiece.

    Keys to Collaboration

    🗝️Individual Performance

    When it comes to collaboration, we often tend to focus on the team, but let’s not forget that it all starts with the individual. Each team member must be committed to giving their absolute best. Remember the old saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” That wisdom from Thomas Reid’s “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man,” published way back in 1785, still holds true today.

    During Benjamin Zander’s captivating talk, he dropped another gem. When a new musician joined his orchestra, they were handed an “A” right from the get-go. The idea was simple – every individual had the potential to perform at the top level, but it might take some practice and effort to get there. So, they were given that “A” to live into, to grow into their best selves.

    Pause for a moment and think about this. Do you manage your employees this way? Do you provide a clear vision of what that “A” performance looks like, both for themselves and the whole team? Are you giving employees the support and confidence they need to achieve it? It’s easy to get excited about new team members and have high expectations, but if something doesn’t go as planned, we might start doubting their capabilities and lower our grade for them.

    Keep your eyes firmly fixed on that “A” target. Take care of your people, have those candid conversations, and offer constructive feedback. If there are performance issues or skill gaps, address them head-on. That’s the path to nurturing a truly collaborative and high-performing team.

    🗝️A Shared Goal

    In most companies, there is typically no shortage of goals set for individuals. Often, it’s more like target-setting overload. What really matters is a shared goal that brings the team together. When everyone’s aiming for the same thing, collaboration flows like a well-rehearsed symphony.

    🗝️Communication is Key

    Clear and open communication is the lifeblood of collaboration. Encourage a culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking up, sharing ideas, and giving feedback. Foster an environment where no question is too small or idea too big. When people feel heard and valued, collaboration flourishes.

    🗝️Trust and Respect

    Trust means integrity, transparency, caring, and honest communication. It is the glue that holds a team together.  Be a role model, embrace diverse perspectives, and have zero tolerance for gossiping and backstabbing. We’re building a solid team, not a soap opera!

    🗝️Getting Along

    You know that old expectation from your childhood – “Play nice in the sandbox”? Yep, it applies here too. Getting along is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a fundamental necessity. Think about it – have you ever seen a project succeed when people were at odds with each other? It’s impossible to move forward productively.

    Conflict is inevitable in any team, but it’s essential to address it promptly and constructively. Encourage open discussions to resolve conflicts, and focus on finding win-win solutions that benefit everyone.

    I had the privilege of working with a diverse group of individuals – different ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. We weren’t all best buddies, but I sure enjoyed getting to know them and learning from their unique perspectives. Each person added richness to my life.

    When we refuse to get along with others, we’re missing out on valuable life experiences. It’s like we’re saying no to personal growth. And guess what? When we let workplace conflicts fester, we’re doing a disservice to everyone involved. It’s like shortchanging the entire team.

    I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better

    Abraham Lincoln

    🗝️Opposing Views

    It might  seem like opposing views are the opposite of collaboration. I mean, wouldn’t it be a breeze if everyone just nodded and went along with everything you said? Your meetings would certainly be shorter. However, true collaboration requires us to grow and learn together. We need a sprinkle of healthy conflict to spice things up and welcome different perspectives. Otherwise, we’ll all end up playing the same note on that tuba.

    When we talk about opposition, we’re not talking about heated political debates. We want focused and respectful discussions meant for real change and improvement. We’re not here to antagonize each other but to build a stronger, more vibrant team.

     So don’t shy away from open discussions, questions, and suggestions. In fact, encourage them! Embrace diverse opinions, because it’s in those moments of respectful opposition that the best ideas often emerge. We want those fresh insights and out-of-the-box thinking.

    🗝️Healthy Competition

    Competition is in our DNA; it’s what pushes us to excel, improve, and get those exciting juices flowing. When done right, healthy competition is like a turbo boost for everyone, inspiring them to be their absolute best.

    There’s a fine line between healthy and unhealthy competition. When it’s unhealthy, people aim to get ahead at the expense of others. That’s when the trouble starts – trust erodes, self-doubt creeps in, and internal rivalries take center stage.

    Encourage people to compete with themselves, to be the best version of themselves. It’s not about outshining others but about personal growth and progress. Each team member can shine like a solo pianist, and it only adds to the grand symphony piece. They know their unique role in the team, and it’s essential for managers to communicate that clearly.

    🗝️Encourage Peer Support

    Create a culture where team members support and help each other. Encourage peer mentorship and teamwork, where experienced members guide and uplift newer ones. Collaboration isn’t just top-down; it’s about supporting one another in every direction.


    Alright, maestros of collaboration, you’re ready to conduct your team like a world-class orchestra! Embrace individual talents, rally around a shared goal, build trust and respect, encourage healthy opposition, and celebrate achievements. Now, it’s time to take action and make collaboration the heartbeat of your team. Let the music begin! 🎶

    Ponder Points

    Taking the time to reflect on your thoughts and actions can be an incredibly rewarding and insightful experience.

    Do I place enough emphasis on individual performance, ensuring that each team member understands their role, and supporting them in reaching their “A” game?

    Do I actively promote a shared goal within the team, encouraging a collective focus on a common objective rather than overwhelming them with individual targets?

    Is there a culture of trust and respect within my team, where open and honest communication is valued, and everyone feels supported and appreciated for their unique contributions?

    How effectively do I manage conflicts and differences of opinion, encouraging healthy opposition and diverse perspectives to drive growth and innovation?

    Do I foster healthy competition among team members, where they compete with themselves to be their personal best while still celebrating individual achievements that contribute to the overall success of the team?

    What concrete steps can I take to encourage and cultivate a collaborative work culture among my team members?

    Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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