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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

How do you create and sustain a collaborative culture?

How does working collaboratively become the culture?

'Collaboration' is a buzzword. We talk about it a lot but are we doing it? Do you operate in a 'collaborative culture'? Or has it been expressed as an 'organisational value', but isn't translating into organisational behaviour?

Simply put, a collaborative culture will make it easy for you to collaborate within any given setting – your workplace, your network, your place of learning.... Certain barriers to effective collaboration won't exist.

An organisation that operates collaboratively is attractive. Collaborating effectively within your organisation will help you to forge successful external collaborations. People will want to join your team and play in your league. You will have new opportunities to sustain, grow and excel. You will be surrounded by motivated people. You will be able to innovate, lead and influence. So, what does 'collaborative culture' look like?

You work in a collaborative culture if:

  • You are able to be your 'true self' in a place where diverse perspectives are valued

  • You can experiment and make mistakes, share and learn from them

  • You are empowered to find solutions and work differently with others

  • You are able to continually develop your collaborative practice through training, coaching and collaborative opportunities

  • You are approached to collaborate

These behaviours do not 'just happen'. Having a collaborative culture means that:

  • Time and space to think and come together collaboratively is a protected resource, not a 'nice to have'

  • Groups that come together to collaborate are not defined by roles and seniority, instead by inclusivity and mutual respect

  • The task of 'breaking down silos' or 'engaging partners' is not assigned to one individual or group but is a collective goal

  • Supporting and enabling people to work with others collaboratively underpins the design of structures, standards, processes and norms

  • Recognition and reward focuses on how people have worked together well, finding new ways of doing things, and collective outcomes

What does it take to create a collaborative culture? It is possible to operate collaboratively within organisations as an individual or at team level. But it may not be as effective and it can be difficult to influence cultural change from the bottom up. The answer is leadership. And it takes commitment to turn rhetoric into behaviour that creates a 'lived culture'.

The leader doesn't have to be the collaboration knowledge expert. But they do need to know what it is, what it's for and what the benefits are, commit to creating and sustaining a collaborative culture, and 'live it', by becoming a collaborative individual themselves. This will change the dynamics of power by genuinely empowering others. Leaders that are willing to do this can achieve greater benefits collectively for individuals, communities and the environment.

Whether or not you are in a leadership position, getting buy-in and being able to influence are key factors for successful collaboration. How do you collaborate in challenging environments with people wary of, or new to, working collaboratively? The next blog explores this dual issue.

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