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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

Creating collaborative culture takes leadership – what does that actually look like?

Cartoon: person pointing to ‘1. collaboration’ under ‘strategic values’ saying to another person “I’ve written ‘collaboration’ here – that’ll change the culture!”

The key to creating a collaborative culture is leadership. Leaders have the power, influence and resources to change an organisational culture. However leaders can sometimes underestimate what it takes for working collaboratively to become a behavioural norm. So, let’s challenge some misconceptions and show you the way through…

Some common misconceptions...

1. “Sure, we have a collaborative culture! It’s one of our organisational values!”

Organisational values are important. But we all have experience of working or learning environments where the organisational values sound great – like ‘inclusive’, ‘forward-thinking’, ‘innovative’, ‘collegiate’, etc. – but that’s not how it feels to us spending time in that environment.

Aspiration, intent or expectation is never enough to make the stated organisational values match the ‘lived’ values.

2. “We know we need to change our culture, so we’re going to restructure”

All too often it is a default belief that restructuring will lead to cultural change. In terms of creating a collaborative culture, common responses are to centralise or amalgamate teams or to create a new unit tasked with cross-departmental working or partnership building.

An organisation’s structure is a system and it needs to respond to various things to make it work as efficiently as possible, e.g. by grouping specialisms that help processes run more smoothly or counter key constraints. But cultural change is about changing people’s behaviours or habits – a different organisational structure isn’t necessarily going to achieve that.

3. “To create a collaborative culture, we will reorganise our spaces and invest in a new IT solution”

It is a commonly held belief that the crux of the problem lies in the physical or virtual support mechanisms available to the organisational community, i.e. “if only we had X platform and Y space, everyone would work more collaboratively”.

But, much like restructuring, new spaces and tools on their own won’t create new behaviours. These ideas need to be seen more as support mechanisms and not the key to changing culture. (Previous glu blogs about workplace / learning environments and effective communication for collaboration discuss this misconception in more detail).

To translate collaborative organisational values into organisational culture, leaders need to:

  • Show behaviours that demonstrate collaborative values

  • Provide resources that enable and sustain cultural change

  • Reward people for demonstrating behaviours that reflect those values

  • Challenge behaviours that don’t reflect those values.

It’s about being that bridge between saying and doing, adequately resourcing a new way of working, letting go of control and giving people new freedoms, and being willing and able to manage resistance to change.

Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. But it’s important to recognise that there isn’t a quick fix to achieving cultural change. If you genuinely value collaboration and want it to become a cultural norm then it takes commitment over the long term to make it happen. It is worth it – the rewards are many, rich and varied for you, your people, your stakeholders and your ‘bottom line’!

Do you want collaborative culture to become your organisational norm? Contact glu to guide you through!

The next blog continues to look at culture and explores power, influence and subculture – are there bottom-up vehicles that help create collaborative culture?

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