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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

What will enable collaboration? Part 1: Policies, standards and processes...

Often leaders say they want a collaborative culture but sometimes struggle with how to make it a reality. This blog is a first look at how CEO ‘Sarah’ set about transforming the culture of ‘A-Z Engineering’ and some practical ways the workforce were given the freedom to work more collaboratively.

Sarah spent the first couple of months in her new role getting to know her teams, reviewing the company’s vision and getting to grips with the finances. She thought that there was room for A-Z to increase its market share but sales had flatlined over the last three years. Sarah felt that success was more likely if she could encourage teams to work more collaboratively. One of her early steps was to ask Jacques and Michaela to do a high level review of the company’s policies, standards and processes to identify key barriers and suggest changes that would help a collaborative culture to flourish at A-Z.

Jacques had experience working in almost all of A-Z’s departments and Michaela was relatively new to the company but had a background in systems design. They took time to:

  1. do some research to understand what a ‘collaborative culture’ looks like in a practical sense,

  2. talk with a number of staff members in different teams and from a variety of job roles to understand a) what kind of culture A-Z had now and b) what kinds of barriers existed to collaborative working, and

  3. identify the fundamental things that, if changed, were most likely to encourage collaborative behaviour in A-Z.

Two of the solutions Jacques and Michaela suggested focused on A) sharing and learning from mistakes and B) creating more opportunities for diverse ideas:

Issue A

  • Teams were quick to share successes but were less transparent about missteps and wrong turns. A focus on results, targets and reporting seemed to discourage highlighting ‘mistakes’ and there was a perception that spending ‘too much’ time on these would reflect badly on individual or team performance.

  • Solution: Introduce ‘learning communities’ to enable people to share errors and be supported by their colleagues to work through complex problems in a safe environment designed by the participants themselves. Transparency and shared learning would help improve the knowledge base of the company and help collaborative working to develop more organically.

Issue B

  • A fairly narrow pool of people tended to be chosen for cross-departmental project teams and there were generally few opportunities for others to input. This meant that more diverse skills and experience were not necessarily being utilised to achieve better project outcomes.

  • Solution: Identify skills and experience needed through initial project inquiry, then match people to those criteria to participate and make calls to fill gaps. Make expectations for a highly cooperative approach clear. Make project initiation open to more people and factor in regular reviews to bring in wider perspectives. A more open process would demonstrate that individual skills and experience are valued and promoting a well-developed cooperative approach would help build the foundations to generate new solutions to solve complex problems collaboratively.

Michaela and Jacques felt that these would be good starting points to help create a more open culture, build trust in the company’s values and encourage a more confident workforce to take more risks and work together to realise A-Z’s potential. Sarah was happy to get behind these ideas. Was it smooth sailing or did choppy waters lie ahead? In Part 2, we look at some of the challenges Sarah faced along the way and what she did to overcome them...


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