Is Your Culture Collaborative?

By Steven Green

When MIT’s Technology Review asked tech author Evan Rosen about ways to facilitate collaboration within an organization, the answer was that technology alone won’t drive collaboration. Effective collaboration is not a technology problem, it’s a cultural problem. Too many companies are caught up in a culture of celebrity that favours competition over working together.

“Star culture is the antithesis of ‘collaborative culture,’” Rosen says in the interview. “In a star culture, the best people supposedly rise to the top in a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest fashion. Some companies regularly eliminate the bottom 5 percent of the workforce. They rank them, pitting people against each other.”

Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face
Certainly some amount of internal competition is a good thing. But when competition becomes the norm it can hurt the business. When a manager’s bonus is tied to her results compared to her peers, she has little incentive to see other parts of the organization succeed. Effective procedures become departmental “trade secrets.” The welfare of the company takes a back seat to my own goals and outcomes.

Collaboration takes a radically different approach by asking people to work for the whole organization. If your team can allocate some resources to fix a supply chain problem, then you should do it even though you aren’t the direct beneficiary of the results. When one of us wins, we all win.

The Culprit? Look at Your Rewards Program
If you’re serious about building an effective collaborative workplace, one of the first places you should look is your rewards and recognition program. As Rosen points out in his interview, too many companies are rewarding individual efforts and ignoring successful teamwork.

Clearly if your business is struggling with a “star system” culture you won’t solve all your problems by changing your rewards program. But it’s an excellent place to start. Once you start giving people praise and recognition for doing good work across departmental boundaries you start laying the groundwork for collaboration.

Tools to Make the Job Easier
While technology alone can’t create a culture of collaboration, it can make the job a lot easier. Some communications platforms, like the corporate newsletter, are inherently top-down and non-collaborative. Social software like Twitter and Facebook is more democratic and opens more roads to effective collaboration. More specialized business tools can actually foster and reward teamwork because they have a group oriented, peer-to-peer structure.

The good news about Social Software is that you don’t have to completely revolutionize your workplace culture in order for them to be effective. You simply have to be willing to start. Your employees, properly equipped, will do the rest.

Steven Green is the founder of PollStream Inc., – a leading provider of interactive engagement and community building solutions. Steven built PollStream with the intention of helping global companies to engage their customers and employees in measurable and meaningful two-way dialogue. As a result he has become a valuable resource to key decision makers as they explore the growing field of online dialogue and social media. With an impressive roster of clients, such as The US Navy, TD Bank, GE Capital, and Best Buy, Steven continues to grow PollStream’s reputation as an innovator of online solutions designed to segment, engage and inform. He has a BA from McGill University in Montreal and a Social Work degree from York University in Toronto.

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