The more specializations companies have longed for in the industrial age has given way to collaboration in the digital age.
This has not happened without some discomfort on the part of employees who have had to bridge the gap between the two ages.
Collaboration, in essence, requires your employees to work effectively as teams on shared objectives. There is no room for “my way or the highway” attitudes. The idea of a boss dictating what needs to be done has fallen aside and is replaced with a group of responsible employees presenting solutions to a problem they have been given to solve.
It is little wonder why it is a difficult adjustment for some employees who started their careers in an era of hierarchical structures that has dominated the corporate world for the last half decade.
Baby boomers learned early on to do what the boss told them to do if they wanted to survive and flourish in their employment. It was made clear from day one where they stood, and it was behind the leader, not beside him or her.
Today they need to adjust to working shoulder to shoulder with their millennial co-worker and Generation Z workers who can’t imagine working like that and are instead very comfortable in team-based environments. They have learned since their day-care days that there is no “I” in team and that collaboration and cooperation are values to be cherished.
In between these two thought groups of employees are the Generation Xers who long for more collaborative work environments for the most part, but aren’t entirely comfortable in sacrificing their own goals to contribute to a team.
Despite these challenges, the corporations that will thrive in the future are those who have managed to build collaboration into their culture and change their reward structures and training methods to ensure their employees are comfortable in a more flexible, shared work environment.
As human resources professionals, how do you make this happen? How do you bring the generational thinkers together and foster a collaborative way of working?
Start by ensuring that your top management buys into a collaborative workplace thoroughly and genuinely. Can the person who is now at the top of your organization in the management structure change from the vertical, me-first kind of thinking that got him or her to where they are now?
Can they be persuaded that their future relies on learning to work in a flexible, collaborative work environment, where decisions are made horizontally and employees take action based on what they have thoughtfully agreed is the best course, rather than because they are told to do something?
Here are 3 strategies to get their buy-in to support a more collaborative environment:
- Illustrate how collaborative working speeds up the process of product or project development without loss of quality control. Show how team-work ensures that more thoughts are presented, more potential problems are discussed and solved, and more solutions are introduced.
- Create case studies to show how a collaborative team working on a project makes less mistakes and moves more determinedly to success than workers who create one component of a project without knowing what the final end game or intent of it is. Nobody works their best when they wear either a partial or complete blindfold.
- Ensure that top management understands that the collaborative team is more capable of thinking beyond the immediate scope of the project and into the realm of meeting customer needs. To work together, people have to really understand what they are doing so they can contribute to the best of their abilities and skills. That pushes them to think of the project in broader terms than the mere completion of one tiny part.
To thrive in challenging times, collaborative workplaces must be fostered and nurtured. Tie-in from the top is crucial and time must be taken at the outset to ensure that crucial leaders are on board with the process.