Many leaders find their organizations to be resistant to the idea of adopting a collaborative leadership model at their very core. One condition that’s often a factor is that the organization is operating in a culture of mistrust. Competitive and driven people are skeptical and reserved by nature. For years organizations have worked to break down these natural tendencies, by having their leaders attend retreats where they learn to rely on each other to solve problems and achieve goals. The attendees come back with new bonds of relationship, but few continue to seek ways of transferring the culture of trust developed at the retreat to their regular lives back in the office. Today, I would like to discuss some ideas for improving our organization’s culture of collaboration.
It has been said that any new team member coming into an organization discovers an invisible banner hanging over the office that sets the tone for everything they do. We all know what it says, though after a few months we stop being aware it’s there. This banner either reads, “In this place you are trusted”, or it reads, “Be aware that we trust no one fully.” It is up to the leaders themselves to decide what the banner in their organization is to read. To have their people trust and be trusted they must make conscious decisions every day to keep this banner’s message clear. For people to collaborate up, down, or across the chain of command they must first feel trusted and that it’s safe to trust others as well.
a) Stop always having to be right. Take responsiblity for mistakes, and seek wisdom from staff people who are experts in their field. They are on board because of what they can add to the organization, so use them a lot.
b) Publicly praise even the smallest contributions. Help people know their work is appreciated, their ideas are valued, and their input is essential. Go out of your way to make your people feel they are more than workers to you.
c) Never correct or rebuke someone in public. Isn’t this obvious?
d) Never discount an idea completely. Treat ideas you don’t understand with the respect of having meaning to the one who shared it. Learn what they have in mind. Share what you understand after listening to them. If you still feel it is in-congruent with the present plan, ask them how they see it fitting in. Look for what pitfalls their idea may be identifying that you missed. They learn they can trust, as you treat their input with respect and a passion equal to their own.
e) Make sure that everyone who has a responsibility, also gets the authority necessary to complete their responsibilities. Nothing says “Your not trusted” like …not trusting them (micromanagement).
f) Articulate, clearly and often, the purpose, principles and goals of your organization and reinforce the idea that anyone who is working toward these same objectives is fully trustworthy.
This list is not exhaustive, nor does it examine every condition we find in our organizations. We will be looking at more in the weeks and months to come.
As you read these 6 items you may think they are all written to the head of an organization. Not true. Every person in an organization, at any level of leadership, can demonstrate these aspects toward one another. A culture of trust can develop and transform an entire company as a group of leaders in a department implements these collaborative principles together. Take time to consider what you can do to better foster and develop a culture of trust where you work, serve, and even in your home with the ones you love.
Tim Wenzig M.A.