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Your Team's Ticket to Succeeding

The Plenty Team
November 17, 2016

Scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that Darwin, the English natural scientist best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution and “survivor of the fittest” philosophy, may have left out a key driver in his theory.

It is not so much survival of the fittest individual as it is survival of the most fit group. Research now argues that the tribes that collaborate and contribute to the common good will win out over tribes who are less collaborative. Evolutionary biology supports the idea that groups with advanced social lives are actually better off than otherwise skilled and talented individualistic groups. 

This research isn’t just significant for ant colonies and beehives. The implications for leadership and management are vast. Most obviously, it is worth it to set aside time for collaboration, even if it feels as if the work would get done faster and better if you worked alone. A collaborative culture will prevail over that which applauds self-sufficiency. Collaboration is more than just a beneficial organizational philosophy — it is essential to your company’s survival. Here are four tips to creating and sustaining collaboration within your organization.

1. Share information between your people 

The silo mentality can kill your company. When a interdepartmental turf war exists, operational efficiency will be reduced and morale will lessen. The leader’s job is to create a space for information to be shared between teams to reduce the likelihood of this mentality taking root. At Plenty, this looks like an organization-wide meeting every couple weeks to share data, information, and vision between teams, several in-person retreats each year, and communication via Basecamp, email, and video calls to keep everyone on the same page while in different locations.

2. Recognize the need for accountability

You can assign tasks to people, but you can’t force people to be accountable. That will come only when people feel as though others are counting on them. Collaborating to create a shared purpose allows accountability to happen organically. Your team exists for a reason — what was the reason for establishing your team? What does your team desire to accomplish? What are the key drivers for successful performance for your team? Don’t skip this crucial part of development — if your people feel as though they have a hand in answering these questions, they will be more likely to feel accountable for the actions these answers require.

3. Form creative and diverse teams

“Creative abrasion” is a term coined by Jerry Hirshberg to define a culture where teams are diverse and ideas are constructively challenged. Traditional strategy models view conflict as dangerous, but a study from University of Michigan shows that a dissimilar group of problem solvers is likely to outperform a team of the brightest and the best. The power of diverse thinking is the culprit: Group members who are trained in similar disciplines and who employ similar thinking patterns are more likely to become insular in their thinking than a group of people with various knowledge and skills.

4. Be aware of your body language

We subconsciously rely on body language more than facial expressions for identifying emotions. To convey that you are receptive to other’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Lean in when your team speaks to show that you are interested and invested in the conversation. Make eye contact and avoid the urge to check your texts, watch, or other’s reactions. Encourage team members to expand on their comments by nodding or tilting your head.

A collaborative culture and workflow isn’t something that’s built overnight. It requires thought, training, and, perhaps most importantly, time. In order to form collaborative habits, we have to give ourselves the time both to practice and to see the results. When tackling problems individually, the workflow and path to a solution can look enticingly linear. Bringing new perspectives and ideas to this path might add some twists and turns, loops, and maybe even a little backtracking. But you’ll ultimately walk away with a more robust solution, collective ownership of the problem, and a team that’s aligned and ready to execute.

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