Written by Liz Smith, MBA Candidate at Bainbridge Graduate Institute
People are the greatest asset within our organizations, and it is through the quality of their collaboration that we get the most out of their contributions. Yet creating a culture of collaboration within an organization is a highly nuanced and complicated process. At the Spring ’14 SVN Conference in San Diego, Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller, colleagues and authors of the book Opening the Door to Teamwork and Collaboration: 4 Keys That Change Everything, shared their 40 years of experience and expertise in helping teams and individuals to collaborate effectively, and begged us to ask ourselves the question: who do I need to be thinking with?
Building our “Thinking Team”
The first step in building a culture of collaboration is to get really clear on one thing: identifying whom the individuals are that we need to be thinking with. Whether from within or outside of the organization, by surrounding ourselves with a thoughtful group that balances out our leadership style and skill sets – a group Katz & Miller call our “thinking team” – we can bring depth of wisdom to our companies.
Judging vs. Joining
Merely teaming up with the right group of people is not guaranteed to lead to collaboration. In fact we cannot effectively collaborate or be part of high performing teams if we cannot communicate with each other. Katz offers the view that we have a fundamental species choice to make: do we want to judge – an action that leads to defensiveness, frustration, and a shutting-down of the creative process – or do we want to join one another? To join together, the epitome of collaboration, is to look your team, your employees, yourself, in the eye and say, “yes, I trust you”.
One place we can begin to “join” is within our own organizations. Katz looks to the hiring process to explore this concept. Company hiring is an activity that requires a tremendous amount of resources as we vet candidates to join our team. Yet oftentimes, when we make the hire, we force the employee to go through a process of proving themselves, resulting in a culture of judging. If we want to start joining one another, we must create an environment that fosters collaboration and teamwork within our organization. This all starts with the conversations we have with one another. Ask yourself: am I engaging with this person in a way that makes them feel big; feel valued? When we start from that place we set in motion the trust that’s necessary in order for high-performing teams to thrive.
The EILEEN FISHER Story
This methodology of developing thinking teams to co-create collaboration has been put into practice by Katz & Miller through their consulting firm, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, in a number of organizations around the country, including at EILEEN FISHER, a mission-driven women’s apparel company. In attendance at the SVN conference to share her experience of how Katz & Miller’s work impacted the organization was Susan Schor, Chief Culture Officer at EILEEN FISHER. After first meeting 12 years prior at an SVN conference, the three partnered to develop their own thinking team. It is thanks to their work and the effectiveness of this process that EILEEN FISHER has experienced significant corporate structural changes which have led employees to feel a sense of ownership over the work and the company, while fostering a culture of collaboration, ultimately leading to overall company growth and development.
Collaboration begins with who you sit at the table with. Look around you and identify the people you need to be thinking with in order to foster collaboration and bring out the full potential of our greatest assets – ourselves.