Too often, teams work in silos with limited communication. They exist in competitive environments and are quick to shoot down new ideas from other departments. These conditions stifle innovation.
When teams break out of these patterns, however, your organization can get on the fast track to exciting new growth, and maybe even become a disruptive force in your industry. One silo-busting strategy to consider is creative collaboration.
While collaboration could just be defined as “teams working together,” creative collaboration takes it one step further by focusing on brainstorming and developing new, out-of-the-box ideas. Fostering creative collaboration fuels cutting-edge concepts and can help your company stay ahead of the competition.
Fostering creative collaboration starts with the executives at the top. You can put an end to interdepartmental silos by intermixing teams working on projects together and setting the tone for collaboration.
Here are some best practices for creating a collaborative work environment, and why it matters.
Why Is Creative Collaboration Important?
“Culture is the new competitive advantage,” Matt Williams, CEO of the advertising agency The Martin Agency, says, “and organizational culture is a force multiplier for creativity—it magnifies the individual's creativity by the power of collaboration and collaboration results in more competitively advantageous ideas. Those ideas will be the driving force of growth and progress.”
Creative collaboration helps encourage:
- Great relationships
- Better workflow process
- Improved morale
- Higher productivity
Gone are the days of cutthroat Glengarry Glen Ross scheming, with bosses shouting at their employees; or Office Space all-work-no-play drudgery, which may spur employees into quiet quitting. Instead, to create a collaborative environment, instill the following:
Fostering a collaborative work environment begins with trust. Gaining trust requires a degree of vulnerability. In the workplace, trust can be achieved with open communication and transparency. This may mean letting the team in on as many process details as possible, clarifying goals, and encouraging employees to work toward them.
Having an environment where people trust each other makes conflict easier to talk about and resolve. When people don’t trust each other or fear retaliation for their ideas, they’re more likely to keep quiet.
Open communication works in tandem with trust. If people don’t think others will seriously listen to them or may respond negatively, they’ll be less likely to try to communicate. Employees should also know who to reach out to and be encouraged to ask for help from their managers and colleagues.
Comedy nerds will likely be familiar with this concept from improv comedy—it simply means to build on ideas and not negate the people you’re talking to. In improv comedy, if someone makes an offer, their partner says, “Yes, and…” and then offers another idea that builds on the first. What should be avoided is negating, or shooting down the idea, which can cause people to naturally shut down.
In business, the “yes, and” method means that all ideas are respected. You may disagree with the idea, but you should validate it and thank the person for offering something.
Mentoring others is another way to foster creative collaboration. This doesn’t necessarily mean one-on-one mentoring. It can mean letting all interested employees participate in more projects.
This is particularly easy and low-risk at remote companies–all you have to do is send interested parties a virtual meeting invitation. Who knows? Their fresh perspective may inspire something that nobody thought of before. For the employee, it could help them start building a path to promotion or a move into a different department.
Keep Meetings Somewhat Structured
Nobody likes unnecessarily long, unstructured meetings. For a brainstorming session or team meeting, provide an agenda and use a loose structure with a definite end time. One person runs the meeting and makes sure everyone is heard. The meeting facilitator can encourage engagement, and help the team be productive.
Sometimes people equate creativity with “loosey-goosey,” where ideas float around in the air or get erased on whiteboards and where due dates and expectations are vague.
No matter how creative your company is, having due dates with deliverables is still essential. This allows everyone on the team to prioritize their work, know what the expectations are so they can meet them, and set goals. It’s also important to get all stakeholders and approvers on the same page before sending the project down the pipeline for others to work on to keep approval chaos to a minimum.
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Creating a scaffolding for the way work unfolds is also essential. That way, people don’t have to waste brainpower wondering what the next step is, who needs to approve what, who is responsible for what, and so on. So, standardizing your process and establishing a structured feedback system is immensely helpful for creative collaboration.
This will vary by department but writing down a process and sharing it with your team relieves the heavy mental load of having to figure out a process from scratch with every project.
Providing your team with useful organizational tools helps optimize both process and communication, too. It keeps everyone in the loop about who is responsible for what. Choosing one that allows for file sharing or calls is the most helpful.
Establishing which tools you’ll use for communication is essential. That way, people don’t have to check five different apps and compile messages from all of them.
Value Mental Health
With remote work, it’s too easy to fall into a routine of only talking to your coworkers during meetings and knowing nothing about their personal lives. This doesn’t help foster creative collaboration, nor does it mitigate any loneliness from working remotely.
Having an occasional fun meeting where you can play a trivia game or chat creates the kind of supportive environment you’re after and allows for more casual conversation where you can get to know everyone on a more personal level. If possible, scheduling an in-person team-building retreat is another excellent way to let people meet up in person and change their routine.
If your team is remote but you have enough members in one city, schedule a happy hour, lunch, or celebration of someone’s birthday. Investing in these events pays off in the long run.
Allowing your employees to take an occasional mental health day is important, too. Consider offering unlimited PTO, another way to foster trust and more communication, as employees must discuss with their team and managers how to complete their work before taking off. If a potential talented new hire has the choice to join a company with unlimited PTO or one without it, it’s one more benefit that can set your company apart.
Establishing creative collaboration in the workplace takes some time and energy investment, but it’s worth it to attract top hires, retain your employees, and encourage company growth. In this day and age, your most valuable asset isn’t necessarily your customer base–it’s your employees. Without them driving new initiatives and feeling like valued stakeholders, there may be no customer base at all.
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