Productivity – How to Get the Most from Your Team: Have a Collaborative Work Culture

Do you operate a fear based work culture or a collaborative work culture?

It’s easy to tell: just take a break, have a holiday. Come back to your work place and if it based on fear you will find work has slowed to a standstill.

A collaborative work culture and you’ll wonder why came back – performance may have actually improved!

Now we humans are a learning animal – we learn from each other – for good or for bad. Having the experience I have in the engineering business (the consultancy or working for hours business – see my presentation on how to measure business performance here) I have seen the effect of focus on maximising revenue alone: training falls by the way side.  Or if it does occur, it is focused on technical, task related skills. That leaves us in the least desirable learning environment: informally from each other!! In an environment like this leadership and managerial skills are taken for granted and left to “brew” in the culture of the company. Managers modeled their styles on the only thing they have – their own managers. And if their own managers were promoted engineers – technically orientated, not people oriented – well that “brew” will be interesting indeed.

What’s new? Most companies actually run like this: focusing on short term immediate results, deferring training and improvement to a another day, “when things get quiet”. I suppose the confusing element with selling hours for a business is that you are actually trying to buy and sell the same “thing” you need to manage: people.

Confused… How is this related to the culture?

Well consider where fear usually comes from? It’s a fear of something? In business, as an employee, it is a fear of what?  Loosing that job of course, and that comes if the boss perceives you as not performing (whether you are or not is a different matter). And there will be fear of being found out that you really don’t know what you are doing.  Because for a technically trained person to have the wrong answer, is to be a failure.  It’s black or white, pass or fail.

From what I have just described – a work team where there’s no formal training in how to lead, how to manage, even how to communicate, the fall back position is to manipulate people like inanimate objects – you can expect that fear will be a natural outcome. Getting promoted into a position you’ve never been trained you will naturally be fearful. And worse, being fearful of anyone finding out that you don’t know.

By the way, don’t bother hiding – it’s always obvious to your team and your managers if you are struggling. It’s how you deal with that struggle that your managers are interested in.   With your team, lie to them and you loose their respect. Loose their respect and you loose your team.

That’s why I enjoy collaborative cultures the most: continual feedback, formal, informal, positive, negative, eliminates the fear.

A culture where the leader recognises that a shortfall in team member is a shortfall in their ability to lead.  A culture where the leader knows that to improve their team they must first improve themselves.

But it does take courage.

Courage is not having no fear – that is fool hardy.  Courage is acting despite your fear.

This is the basis behind the collaborative work culture instilled by Ricardo Semler.

Here’s a great lecture by Ricardo at MIT.  He says something very fundamental about the predominant way of working in the 21st century: collaboration.

A meritocracy is another word for it.

by Jeremiah Josey, August 2009


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