A new study from Harvard Business School challenges the effectiveness of open office plans, an icon of modern advertising agencies, stating that they actually decrease interaction and collaboration among employees.
I’m not crazy enough to dispute Harvard’s thorough research, but before we start putting walls up everywhere, I’d like to suggest there’s more to consider in what actually makes collaboration work. While office environments are a powerful tool in shaping a company’s culture, true team-driven collaboration thrives on clear rules of engagement and cultural values between people, disciplines and ideas.
Here is the underlying DNA that I’d like to see discussed and promoted, regardless of what your office workspace looks like.
Collaboration runs on trust. Solving problems and building ideas/plans together requires a strong belief in the ability and strength of those around you. Foster confidence in your team members, especially those in other disciplines. Every person on a team has a critical role in bringing great ideas to life. Make sure everyone is grounded in the shared ambition, be it to do great work, solve a business problem or win a pitch. And get to know your team members better; we are more likely to trust the people we know.
A lot has been written about how collaboration fuels amazing ideas and solutions, but collaboration can be really uncomfortable. Putting ideas forward for your peers to react to is scary as hell, and it’s not something we acknowledge or talk a lot about.
Because of this fear, collaboration requires a space where people can feel safe to express, think, talk and feel without judgment or pressure to have the right answer. Without that sense of safety, people hold back and censor themselves.
Start a collaboration session by acknowledging that it’s uncomfortable to share ideas before they’re perfect. Let the team know that their perspective matters, that the session is about pushing ideas around, getting different perspectives and uncovering all possibilities.
Collaboration tends to favor louder voices, so it’s important for leaders to create space for others to jump in or be invited in. Be proactive in creating a safe space that encourages people to share.
And whenever you can, celebrate the brave moments where people take risks. Celebrate the person who writes the first draft of the presentation because that’s the hardest—and scariest—step to take. Creating a safe space requires us to shift what we prioritize: It’s important to put raw ideas, first drafts and brave “what if” voices on a pedestal, not just the finished, polished work.
Open-mindedness is a fundamental trait in collaborative people. They welcome feedback and have a fundamental belief that things can always improve, evolve or grow. Closed-minded people see feedback as criticism.
It’s important to foster open-mindedness and open communication in collaborative team dynamics and conversations. Yes/no feedback creates a collaboration dead end with nowhere to build from, and it tends to promote consensus over solutions. Instead, encourage open communication by either building to an idea or thought through saying “Yes, and” or helping express the challenge of an idea through “No, because.” These simple phrases keep conversation, ideas and possibilities alive.
An abundant mindset
The most successful collaborative teams have an abundant mindset. They are less consumed with internal territorialism and personal recognition, focusing instead on possibilities, solutions and creativity. Nothing breaks down collaboration faster than when team members put personal achievement over collective achievement.
To fuel abundance in your team, make the group mission known and clear. Then reinforce the mission in the messy middle of a project when it’s so easy to lose sight of the team mission and goal. Encourage people to lean on each other and help each other. Nothing fosters abundance more than working together to solve problems and make things better. Abundance in action is about encouraging folks to lean and depend on each other.
Open workspaces may or may not be the way of the future, but I believe collaboration is here to stay. To fuel more productive and innovative collaboration, let’s shift the focus from how things look to how we engage and value one another.