Today’s show is on about Collaboration and Team Effectiveness. Listen to the show on iTunes, Spotifyand Stitcher.

Don [00:00:00] Collaboration is so critically important because it helps a group feel like a group. That is, when we’re collaborating with others, we have this sense that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Don [00:00:14] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don [00:00:23] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging, workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier healthier and more productive.

Don [00:00:41] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly [00:01:05] Welcome, I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly [00:01:11] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.

Kelly [00:01:18] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don [00:01:21] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly [00:01:22] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on how to encourage collaboration for optimal team effectiveness.

Kelly [00:01:29] Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent some time diving into the different generations that are in the workforce. And one of the most ideal ways to complement getting each of our different generations engaged in the workforce is to foster capabilities for each of these generations to collaborate effectively with one another. When we’re working well together, we’re thriving in the workplace.

Kelly [00:01:50] For new listeners just tuning in, E3 Solutions has an engagement survey that measures 28 drivers to impact daily behavior in the workplace. We’ve collected some incredible data over the years from organizations all across North America about the effectiveness and engagement levels inside organizations.

Kelly [00:02:09] One of the questions that we ask in our survey is if participants believe that they and their immediate co-workers work well together as a team. The results of this particular question are encouraging. It scores up 3.17 out of 4.0, in the first year it surveyed. That’s in the engaged category and it only goes up from there.

Kelly [00:02:26] By the fifth year, they’re saying that they rated about a 3.43 out of 4.0, so it’s increasing year-over-year that our participants say, yes, they believe they work well together with their co-workers in a team.

Kelly [00:02:40] What is effective collaboration and why is it crucial especially in today’s workplace?

Don [00:02:45] Well, as our listeners certainly know by now, we focus on some of the hard, hardwired drivers in us as individuals to be members of a team, to be in a group. And, collaboration is so critically important because it helps a group feel like a group. That is, when we’re collaborating with others, we have this sense that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. So that’s a key part of it, to be pro-social to be relational. Collaboration is really really important.

Don [00:03:11] Another reason is because we’ve become more disaffected in our culture even in our workplace lifestyle. Today, more people are working from home, working individually, even in traditional workplaces you see workers in workstations and pods working alone in isolation.

Don [00:03:27] And the fact is we don’t work at our best in isolation and the brain actually mal performs when it feels alone and isolated. So collaboration is just a way to bring people together to make them feel a part of something. And it has hardwired benefits. We actually are capable of doing more when we feel we can collaborate with others.

Kelly [00:03:45] When we’re in school many of us have been assigned group projects in high school college. Some people love group projects because they don’t necessarily have to pick up all the work and can slack off a little bit. Some people hate it because they’re the ones who are they feel like they’re doing all the work. We’re not necessarily talking here about collaboration equals group projects where you are forced to be in a group to complete a test together. But that healthy collaboration can take a number of different forms.

Don [00:04:15] Yeah, it can. And what you’ve identified is we are hardwired to collaborate, that is, we are hardwired to do things together with a team and we’re literally capable of doing more when we can do so on a team. But it’s not just being in any team.

Don [00:04:28] Well, the flip side of that coin is, well, what if I get on a team where it’s full of underperformers and people that don’t do their fair share the work? Now all of a sudden this hardwired need to collaborate comes smack up against another hardwired need and that is to be an environment that feels fair and equitable.

Don [00:04:45] As you know as a mother with a young family, Kelly, one of the first things children articulate is the statement, “that’s not fair.” It’s this innate sense that this isn’t right. This isn’t fair. And, so, yes, being on a team is clearly beneficial, however, if that team is not aligned, if people aren’t working at a similar capacity feeling equally responsible and accountable for what it is that they’re supposed to be doing then it can become dysfunctional.

Kelly [00:05:10] A healthy team environment is one where you can count on other people to step in to be accountable to what they said that they would do to support you and things that weren’t on their plate without saying that’s not my job. They’re people who want to step in and say, yes, I’m here to help and support you however I can and I know that you’re gonna do the same for me. It’s reciprocal.

Don [00:05:31] It is reciprocal and that reciprocity is keenly important. So, if you had an experience where you’ve been on teams where it has not been reciprocal, where it has not been fair and equitable, well no wonder those individuals might say, you know what, I rather just do this on my own. Now that’s an adaptive behavior to want to do it on your own. But it’s not the natural predilection of the human brain and how it’s hardwired. It’s an adaptive response to dysfunctional teams.

Kelly [00:05:56] It’s no secret that organizations today are more complex than they’ve ever been before. As you just mentioned we are working more remotely, we have teams all across the nation and beyond. And, when we talk about those survey results I referenced earlier, where immediate co-workers and participants work well together that scored a 3.17.

Kelly [00:06:15] But when you think about other departments when you think about working with other teams that aren’t in your immediate sphere the average score for a question that references that is 2.80 out of 4.0. That’s in the disengaged category. We know it’s so much harder to connect and collaborate with departments outside of our own, but what do we do about that?

Don [00:06:34] Yeah it’s tough. It’s almost like the company is a league and then these departments are individual teams within the league and they’re competing with each other. And that typically is not healthy.

Don [00:06:44] It usually starts at the top where a senior leader of a department or a division or even a team speaks using negative language about other teams or other people in the organization. And that helps to build these walls of the silo.

Don [00:07:01] The other part of this is that often teams are very dependent on other groups doing something and then handing it off to them. The most simple example of this but very common are shifts inside an organization.

Don [00:07:15] We work with several organizations that have 24-hour work and there’s like two sometimes three shifts in a 24-hour cycle. Then they talk about how the previous shift hasn’t done their work correctly and so they’re starting their shift having to do essentially what they consider makeup work from the shift before. That’s one example.

Don [00:07:37] One of the more acute ones, and it’s not uncommon for us when we measure engagement we do it by team, any manager that has at least five people reporting to them gets their own scores. But then we bundle those teams up by departments or functional areas. It’s not uncommon to see that question score very low for people in the accounting office.

Don [00:07:57] And I was curious about that and I and I asked this one CEO at a company recently, “Why do the accounting folks have such low scores here?” And he said, “Well, because they can’t perform their job unless they get the numbers from other people in the organization. So they’re late reporting to me and it looks like they’ve missed their deadlines because they have but it’s because they’re dependent on others in the process to get them something.”

Don [00:08:20] So whenever we have these linkages where one group can’t do their job effectively unless another group has, we often see this score low and then that starts to create these divisions where people start speaking negatively of other departments in groups.

Don [00:08:37] We need leaders not to build their fiefdoms, not to build their walls and to make sure that it be better for the whole company with one team working together with just different specialties within the team rather than in a league competing in a zero-sum game style with others.

Kelly [00:08:52] In an ideal world.

Don [00:08:53] In an ideal world.

Kelly [00:08:54] There is a number of factors that come into play when you’re thinking about operating in departments that function more like silos. You’ve got lack of communication where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing so how can you progress well, which causes a lot of duplication of resources and redos and frustrations and finger pointing and blaming.

Kelly [00:09:14] There’s problems where one team says, “Oh that’s their job to do not our job to do so we’re not going to step in.” When you don’t have relationships with other departments the same way you do with your own, there can be an increased lack of accountability because you don’t have that same sense of I want to help my fellow man.

Don [00:09:33] One of the most likely areas where people are going to hold themselves accountable is relationally. Accountability, as we’ve talked about this in a previous podcast is always in relationship to something else. There’s something else when it’s a relationship with another that they know and like is very, very powerful.

Don [00:09:50] One technique we’ve seen clients use to start to break down these walls is they put people on rotation to work in other departments or they’re cross training them in another department so that the individual gets a sense of what that group’s priorities and needs are and they come back with a much more mature sense of what it takes and they’re much more likely to be collaborative.

Don [00:10:13] Just because they’ve formed relationships now in that other group but also cognitively because they have a better understanding of what that group’s needs are as well.

Kelly [00:10:21] Even if they’re not literally taking on training in another department, just facilitating personal relationship interactions, getting a buddy from another department that you go out to lunch with once a month or something that builds those relationships will help increase that sense of connectedness, relationship and accountability.

Kelly [00:10:42] What are some key things that leaders of departments can do to both build strong collaboration inside their team and to help break down walls silos between other departments?

Don [00:10:53] Where I would start I think is just with the notion of inclusion. That is, to include other people in decision making. Managers today, especially, their work is more complex. There’s more metrics, there’s more pressure to do things. And, so the most efficient way it feels like to make decisions is on your own. That is, make a decision and run with it.

Kelly [00:11:13] Oh yeah.

Don [00:11:13] And that pushes against being inclusive. Because if you want to include people in it, that means you’ve got to have a meeting, everybody’s got to say their piece and then you’ve got to work around to get consensus and the assumption is too much time. So we don’t do it.

Don [00:11:28] So I want to lead with inclusion. Invest that time so that people both not only are participants in the decision but they now know why the decision was made and when they understand the why, they’re much more likely to comply and to lean into it.

Don [00:11:42] Team meetings are really important just bringing the team together. However, we are seeing down in organizations that there are too many meetings. Employees complain that their managers are never there because they’re always in meetings. We like huddles as opposed to meeting.

Don [00:11:57] And a huddle is like a meeting except typically no one sits down and it’s short. We really advocate Monday morning huddles for the team. What’s the week look like? What is everybody doing? And I love even daily huddles. Brief five-minute huddle at the beginning of the day where a manager goes around says, okay what do you need to get done today? What do you need to get done today?

Don [00:12:19] Also this helps team members be much more intentional with their day. We don’t want to leave out the one-on-one collaboration.

Don [00:12:27] Collaboration is not always with the team, so bring in a member of the team, collaborate with them, ask them their opinion on things. I also like it when managers make team assignments, so it’s an assignment to the team really forcing collaboration. It doesn’t have to be the whole team necessarily but a group of a subset of the team is on an assignment to work together. That obviously encourages collaboration.

Don [00:12:49] And then the other one that does it’s a little bit more open but team reporting. So you don’t necessarily say, hey, team, work on this together. But you say, I want the team to report and they’re going to have to figure out how to collaborate, who’s going to say what and who’s going to be responsible. But all of this is just a way and a technique of encouraging people to work together in ways that they might not otherwise.

Kelly [00:13:11] And after all of that one of the most important things that we can do is be celebratory together as a team. That we share successes and credit among team members. How do we do that well?

Don [00:13:21] In the organizations that have traditionally have very high levels of employee engagement, they also have what are called, rituals of celebration.

Don [00:13:29] We want to celebrate our successes. The research does show, for example, Kelly, that a challenge, being challenged encourages engagement, people to lean in.

Don [00:13:37] But where many leaders get this wrong is they think it’s all in the challenge. So they create these challenge goals that are just way, way out there, just stretch goals. The key thing about challenge, is the celebration when the challenge is achieved and that’s the part of the equation that’s typically left out.

Don [00:13:54] The challenge is a two-part process. The challenge, can we get there? And, then it’s, we got there. Let’s celebrate. And managers that leave that part out start missing the true benefits of challenge. Now people are just working hard constantly and they never have a chance to consolidate what they just did and appreciate what they just did and who did it and the fact that we did it together.

Kelly [00:14:15] The step back and the high-fives are really important especially when you’re thinking about cross-departmental collaboration.

Don [00:14:23] Absolutely.

Kelly [00:14:24] How can leaders set up and maintain a long term strategy for collaboration and team success?

Don [00:14:29] Well I think when you think about it strategically and these are things that we’ve talked about in previous podcasts, you know, we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel here. But validation, recognition and feedback, integrating that into your leadership style. And the validation again is a point of review is unconditional. It’s just, “Good morning. How are you?”

Don [00:14:46] It’s just making sure people feel seen and heard. When people feel seen and heard they’re more likely to lean in and speak because they don’t feel invisible. The recognition is key and that’s when they have done something. It can be small. We ask managers to slice recognition into thinner components, smaller increments of where we see employees demonstrating discretionary effort. Just comment on them.

Don [00:15:07] And especially in this case we would want the recognition to be strategic in and of itself, and that is, focused on the fact that they collaborated with someone. So start giving recognition around acts of collaboration and then in the feedback which is ideally a monthly confidential one-on-one. Certainly, there too, both encourage more collaboration from the individual if that’s needed but celebrate where they have done it already. So we want to integrate collaboration in there.

Don [00:15:35] One other method I hadn’t talked about, this is sort of on the larger level but townhall meetings, where we’re bringing people together and demonstrating in a way the big picture of how the whole company collaborated to get a project done. In a town hall meeting to celebrate how this couldn’t have been done if this group hadn’t done that and that group hadn’t done the other. We want to make sure we’re doing that at a higher altitude as well.

Kelly [00:15:58] And this has to come from the CEO down. A manager of a particular department can’t force this collaboration across all teams, across the organization.

Kelly [00:16:07] They can foster effective collaboration inside their own team, but if the CEO and each of the managers that are responsible for different departments are stepping up to the plate to say, this is important for, not just to function and be more productive and profitable as an organization, but also to have healthier team dynamics across the board.

Kelly [00:16:27] It can’t just be one manager’s job to say we’re gonna make this happen. It has to come from the top-down and get buy-in from every one of the team leaders.

Don [00:16:35] Yeah,  it really helps when that message is coming, not only from the CEO but from the senior leadership team as a whole, and they’re doing it in a concerted way.

Don [00:16:44] Look this collaboration issue—I’m so glad we’re having this podcast it’s so important to us that we went through our 28 questions that we ask in our employee engagement survey and we aggregated those questions that lead to collaboration and that’s how you led the broadcast and that’s how we’re able to get this collaboration score.

Don [00:17:02] So this is a part of a long-term strategy, measure it and make it a part of your KPI’s and talk about it with senior leaders. Hey, we did our employee engagement survey, our collaboration score increased by X and let people know it’s being measured. That sends the signal that this is important to senior leadership.

Kelly [00:17:21] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.

Kelly [00:17:25] Tune in to next week’s episode where we’re going to be talking about promoting your employees.

Kelly [00:17:29] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 right now.

Kelly [00:17:45] Be sure to subscribe, rate and review the show. Each rating and review helps other managers like you find this show and benefit from these episodes. Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from

Kelly [00:18:03] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!