Fostering a Collaborative Culture22/04/2021
Purnima Sen, Operations & People Director, Sparta Global
Collaboration must be a core value for every business. While we have seen many organisations shift and change in response to Covid-19, most big changes and shake-ups have been motivated by reducing staff, reallocating responsibilities and introducing new services/products - but why not cultural reasons? The world of work is entirely different to how it was 12 months ago and it will never be the same again. Employees naturally want to work together, to feel responsible and to build relationships built on trust. Look at how your teams work together and make the changes needed to foster a collaborative culture. Do this correctly and you will build a productive and successful, loyal workforce.
Designed to make a difference
When Sparta Global first decided to open a new London Head office in March 2019, the idea behind it was based on one main premise - collaboration. We wanted to nurture a company culture where collaboration isn’t an afterthought, rather something baked in from the beginning that would result in a more successful working environment.
The opening of our Head Office enabled us to bring together our Academy and Head Office staff who had previously been operating from separate locations. We knew bringing these two groups together was going to make a huge difference in how our teams worked together and interacted with each other. I wanted to abolish any sense of cultural divide between the Academy trainees and training teams and our staff keeping the business ticking along in the background. I also wanted to give our trainee Spartans a chance to learn and work alongside the rest of our operations so they could gain a deeper understanding of how our model functions end-to-end and how much we invest in each individual we take on. I imagined trainees, trainers, Spartans and Head Office staff crossing paths multiple times a day, eating lunch together, chatting around the coffee machine and grouping together for fun company quizzes and events.
Our focus on collaboration didn’t only influence the opening of a new office location, but the interior design of the space itself. The central – “breakout” - part of the office was designed for collaborative working in mind, a space that promoted the exchange of ideas and lateral thinking. We also wanted to use this space to hold events (internal and external for talent and clients) and offer additional room for staff to work if they grew tired of their desks. I know that for me, moving location can help boost productivity and creativity.
Collaboration and Covid
When Covid hit, the time and money invested in our new collaborative working space felt futile at first. An office that had been busy, energising and thriving was no longer a hub of activity – because everyone was having to work from home. Virtual work, virtual teams and virtual workspaces became an overnight normal. Just like in many businesses, our leaders were forced into a remote working situation for all staff practically overnight. For a short while, the baffling question was; “What can we do to make the best of this situation and how can we continue to foster collaboration despite our workforce being separated?”.
In today’s heavily interconnected workplace, working with colleagues drives organisational and personal effectiveness. Our people were suddenly working in virtual teams with colleagues, clients, and trainees, who had often not met in person. They could no longer work in ad-hoc combinations, in groups that emerge naturally around the coffee machine or in the corridor. Whatever the provenance and profile of our teams in our workplace, our organisational growth and success depended on them.
A cultural shift
Having read about and examined collaborative working practices and the co-operative mindset in companies, research states that while almost all managers and the companies they work for recognise the critical value of teamwork and the importance of cultivating a cooperative mindset, many actually, and unknowingly, encourage behaviours that undermine cooperation.
Siloed teams can encourage people to outshine everyone around them. Rather than sharing ideas and know-how, people can hoard knowledge and work with others as little as possible - and remote working during the pandemic would offer great cover to these offenders. When we hired and onboarded new people during the pandemic period, embedding them into our company culture became vital. There was no room for a gap between the rhetoric of creative cooperation and collaboration and the reality of unproductive competition.
Research has uncovered three crucial practices that foster a culture of collaboration;
Hire for collaboration - Companies in which a co-operative mindset flourishes, take particular care in their hiring practices. They seek to attract cooperative people who understand the value of teamwork. They hire the people who will add to their culture and not only ‘fit’, ensuring they are building a diverse team that is willing and capable of working together.
Deploy onboarding practices that foster a collaborative mindset - When a person joins a company, they bring to the new position their personality, attitude and behaviours. In the first few weeks of a new job or joining a new company, employees are particularly sensitive to how they act and the cultural and behavioural norms around them: how their new colleagues dress, how they behave, what they talk about, and so on. For this reason, it is critical to implement onboarding procedures that allow new employees to immediately meet with and understand the people/teams they will be working with. The onboarding phase is when new hires soak up the most information and understanding of your business – get collaboration on the agenda early.
Support mentoring - Of all the human resources practices I studied, the one most strongly associated with highly collaborative people and teams, was the experience of being mentored. Mentoring was most powerful in three circumstances:
(1) when both parties volunteer for it, (2) when the mentor is skilled in active listening, and (3) when senior executives are mentors and thus stand as powerful role models for the rest of the organisation.
Lead from the front
Many managers believe the key to leading high-performing teams is hiring talented individuals and doing whatever you can to keep them happy and on your books. But that’s only part of the puzzle. According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report; “Happiness is a great starting point, but just measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels and catering to their wants often fails to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement: improved business outcomes.”
Often, high-performing teams are less motivated by money and simply want to be part of a workplace that offers them the best tools to work with; meaningful connections, a culture of collaboration, and leaders who are transparent and value teamwork.
Covid has proven how technology makes it easier than ever for high-performing employees to enjoy – and contribute to - a collaborative company culture. Leaders in every industry can leverage digital communication tools to create a culture of collaboration at work, by facilitating instant connections between teams and team members. When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.
We did this by using company communication tools for accessible two-way conversations, scheduled video conferences for informal check-ins and feedback, celebrated contributions and achievements with the wider company in our online community forum, and sent out company-wide updates to talk about all of the above.
People powered success
A collaborative culture puts your people first: giving them purpose, placing your trust in them to do good work, and opening up your organisation in a way that forms connections and unleashes their potential. In a collaboration culture, leaders are there to facilitate collaboration and guide people towards realising their potential. This means removing communication blockages and helping colleagues to hone their collaboration skills.
Through our learning and research, at Sparta Global we have created a vibrant company culture that we hope is the difference between simply doing a job and being part of a community. It’s a unifying force and at Sparta we live by it.