How to Build a Collaborative Culture

Morag Barrett

There probably isn’t an organization in the free world that doesn’t want its employees to play well with others. Everything becomes easier when people get along with one another. The work environment is positive, people are relaxed and happy, and as a result, they get more done.

So why is it that creating a collaborative culture is so difficult? The underlying reason is a lack of trust. Employers don’t trust employees. Employees don’t trust employers; and often, employees don’t trust each other. Everyone thinks that others are out to get them, to steal their best ideas, or to sabotage their efforts. It’s a kind of “mutual suspicion society.” And with all that’s going on, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the organizational culture is characterized by subterfuge. Why would you expect it to be otherwise?

There are three principal causes of distrust. If you eliminate them, then people will naturally collaborate with each other; and they’ll do it because you will have removed their fears.

1.  Pride

There’s good pride and bad pride. Good prides comes from the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference. Bad pride comes from thinking that you did it all on your own, or that it was because you were superior to everyone else.

When you think of yourself as being so far above the hoi-polloi, you act as if you are. You also talk as if everyone else is beneath you. Unless you are a trained character actor, it’s impossible for you to be one person inside and a completely different one outside.

When you look down on people, you’ll also look down on their work. That’s because when you have bad pride you tend to compare your work with that of others. But it’s not as simple as that. What tends to happen is that you compare what you do the best with what they do the worst. But that’s the nature of bad pride: You wouldn’t be able to feel superior if you did it any other way.

How do you feel when you’re around someone like this? Do you feel sorry for him or her? Probably not. How about defensive? Do you want to take that person down a peg or two, or knock him or her off the proverbial soapbox? However you feel about someone like that, it will be exactly the way others feel about you if you have bad pride.

What’s the remedy? Esteem others as better than yourself. A little humility goes a long way.

2. Gossip

Often, gossip accompanies pride. On the one hand the proud person looks down on others; but just to make sure that everyone agrees with him or her, a little gossip is thrown in for good measure. But no matter how you slice it, gossip ultimately is intended to emphasize the worst characteristics of a situation or another person.

Cast your mind back. When was the last time you heard through the company grapevine that your organization was going to give everyone a 10% pay increase? When was the last time you heard that everyone would be getting a four-day weekend every month? Or when did you last hear that everyone’s work day would be cut to just six hours at no cost to you?

For some reason, rumors like this never start.

3. Dishonesty

You’ve probably noticed a progression of ideas. First there’s bad pride – a superior feeling about other people and its associated behavior. Then there’s gossip, the grease that makes sure that everyone notices that you’re squeaky clean while others are up to their eyelids in soup. Dishonesty completes the trio. There’s nothing like a bald-face lie to persuade others that you’re so much better than the riff-raff. Whether it’s true or not, if what you say is believable, then others will automatically assume that everyone else is lying.

To create a collaborative culture means that you must think and do the opposite.

  1. Humility comes from sharing the credit or attributing success to others in a genuine way. This is really hard for most people It’s one thing to say that you couldn’t have done it without your team; it’s quite another to say it in such a way that people actually believe that you mean it.
  2. Those who collaborate also assume the best about their colleagues, and they only say good things about them. In fact, they stand up for them in their absence.
  3. And if you are as collaborative as you make yourself out to be, then you won’t be afraid to tell the truth.

A collaborative culture comes from collective collaboration. If all you do is talk about it, then it will never happen.

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