By John Rampton, the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Calendar, a company helping your calendar be much more productive.
Have you ever been able to solve a tough business problem all by yourself? If you think about it, the chances are slim. The challenges teams face with everything from getting up to speed to putting a company back on track require collaboration. Without it, the ship’s more likely to sink.
As a leader, it’s on you to ensure teamwork goes off without a hitch. However, when obstacles to success pop up, it’s natural for employees to rely on their default tendencies. Those predilections may include keeping their head down and isolating themselves from the rest of the group. Yes, leaders do this, too, which can result in a lack of cohesive vision and direction. To encourage a collaborative approach to inevitable business challenges, here are three things to do instead.
1. Be Open About What Success Means
The more insurmountable a challenge appears, the more demotivating it can be. Say your company hasn’t made its sales targets for nearly a year. Revenue continues to dwindle, and the consensus is that customers are fed up with ongoing service problems. Some of them are sticking around, but they’re not happy about it. And you’ve got more clients bailing out than you have coming in.
You could call this a temporary crisis, but there’s little doubt it’ll take the entire team to fix it. The group needs a collective purpose to rally around to feel their efforts are worthwhile. Otherwise, seeing signs the company is faltering can have them wondering whether they should jump ship to preserve their individual futures. Defining what success means during challenging times can inspire the group to charge forward.
Maybe it’s not just about hitting a specific number—especially if economic conditions are one of the reasons for declining sales. It could be about resolving the ongoing service problems one at a time. Perhaps it’s achieving net zero losses in customers for the next six months. Being transparent about the company’s definition of success gives the team direction. I’ve found that openness from leaders also encourages team members to share ideas on how to reach those goals.
2. Create A Shared Vision
Most organizations have mission statements you can read on their website or in an annual report. Mission statements can be inspiring and may prompt some people to climb on the bandwagon. But in the long run, these words don’t mean much to employees if they don’t contribute to creating a shared vision.
In a difficult situation, such as a loss of company reputation, a shared vision brings in perspectives outside the corner office. Sometimes mission statements and visions crafted only by leadership seem lofty or out of touch. Connecting with people at all levels is about more than surface-level outreach. It shows a willingness to collaborate and establishes interdependence as the norm.
I recently read Be a Leader of Significance: Build Your Legacy, Leave an Impact, in which author Mosongo Moukwa details three simple steps to help leaders better understand how to create a shared vision. He advises leaders to “search for what is out there, listen to people around you and enroll others in your vision.” When you attune yourself to other people’s insights, the vision you can conceive will be of such magnitude that you’ll naturally require the team’s collective efforts to realize it. Collaborating with others not only enhances the vision but also transforms it into a shared journey.
3. Promote Group Discussions Based On Critical Thinking
Having “yes people” around you can make any leader’s job easier. There’s less friction when it’s time to tell the troops what you think is the best course of action. And in extreme crises, a top-down leadership style may be appropriate for getting the company over the hump.
In most cases, however, command-and-control is not as effective as a collaborative leadership approach for solving complex issues or inspiring long-term cohesion. For one thing, the best ideas might not come forward because the team’s more worried about staying in line. Second, group members could be hesitant about asking others for explanations about operational aspects they don’t completely understand. When following their marching orders, employees may be compliant with leadership’s wishes. But this type of environment can promote silos and discourage critical thinking.
Team members may not feel like they can speak up about how to do things differently. As a result, the company will continue to approach challenges with the same mindset that helped create them. In contrast, promoting a working environment where people can ask questions and critically evaluate assumptions encourages innovation. It brings the group together to tackle difficulties from a new perspective instead of forging ahead without knowing why.
Encouraging Collaboration When Challenges Arise
Some people tackle difficulties by asking for help and getting the team firing on all cylinders. Others stand back, shut down or isolate. They may hold an unfounded belief that they have to solve the issue by themselves. When complications come up in business, these tendencies create obstacles to collaboration.
A lack of collaboration in an organization can exacerbate the issues its employees must resolve. To encourage group cohesion, leaders can align group goals with definitions of success. They can also involve everyone in the creation of a shared vision for the company’s future while promoting critical thinking. These actions demonstrate their conviction that it takes a team to solve the toughest problems.