Collaboration is a business imperative, whether that means creating more opportunities for people to work together in the workplace or using technology that enables virtual teamwork. Teams are also becoming more diverse, yet most managers are not trained on how to collaborate in or lead diverse teams. Thus, managers build team cultures believing that assimilation and consensus will be effective and instead foster long-term disengagement and higher turnover.
Given that managers play such a pivotal role in creating the inclusive culture needed for successful collaboration, how can we train managers to develop collaborative and inclusive teams? There are four key aspects: perspective, voice, responsibility and adaptability.
Perspective requires a shift in mindset.
In a May 2017 Business Horizons article, Sheila Webber and I found that the difference between mid-level managers and senior leaders was a strategic shift in mindset. This shift requires managers to change their view of themselves, others, their work and the organization to see the larger context.
A similar shift is required at the team level to become more collaborative. Managers must shift their view of themselves as the executive of the team and instead become facilitative leaders. In “The Skilled Facilitator,” Roger Schwarz defines a facilitative leader as one who uses facilitative skills while simultaneously holding views – sometimes quite strong ones – on the issue or challenge. This means that middle managers need to learn how to hold an objective and a subjective viewpoint simultaneously. It also requires managers to facilitate the discussion and idea generation process, much like a conductor of an orchestra. For example, consider a normal meeting where the manager reports the decisions that have already been made and then asks for feedback. A facilitative approach would build the discussion into the process so that the decision would become an outcome rather than an input.
The team itself needs to shift its perspective to broaden its view by incorporating wider stakeholder views. Here, the team seeks alternative perspectives and ideas. Team members share ideas for feedback, ask questions and actively engage the “customers” of their team product. Imagine an internal accounting team considering how a change in policy affects the sales or product development teams. The policy would now no longer made in isolation, and the impacts could be seen and the policy adapted accordingly.
Creating an inclusive and collaborative team necessitates voice, which means all team members trust that they can speak up and share their perspectives. It requires that they speak up not only for their own needs but also for the team’s. Balancing these two needs means that each team member learns how to integrate the larger context into the final solution.
It also means recognizing that often, voices are shut down. For example, many leaders are now discussing the level to which women are interrupted by men. Power differences can make people less willing to share a potentially difficult idea that might negatively impact other team members or a manager’s willingness to integrate innovative ideas, according to Roy Sijbom, Onne Janssen and Nico Van Yperen (European Journal of Social Psychology). In essence, write Alexander Newman, Ross Donohue and Nathan Eva, enabling voice means creating psychological safety that fosters learning and growth (Human Resource Management Review).
We are all responsible.
Embedded in perspective and voice is the requirement for each team member to own responsibility for his or her growth. In a traditional command and control approach to management, team members can be more passive. They simply fulfill the requirements of the job. However, when the leader is facilitative, team members are actively engaged. They must prepare more deeply, think more critically, and consider the implications of the issue or decision.
In practice, this means that the manager and team must regularly push beyond their comfort zones and allocate work effectively across the team. Delegation is a key ingredient in this process, enabling team members to take on responsibilities beyond their usual tasks. It also means that the manager must build trust in sharing responsibility.
Each team member also needs to take ownership for thinking more expansively and creatively about the system, processes and ideas, according to Anit Somech and Anat Drach-Zahavy (Journal of Management). If a current process isn’t working, team members must question and redesign it. Each person needs to evaluate the strategic impact of a given process and determine whether there is a better way. As a result, teams will continually experiment with new ideas and consistently adapt through their learning.
Adaptability is a skill.
The fourth requirement is adapting to what’s happening. Adaptation is a natural outcome of growth and experimentation. Initially, it requires team members to build on the previous three areas and learn how to let go of the assumption, “But this is how I’ve always done it.” With the level of disruption in business reaching epic proportions, role stagnation is no longer possible. It requires the team to be flexible in terms of what is asked of each member. It means helping the team develop a mindset and skills to manage the inevitability of change and accept that change is necessary to enable growth.
Achieving collaboration and inclusion requires the skills of perspective, voice, responsibility and adaptability. These skills don’t just “show up,” nor do they appear because a manager was an effective individual contributor. They require specific training of mid-level managers. When they are trained in these areas, managers in turn empower their teams to learn them as a matter of course, thereby reducing the learning curve when the team members become managers themselves.
Everyone wants to be a good manager, but too few people are given the time or skill development to manage effectively. Training focused on these four areas gives managers the basis from which they and their teams can thrive.