Using Communication to Foster Collaboration

By Eric Liljenstolpe, FranklinCovey, Costa Rica

In one of our leadership workshops, we do an exercise where we practice phrases to promote synergy, participation and collaboration. Throughout these exercises, I have observed that the participants are convinced that they themselves have no problem promoting synergy, but that the problem is with others in their organizations.

During these innovation sessions, my experience is that the majority of managers do not encourage genuine participation and collaboration within their teams. This may be for many reasons, ranging from the perception of a lack of time to feelings of insecurity. No matter the reason, the cost of not encouraging synergy in business is high, and directly impacts the commitment of people at all levels. Consider the following observations:

  • In his book, How the Mighty Fall, author Jim Collins found that leaders who are “on their way up” (in growth and improvement mode) ask more questions than statements during meetings. With teams that are in decline, the leaders ask fewer questions and make more pronouncements.
  • According to Zenger, Folkman and Edinger’s The Inspiring Leader, in a study of 60 executive teams, the high-performing teams were making five positive comments for every negative or critical comment. Meanwhile, in low-performing teams, there was only one positive comment for three negative.

If you want to gain the benefits from a collaborative and positive team environment, here are some recommendations
for encouraging it in your team:

  1. Before evaluating or criticizing an idea, thank people when they bring ideas to a conversation.
  2. Find the positive in any input from the team.
  3. Listen and paraphrase the ideas of employees to demonstrate your understanding.
  4. Make more questions than statements. Ask a team member to count the questions versus the negative statements.

Participation and team collaboration are key competitive advantages contributing to the success of organizations everywhere. If we believe that all speech from a leader creates culture, then leaders must ask themselves if what they say is fostering the culture they desire or taking them further away from creating a collaborative organization.

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