The poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island,” and I absolutely agree, though I’d edit the quote to “No person is an island.” Just as it applies to our personal lives, I truly believe that community and working with others is key to a successful business and career. Even in the gig economy and solopreneur world that’s growing all around us, we need collaboration in order to thrive. In my own career leading Business Development for Huntington Learning Center, I’ve found that creating a culture of collaboration both within and across teams helps make us stronger, smarter, and more innovative. But how do you build a culture of collaboration within a company where, currently, that may not be the norm?
Don’t Dictate, Facilitate
Although the word “collaboration” inherently brings up the notion of teamwork, in my career I’ve found that creating a culture of collaboration actually starts with yourself. As a leader within Huntington, I try to view myself as a connector, facilitator and encourager rather than a taskmaster. Of course, a big part of my job is coming up with ideas, figuring out what needs to be done and delegating to team members. Within my role, I make it a point to introduce team members who may not work together on a daily basis, but whose collaboration around a particular project makes sense. Breaking down the barriers of traditional departments or job titles brings a diversity of thought and experience that enriches every initiative and often takes it far beyond what I had imagined. Within Huntington we have lots of meetings and as we all know quantity does not always equate to quality. Rest assured that the quality of these meetings is excellent, but are the right individuals participating? Today, the answer is yes; but in the past, unfortunately, the answer was sometimes no. I took it upon myself to disrupt the system a bit and invite individuals who may not have on paper (ie the job title) made sense for the meeting, but those individuals were directly impacted and responsible. Therefore, I thought it was critical that those team members contributed and collaborated. Now, meetings are collaborative and all participants are empowered.
View Bumps in the Road as an Opportunity to Grow as a Team
While collaboration has its share of advantages, there can be inherent struggles as well, such as different working and communication styles. If a bump in the road arises, focus on finding ways to solve it as opposed to placing blame. Making one person or a team feel as if something is their fault (even if it might be) is a quick way to alienate others and to bring down team morale. I like to take a twofold approach: how can we fix this problem in the immediate, and how can we prevent it from happening in the future? Getting the struggling individual or team involved in the process of fixing the problem will ultimately help you build a stronger team down the line, and demonstrating a compassionate, open-door policy will help build morale among your team. Moving from a culture of blame to a culture of collaboration takes time, but the more bumps that are resolved sooner, the more communication becomes open, constructive and solutions-oriented. Sometimes it is as simple as understanding the process, which is why collaboration is key to success, and sometimes it is as simple as understanding what motivates the team members. In one example, I was running against a wall time and time again not making any progress with a new program. Bringing all individuals into the discussions and understanding what each member of the team was experiencing enabled me to understand that there was a breakdown in communication and a divide in roles and responsibilities. We pivoted and now the wall crumbled and we can help more kids. It was a win-win by not placing blame but by finding solutions.
If You Don’t Know, Ask
I have met so many brilliant, engaging business leaders throughout my life, and tapping into their expertise has helped me shape my own style of leadership. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask someone with more experience how they would approach the situation. You don’t have to wed yourself to their answer, but you can gain helpful insights that can help you build, pivot or determine other resources to help you reach success. It’s critical to understand the “how” and “why” behind processes to execute well. That’s what we do at Huntington, we teach our franchisees the “how” and “why” when learning the system. We go a step further by creating forums for franchisees to ask fellow franchisees questions. This peer-to-peer approach shows, not just tells, our franchisees that what we, the franchisor, recommend is in fact what the fellow franchisee does. And, we do this regularly on system wide calls, in person meetings at our annual convention with panel discussions and round table conversations. All these opportunities with franchisees ensures that everyone from the corporate staff, franchisees and franchisee staff hears from their peers, ask questions and ultimately learn and grow to help more students.
Though building a culture of a collaboration may not be possible overnight, it’s an investment well worth making in your team. Focus on bringing team members from across the company together, delegate and allow team members to take ownership of areas (with guidance from you), and always remember to reach out to someone if you need help. It’ll make your business and your business relationships so much stronger for the future.