4 Ways to Boost Team Collaboration - Interview

Jun 24, 2013
9 Min Read

Is your team bogged down by bickering or back-biting? Do team members seem disengaged and uncollaborative? If so, it could be that they need to have their interactions overhauled so that conversations are supportive, focused and meaningful.

In Opening Doors to Teamwork & Collaboration: 4 Keys That Change Everything,  authors Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller describe the necessary elements to improving interactions so that organizations will benefit from a more innovative, decisive and collaborative workforce. Anita Bruzzese recently interviewed the authors:

 1.       In your book, you write about the four keys that change every interaction. Let’s begin by looking at your suggestion to “lean into discomfort.” What do you mean by that?

Our interactions are the basic building blocks in organizations and the foundation for teamwork and collaboration.

We find people often are unwilling to speak up and to share their information or perspectives which lead to wasted effort in working together.  Leaning into discomfort is about being willing to experiment with new behaviors and invites people to speak up. Interactions with new people, ideas, and teams can be uncomfortable.  By literally saying, “I am leaning in to discomfort” you alert your team members that what you are about to say is a bit of a risk and invites them to join you in the conversation.

Leaning in to discomfort is critical to any individual or team that wants to learn, grow, solve problems together, and innovate.

2.       You also advocate “listening as an ally.” What does this mean?

All too often people listen to others to find the flaws in someone else’s position.  When we listen as an ally we listen as a true partner: working together to get underneath our assumptions, link to one another’s ideas and work through conflicts.

3.      If I’m working with others in my company, aren’t we all allies and working toward the same goal?

We’d like to think so – and often people will say they are working toward the common goal and vision. But in reality their behavior is the opposite.  What we have found in the teams and organizations with which we have worked is that few people actually really listen to (and hear) others.

When you listen as an ally, you work to understand the speaker’s point of view, and you make sure you understand before you respond. You seek to engage with the speaker and find the value in the speaker’s experiences and perspectives. As an ally, your focus is how can I build on what the other person is saying; finding the value in what they are presenting and working to make it better.  My focus is on joining you not judging you or the comments.

By joining, you encourage and build upon others’ ideas. As people listen to one another as allies, joining together and building on what is said, they find themselves positioned for greater collaboration and partnership.

4.      The next key you address is opening the door to understanding. You write about stating your “intent and intensity.” What do you mean by that?

As we have worked with people and teams around the globe, we have seen that when leaders might share an idea sometimes people take it as an edict—a “go do.”  Too often, team members spend a lot of time and energy guessing the intent of a remark. Intent refers to what do I need from you? Is what I am sharing a:

  • notion – just an idea for you to think about and maybe engage around;
  • stake – a position I hold but can be influenced to change;
  • boulder – something I feel strongly about and need others to execute on; or
  • tombstone – act or else!

Intent clarifies what action I need from you; intensity is how strongly I feel about the issue and how open I am to discussion or input.

5.  “Sharing your street corner” is the fourth key, and that is supposed to point out the value of hearing differences as contributions. How can we learn to be more open to diverse ideas – especially without feeling threatened?

All too often when people have a different point of view, it is seen as a conflict. And in many, many organizations we have seen that people often avoid conflict.

So really getting different viewpoints to solve complex problems is a big challenge.  By using the language of “sharing your street corner,” it legitimizes individuals’ ability to raise a different point of view without being judged as wrong or negative.

Creating workplaces which support and encourage the ability to quickly gather many points of view is the only route to the inclusive, 360-degree vision needed to identify and respond to rapidly emerging challenges and opportunities. When you accept that you as an individual can only offer a single-point perspective, it becomes easier to understand that you need others to feel safe and supported to share their thinking, even when it is different from yours, to get the full picture.

6.       What can an individual do to encourage everyone to adopt these keys?

The first step is to make a choice to really join with others – rather than stand back and judge them or find the flaws in their perspectives or positions. The next step is to be willing to experiment with the language of the four keys and to make a conscious choice that you want to improve your interactions with others and eliminate waste—to lean into being different.

 7.         What is a good response if there is resistance?

What looks like resistance is often as simple as people feeling uncomfortable or unsafe to try something new. So, the first step must be to create the safety and freedom people need to be willing to experiment with new behaviors and be different. Using the language of the four keys might feel unnatural or awkward, which might also lead to resistance.

To move past this resistance, focus on an outcome everyone wants: eliminating the waste that results from ineffective interactions, such as unclear discussions that lead to bad decisions.  There is a better way, and helping people feel safe enough to experiment with the behaviors is one step in enabling their successful adoption by a team.

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