Ken Blanchard on Ways to Improve Cross-Team Collaboration

Nov 16, 2015
7 Min Read

Collaboration is seen as critical to an organization’s success, yet many struggle to get everyone on board. That’s because employees often believe collaboration is someone else’s job, contends a new book, which outlines how any organization can change that mindset and put collaboration into action. 

Ken Blanchard’s “One Minute Manager” has sold more than 13 million copies and been translated into 37 languages, but the author of more than 30 other bestselling books believes there’s a new message that organizations need to get if they want to survive in today’s competitive environment: learn to collaborate.

“People who are too insecure or rigid to engage in collaboration will find themselves left behind. Everyone needs to recognize that ‘none of us is as smart as all of us,’” Blanchard says.

His new book, “Collaboration Begins With You: Be a Silo Buster,” with Jane Ripley and Eunice Parisi-Carew, stresses that everyone in an organization – from assistants to senior leaders – must promote and maintain a collaborative environment. Without the buy-in from every employee, Blanchard says that companies will struggle to grow and be successful.

Still, some employees and teams are more accustomed to working on projects without the involvement of other teams or departments. Transitioning to such a collaborative style isn’t always easy, such as IT suddenly being asked to partner with marketing or sales.

“Techies, like everyone else, need to realize collaboration is a journey,” Blanchard says.

That journey should include an effort to better understand others in your organization, such as every individual making an effort to connect with someone in another area, he says. For example, he suggests those in technology need to reach out more, such as “having lunch with non-techies to find out what excites them about their job and share about what you do.”

How can something like talking over a pastrami sandwich help employees collaborate better?

“It might be surprising to learn how much in common you already have and to brainstorm ways your unique skills can help each other,” he says.

The authors contend that in order to bust silos and develop better collaboration, an “inside-out” process must take place that involves the heart (your character and intentions), the head (your beliefs and attitudes) and the hands (your actions and behaviors). By using such an approach, organizations can use differences to boost creativity in a trusting environment and give everyone a clear sense of purpose.

Despite the promises of better productivity and creativity in a collaborative environment, some organizational leaders fight such processes because they fear losing key talent to other departments or they believe they have a team that gets along so well they don’t want to rock the boat, they add.

But “like-minded” thinking can lead to group think and stifle innovation. Leaders need to realize that some team members may disagree with the direction being taken, but keep quiet because conflicts get personal and they want to avoid confrontation.

In such a situation, Blanchard recommends starting with what’s called the UNITE model, or “utilize differences and talk openly.”

Under such a model, group members are chosen based on their talent and potential contributions rather than department preferences. Conflict is seen as positive – no personal attacks are allowed. In addition, any criteria for a promotion includes a “demonstrated ability” to collaborate, he says.

For tech leaders, this call to collaborate is getting louder and cannot be ignored.

“The first thing is to realize that different is a very good thing. It leads to innovation and complex problem solving. When people offer an opinion or share their perspective, they are doing it for a valid reason,” Blanchard says.

Blanchard says that any leader seeking greater collaborative effort should start with a charter “where you jointly develop a purpose beyond individual agendas.” Leaders, he explains, need to develop goals and strategies that “demand people to stretch -- and don’t hesitate to ask for help from other departments. “

While Blanchard acknowledges it’s always easier to build trust when you’re face-to-face with someone, that’s not always doable in operations with far-flung teams.  But that’s no reason that the charter that has been adopted can’t work for a virtual team as long as the difference in time and distance is recognized, he says.

One way to keep that collaborative vibe alive and well with remote teams is to begin every virtual meeting with a “reconnection session,” he says.

“Find ways to build relationships by thinking of topics discussed in the office kitchen or at the water cooler. It might include what's in the news, photos, life events to be celebrated, or something as simple as weekend plans,” he says. “Over time, this will create a personal connection among group members. Also, encourage members to join specific projects so that they can meet different people and begin to build their own networks.”

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