Promoting collaboration in the workplace.

How do you as a leader promote collaboration at the workplace, particularly one that is still embedded in a ‘command and control’ culture?

“’How to collaborate’ needs to be learnt at the workplace. It is a learned skill. Most people are not born ‘collaborators’. You need to upskill your soft skills.” (Huq).

A client of mine got promoted into a leadership role. That was brilliant news and I congratulated him in his new position! I felt good about the coaching sessions, preparing him for the interview. That moment as a coach is incredibly satisfying!

He said to me, ‘but I have a problem’ and explained that in his new leadership role one of the challenges facing him is promoting ‘collaboration’ at the workplace.

The culture of the organisation was for many years based on a ‘command and control’ leadership style, but now the organisation is trying to change and implement an empowered culture, where employees are encouraged to be empowered, take decisions and have freedom and flexibility with regards to work arrangement and tasks.

My client fitted the role of an empowered leader as his was a people-oriented leadership style (Huq, 2015) and this may have contributed to his promotion. But, despite trying to encourage empowerment at the workplace, he was finding it difficult to get employees to collaborate. It was not an organisation where ‘collaboration at the workplace’ was hugely popular. Several employees were still embedded in the previous ‘command and control’ mode of working and collaboration had never been discussed properly before. They were not open to the idea of collaboration and never reflected on the benefits.

In a phone call to me, my client asked, ‘any chance of a Bootcamp coaching session on how to set the tone for collaboration?’

Collaboration in the workplace does not happen overnight, there are obviously some practical issues and problems, which are not thought through in organisations.

For example, if some leaders are not collaborative and still stuck in the rut of ‘command and control’ style of leadership, employees will not find it easy to collaborate, if the leader does not. People seek role models and look towards their leader to set the tone.

If there are conflicts between leaders and employees in the organisation, it will definitely not be easy and plain sailing for any collaborative work to happen.

Most importantly I have found that ‘How to collaborate’ needs to be learnt at the workplace. It is a learned skill. You need to upskill your soft skills. You can’t collaborate with your arms folded. Most people are not born ‘collaborators’.

On the contrary, people tend to be the opposite – hoarding information, not willing to share power or ideas, not trusting others, sometimes not being great team members. Having a negative body language can also go against collaboration. You can’t collaborate with your arms folded!

During my research interviews, I also discovered a simple fact that sometimes people are just fearful, they are not exactly sure what collaboration means and to what extent they need to collaborate and for how long? These important questions are not always thought out or asked. We may have an idea of what collaboration means, but, not everybody knows exactly what it entails.

So, when a leader asks employees to collaborate on a project, they don’t always make it clear what they need their employees to do, how do they need to go about it and what should be the end result? In other words, the leader may not be very collaborative himself/herself.

Very often, when the leader wants a job done where employees need to collaborate, the leader just says, ‘I need you to collaborate’!

A leader needs to set the tone, be a role model and be collaborative in the first place.

A good place for a leader to start is to understand that there should be objectives for collaboration. Objectives are important, it gives employees:

1 A focus

2 An understanding of what they need to achieve

3 A sense of accomplishment and connectedness with colleagues, partners and stakeholders.

The Cambridge English dictionary describes the meaning of ‘collaboration’ as ‘the act of working together with other people or organizations to create or achieve something’.

Hence, collaboration is about working together to achieve common goals, in other words, to collaborate is to ‘work jointly’ (Huq, 2015).

But, a lot of the time instead of working jointly, the project becomes ‘disjointed’.

So, if you as a leader want your employees to collaborate, ask yourself these three questions:

1        Clarify what do you mean by collaboration?

2        Clarify why do you need employees to collaborate?

3        Clarify what needs to be the outcome and the end result of collaboration?

Get your employees to think about these questions too.

I asked my client to answer these three questions and he candidly admitted he never thought of ‘collaboration’ in this way.

If you think the same, join me in a Bootcamp session.

The Bootcamp session helps you to answer these questions and teaches you practical, hands-on tools to apply immediately at the workplace. Upskill your soft skills and create the pillars of collaboration in the workplace.

Rozana Huq


Thank you for reading, until the next Huq Post ….

Huq, Rozana A. (2015); The Psychology of Employee Empowerment. Concepts, Critical Themes and a Framework for Implementation. Gower Publishing Ltd., UK, England.

Huq, Rozana A. (2017) The Impact of Participative Decision-Making with Regards to Empowering Employees. International Journal of Business Administration and Management Research (ISSN Online: 2412 4346, Vol 3(1).

Keywords: #leader #leadership #empowerment #decisions #collaborate #collaboration #workplace #softskills #Bootcamp

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