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Collaboration & the Role of L&D

The Management Centre

 At =mc we are increasingly being asked by our customers to help them improve their internal collaboration. This may be the result of a recent restructure that has spurred on a change in how they need to work, or perhaps because they have analysed their latest employee survey data and identified silo working as a key area of concern.

Whatever the reason, a lack of internal collaboration can have dire consequences on the effectiveness of the organisation – leading to a less efficient workforce as well as – not unsurprisingly – a more frustrated one!

And yet collaboration is getting harder. With more people working for longer, the gap between the oldest and the youngest within the workforce is increasing, as are generational differences in approaches to work. So the pace of technological change can mean that staff are split between those keen to embrace the new digital movement, while others are left behind.

And so, the question being raised more and more is ‘how can we create a collaborative workforce?’

At =mc we believe that if you want to build a culture that is collaborative you first need to define where the issues are in the current culture.

Based on a model developed by two management thinkers Johnson and Scholes, and adapted by =mc, we believe there are six main areas you need to look at – the:

  1. Stories being told: what past events do people talk about inside and outside the organisation – success or failures? Who and what are described as heros/heroines?
  2. Symbols displayed: organisational ‘semiotics’ including logos, how grand the offices are (including who has which office), plus formal or informal dress codes.
  3. Controls that are in place: internal systems and processes, and the relationships between them such as finance, performance quality and rewards/salaries.
  4. Organisational structure that exists: this includes the formal organisational structure, and relationships that dictate whose contributions are most valued.
  5. Power structures being asserted: pockets of real power and influence over decisions, operations, direction – this can include social power.
  6. Rituals and routines that are being followed: behaviour and rules that signal importance. For example, what is supposed to happen in given situations and what is valued by management.

Only by first analysing your current culture, can you then look to change your culture to a more collaborative one.

Within each of these areas it is useful to look at what divisions (often historical) there might be that have a negative affect on your attempts at a collaborative culture. So at a recent =mc Thought Leadership event, we asked a group of L&D and HR practitioners from organisations ranging from the RSC to UNICEF and ActionAid to Macmillan Cancer Support, to do just that.

They looked at:

  • what had the potential to create divisions within each of these areas
  • what enabled collaboration within each area.

Here are their responses:

What creates divisions? What enables collaboration?
Rituals & Routines
  • ‘clubs’
  • special conferences or field trips for selected teams
  • team-only meetings
  • peer divisions
  • away days for all
  • joint leadership meetings
  • executive briefings to all staff
  • being genuinely inclusive
  • use of uniforms
  • different dress codes
  • using jargon
  • tiered benefits
  • separate team badges/ awards
  • having a strong brand
  • open plan offices
  • all IT/desk set ups are the same
  • organisation-wide badges/ awards
Power Structures
  • ‘powerful’ people control cliques
  • people feel ‘done to’ by others
  • where expertise is power
  • people can block decisions
  • certain skills are seen as more valuable than others
  • sharing expertise
  • working across the organisation
  • recognising where the power is and explicitly state the difference
  • stepping back and looking at the mission of the organisation
  • when controls aren’t kept
  • inconsistent approaches to recruitment, appraisals
  • online forms being ticked as completed but they’re not
  • agreed policies not being followed, or only followed by some
  • embedding values-based language in communications and ensuring inclusivity
  • telling the stories behind why certain policies and systems are in place in that way
Organisational Structure
  • multiple layers
  • misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities
  • increasingly complex structures brought about by growth
  • hierarchical structures
  • empowering people to make decisions at all levels (not just to the CEO/SMT level)
  • CEO meeting new joiners
  • understanding what people have ‘authority’ for
  • a void or lack of communication
  • the idea that some people’s work is more important than others’
  • negative views of ‘difficult’ teams
  • conspiracy theories – the ‘directors’ have decided
  • creating ‘villains’, ‘heroes’ or ‘wimps’
  • people challenging whether something is fact or just a story
  • embracing success stories where there has been genuine collaborative effort
  • managers standing by organisational decisions so negative stories aren’t created
  • ‘heroes’ encouraging a collaborative approach

Bearing this in mind, we then asked the practitioners where L&D could have an impact. The responses were as follows:

Where can L&D have an impact and how?
Rituals & Routines
  • Engage managers in learning as a journey, rather than training as a ‘tick box’
  • Encourage people to consider and reflect on their learning journey in all development (1:1s, supervisions)
  • Create cross-organisational cohorts when delivering, and establish specific learning & development initiatives
  • Re-emphasise the positive rituals and routines that help create collaboration e.g. good manners, being punctual, respect for other teams
  • Value and celebrate collaboration when it happens
  • Use the same venue for all teams/levels
  • Make all learning & development programmes inclusive
  • Be a facilitator of change
  • Ensure the message is the right one for learning & development interventions – that this is not just being in a classroom and/or not just a ‘jolly’
  • Make learning and – in particular – development part of the organisational language it’s not just about ‘training’
  • Help to reinforce the vision, mission, and use agreed organisational language with images to reinforce these messages
  • Hold the senior management team to account, so they are advocating the importance of development
Power Structures
  • Identify the two most opposing parts of the organisation and get them talking and working together
  • Get the right people to promote collaboration, learning pilots or delivering key messages – even if the messages are challenging
  • Use potential ‘egos’ for good
  • Help employees to understand the overarching mission of the organisation
  • Support the use of storytelling across the directorate/team to help communicate why certain controls are in place
  • Develop strong relationships with managers at all levels
  • Focus on one area at a time
Organisational Structure
  • Help support and develop managers to realise and embrace their role in breaking down the old structure with their staff
  • Encourage mixed focus groups – from across the organisation and including different levels – to feed into the learning & development and organisational strategy
  • Ensure there is a values focus in inductions i.e. this is not about separation of directorates, teams but how we can work together under one mission and bring different expertise
  • Especially in complex organisations, ensure managers are taking responsibility and time to talk through the reality of how the organisation works with their new members of staff
  • Support teams to tell positive stories about their work – perhaps through storytelling workshops, skills development, etc.
  • Embed positive stories of collaboration (rather than ‘hero’ people/ teams) into organisational communications/inductions
  • Spot opportunities to tell positive stories through learning & development and lead by example
  • Encourage ‘heroes’ to work collaboratively to help unpick a dependency on them and to pass their knowledge and skills on to others. Perhaps involve them in learning interventions

For more information on how we can help with collaborative working, call us on +44(0)20 7978 1516.

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