There are plenty of enterprise collaboration tools to get work done better and faster. But are we optimizing the use of those tools to make collaboration the best it can possibly be?

“A little bit of culture change can go a very long way —and you don't have to tackle the entire organizational culture or its myriad of potential sub-cultures,” Jed Cawthorne told us this month. “You should not shy away from small, incremental changes that can potentially make a big difference.”

So what should you do?

The Question

How do you build a collaborative workplace culture?

The Answers

Michael Fitzpatrick, CEO, ConnectSolutions

head shot of Mike Fitzpatrick of ConnectSolutions

Fitzpatrick is CEO and founder of ConnectSolutions, a private-cloud solutions provider for Microsoft Skype for Business and Adobe Connect. With more than 13 years of experience in software and technology development, Fitzpatrick has built a track record in enterprise and government solutions. Tweet to Michael Fitzpatrick.

At CoSo, we believe high-quality experiences with collaboration, communication and learning solutions can dramatically improve the worker’s ability to support the goals of the organization.

But a truly collaborative culture can’t be achieved without carefully tuning your technology, people and processes so that they’re in perfect alignment with each other.

You can tell your people to work together, but you can’t create a truly collaborative workplace culture if you don’t provide them with the tools they need to work together — especially with the growing reliance on dispersed workforces and teleworking.

For a time, this was a tough task as the enterprise was flooded with personal tech that served the user’s needs but tended to fragment collaboration within the team at large. But unified communications has since evolved from the deployment of disparate tools to platforms designed to serve all in a seamless and standardized way.

Now, we can support more collaborative work environments by embedding UC into the organization’s business process workflows, creating frictionless communication that threads email, instant messaging, voice over internet protocol and video collaboration through the very apps and documents that people work with every day.

The work environment becomes more flexible.

Collaboration for workers becomes, once again, a human task that isn't disrupted by the very technology that's supposed to enable it.

Of course, the workforce must also be primed to support collaboration in the enterprise. This means ensuring everyone from on-site workers to mobile teams and freelancers is participating and that the desired collaborative behavior is being exemplified at the C-level.

It means working with HR to create best practices, prioritizing cooperation in the hiring process and creating clearly defined roles. Once your technology, people and process are in sync, a truly collaborative environment will take hold.

Sameer Patel, GM and SVP, SAP

headshot of sameer patel of SAP
Patel is GM and senior vice president of product management and go-to-market at SAP Cloud/SuccessFactors. Before SAP, he lead enterprise technology teams in the consulting and systems integrator business, where he focused on designing and executing customer, employee and partner networks and associated applications. Customers have included Intel, Nike, CA, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, XO Communications, Symex, McKesson, Wrigley and others.Tweet to Sameer Patel.

You start by throwing out all the nebulous metrics such as sharing and productivity that don’t matter to most executives or aren’t easily measurable by employees.

What does matter to executives and most employees is executing their individual and team mission and charter. And if you can channel the benefits of collaboration to executing those objectives better and faster, the basis for a collaborative culture emerges in a much more organic and natural way.

To start, identify two to three functional areas where the cost of not collaborating on a given business activity is terribly obvious.

Examples are selling or supporting customers, on-boarding new employees, developing product or coordinating hundreds of vendors across your supply chain. Such tasks have established key performance indicators that everyone is already swimming toward and innately require collective output.

It becomes readily apparent to everyone that a collaborative culture around tangible functional processes can be an indispensible enabler to meeting core performance goals.

Deidre Paknad, CEO, Workboard

headshot of deidre paknad of workboard

Paknad shapes Workboard’s product strategy, customer engagement model and thought leadership efforts. She said she is passionate about providing tools and insights that help leaders engage their teams in great achievement. At IBM, she was vice president of a global business and worked to improve information economics for enterprise customers. She has been recognized by the Smithsonian for innovation twice and has more than a dozen patents. Tweet to Deidre Paknad.

How team leaders and executives listen and engage has a huge impact. People hear what we say and may miss what we mean, so leaders’ words invite or crush engagement.

Start with "yes" to get ideas and information to flow. Show people you’re open to their ideas, facts and input. You shut things down when your first answer is no — “no, we can’t do that” or “no, we don’t have the budget.”

While there are instances where there is no budget, the instant “no” can be more habit than fact. When people anticipate a “no”, they avoid bringing forward information or ideas altogether.As Tina Fey says, “start with yes and see where that takes you.”

Learning Opportunities

Secondly, assume AND rather than OR to improve collaborative decisions. Sometimes in conversations people assume each new idea supersedes or displaces those expressed before it — my idea or yours, one option or the other when in fact it’s my idea and yours, one option and another.

Without realizing it, we pit ideas against each other and shut down consideration of additive ideas. This wastes time on false debates. Growth requires more than one idea, market segment, revenue source, and initiative so the false competition undermines collaboration, culture and profit.

Finally, Ask "why" to signal and ensure you heard. It signals authentic engagement and provides people with an opportunity to share logic so you genuinely understand. It also gives you pause to consider the idea’s merits before moving on, to frame your “yes and” response, add another “why” or provide a well-considered “no.”

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t take more management time to be an authentic listener than it does to resolve false debates, dig for facts that people don’t want to share or recover from decisions that were ill informed.

Guy Nirpaz, CEO, Totango

Guy Nirpaz

Nirpaz is the CEO and co-founder at Totango, a customer success and user engagement management platform. Before starting Totango, he focused on real time big data as EVP of engineering at GigaSpaces and was chief architect at Mercury. Nirpaz said he's driven by the possibilities technology offers to improve the way people do business. Tweet to Guy Nirpaz.

Culture is about people, motivations, successes and frustrations. The first rule of collaborative culture is making sure the company acts as a team and that the mission and goals are all collaborative. We succeed and fail together as a team.

It starts with hiring people that are not only excellent at what they do, but people that are comfortable to work as a team. Sometimes very talented people are not hired due to massive ego.

A good smelling sign to recognize it is when they are being asked about their previous company, you get the sense that they were the stars while everyone else was completely useless.

The second part is to foster collaboration. This is first and foremost the role of the executive team. As a start the executive team needs to demonstrate characteristics of collaboration. You know that you're not there when fingers are started to be pointed out when stakes are high.

Beyond that the executive team should continuously figure out ways to communicate the joint goals, and actively take part at conflict resolution by always pointing out the joint goals and missions and how those should be interpreted in this case.

Anthony Smith, CEO, Insightly

headshot of anthony smith of insightly

Smith is CEO of Insightly, a San Francisco-based SaaS CRM application. Before Insightly, he was a consultant for IBM and a software engineer for global-mining consultancy Snowden. Tweet to Anthony Smith.

Building a collaborative culture starts with identifying your company’s core values, like clear and frequent communication, and then establishing those right off the bat. At Insightly, we want our employees to have a healthy balance between work and their personal lives so we offer flexible hours and work locations.

Everyone still works at least 40 hours a week, but many employees are remote or choose hours outside the typical working day. One big challenge that comes with implementing a remote-workforce program is making sure that employees are collaborating just as much as they would if they sat next to each other.

To maintain constant communication and collaboration between team members, provide remote employees with extra services that help to ensure that they are clued in on everything that’s going on in the company.

Beyond the day-to-day tasks, fly in remote employees every quarter to encourage team bonding. And when we first hire a new employee, we have them spend a week at company headquarters so they can become acquainted with co-workers, attend in-person training meetings and familiarize themselves with business processes. This helps to ease them in and move them toward the end goal of becoming completely ingrained in the team.

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith/all rights reserved.