Mark Zuckerberg once said, “the most important thing for you as an entrepreneur trying to build something is, you need to build a really good team. And that’s what I spend all my time on.”
The traditional idea of the entrepreneur as an independent visionary has changed: it’s increasingly about the team. Bringing an idea to life and resolving new unexpected challenges is more often than not beyond the reach of one person. We see this in everything from startups being founded by multiple people to the Nobel Prize being increasingly awarded to teams.
Collaboration matters. Hard problems are not only solved more easily by collaboration but actually require it, so if we want to solve problems and fulfil ambitions, we need to get better at working within and managing teams.
Getting it right makes all the difference
Research from McKinsey suggests that in highly collaborative environments there is a performance differentiator of up to ten times between high performing and low performing organisations. Good collaboration is the closest link to accelerating innovation in business and achieving employee fulfilment.
I recently spoke to a coach for entrepreneurial teams. When I asked him "what is the most common challenge you face?" his response was, “helping teams to resolve a problem with different perspectives but without destructive conflict.” Research from Harvard reports that two-thirds of early stage failures stem from people problems. The desire to collaborate is one thing. But being able to achieve it is quite another.
How do we collaborate better?
Collaboration is not as easy as it sounds - contrary to popular belief, it’s a skill that needs to be learned. In Finland, schools are now teaching collaboration as a stand-alone discipline. How do we teach it?
First, through learning to instill trust, which comes from understanding the importance of values - the deep internal navigation principles we use to make decisions.Consistently, and especially in teams where collaboration is critical, studies point to the idea that when team members are aligned on their core values the results are more effective. When really tough conflict happens in a team it tends to be driven more by values than any other factor.
We need to compromise on values
While it’s unlikely that every team member will share the same values, there is good news. Our research shows that the highest performing teams don’t necessarily need to have a uniform set of values. Equally important is the level of tolerance that the team members show for each others’ values. This is how we turn diversity of values into a strength. If we want to see progress and better outcomes in business, we need to exercise tolerance.
Prevent issues before they happen
A critical way to solve the problems caused by a badly aligned team is to prevent bad alignment in the first place, and this is something companies struggle with. The workplace is still stuck in the old individualistic approach - in new jobs we are interviewed in isolation, we’re rarely evaluated as part of the team we will be working with, and then once we have the job our performance is treated as if it was independent from our team environment. This needs to change. If you learn about your employees’ values and tolerance levels, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to designing teams and hiring into them.
Give teams the tools to collaborate
It’s important that we maintain visibility of the dynamics within our teams so we can both measure the degree of collaboration and spot potential problems. We need to give teams tools to collaborate better. There’s strong evidence that points to key “ground-rules” that teams establish to collaborate effectively: setting up clear objectives, making decisions that are transparent, balancing roles across the team. We need to teach our teams what these ground rules are and give them tools that help them stick to the right approaches - even when times get tough.
Learning to collaborate with the rest of your team and compromise on ideas can be the most challenging part of a job, but it’s also the most rewarding. Collaboration can make or break a team’s performance, and in today’s ‘knowledge economy’ the vast majority of jobs require high degrees of collaboration between team members. Quality team collaboration isn’t simply a ‘nice to have’ or something that will happen on its own: it’s something we’ve got to stop treating with a laissez-faire attitude and start taking it seriously.
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