Working better together

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

Organisations are not real. They exist as a collective name for the individuals who work within them. The logical, ethical and emotional beliefs of each employee decides how people perceive our businesses.

What we do is important, the way we do things defines who we are. Everyone has a part to play, each of us contributing to the culture of the companies we represent. Variety promotes innovation — we should create a safe environment and encourage creativity rather than suppressing it.

With too many rules, we lose our corporate identity. With no rules at all, we dilute unity and risk competing amongst ourselves. A set of guiding principles can align people without being too prescriptive. These principles unite colleagues and help to form stronger working relationships with our customers. Let me share some things I’ve learned from extraordinary people I’ve been fortunate to work with.

1. Collaborate don’t compete

In a complex world, organisations often have many suppliers. The overall goal is always to do outstanding work and deliver value for your customer. This means working with other suppliers rather than competing against them. Tom DeMarco states

“There is no such thing as healthy competition within a knowledge organisation.” Tom DeMarco

Intending to succeed at the expense of others is a shallow aim. Far better to work together and focus on the customer rather than the potential competition. Learning from and helping each other produces outcomes that are greater than any single supplier can provide. The result is more value for our clients.

2. Don’t suffer in silence

Despite the best intentions, problems occur from time to time. It can be tempting to fix them before anyone notices. We are all problem solvers and we like to think we can rise to any challenge.

People sometimes feel asking for advice is a weakness rather than a strength. But strength comes with unity and collaboration — always seek guidance as soon as an issue arises. Sitting on a problem leads to frustration and anxiety. As time progresses, we wish we had spoken sooner.

Exploit the expertise and enthusiasm of your team and the people around you. This will create an environment where everyone prefers teamwork over working in isolation. An old African proverb states, If you want to fast, go alone — if you want to go far, go together.

3. Share everything!

Being indispensable is not a strength, despite what many believe. If you’re the only person who can do something, then you’re a single point of failure. This represents an enormous risk to your business. Teaching other people what you know generates respect and trust from your colleagues.

Being irreplaceable may seem like the ideal way to ensure job security. The problem is, it also means you cannot move from your current position. Your chances of promotion are zero if nobody else can ever take over what you’re doing.

Sharing expertise with other people strengthens your organisation. It encourages colleagues to do the same. Wonderful things happen when we learn from each other.

4. Avoid communication hierarchies

Strong collaboration means talking to the person who can help you. Don’t create layers of communication that make it difficult to share information. Foster a workplace that encourages close participation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to involve your team leader, line manager or a person in a senior position. There’s no need to explain everything you’re doing — all the time. When you work hard, people around you will notice.

Colleagues feel valued when you ask them for advice. Making a request via their manager seems more formal. If something takes a little longer to solve, you can determine who else to involve. Direct communication builds trust, promotes teamwork, and takes far less time to get the information you need.

5. Demonstrate rather than describe

It’s better to see a film than to paw through an online review. Watching the football team you’ve supported since childhood beats reading the match report. Demonstrating a product, service or an early prototype is a far greater experience than flicking through a glossy advertising brochure. Our personal and business lives are richer when we experience changes rather than hearing about them.

Demonstrations cover more ground in a shorter time. They are interactive — you can ask questions or focus on a specific area. The presenter can change perspective if the current approach is not quite hitting the mark.

Another key benefit is the early and regular feedback that new and existing customers provide. This invaluable information helps to increase the value that suppliers deliver. Meaning you can develop your product or service rather than write about it.

6. Build teams not superstars

Building a brilliant team is hard, but the rewards can be extraordinary. In a great team, everyone helps and supports each other. When someone learns something new, encourage them to share it with everyone.

Decision making should not depend on seniority, pulling rank or taking sides. Everyone helps everyone else to do the best job they can. We are all human, and we welcome appreciation for the work we do. That’s fine as long as we don’t overlook anyone else or seek to gain by hurting those around us. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we’re not concerned who takes the credit.

When things go well, reward the entire team rather than specific individuals. When things go wrong, review your processes rather than blaming your people. Learn from your experiences and improve the way you work. Recognise that the best work comes from a joint effort. With a high-functioning team, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

7. Don’t expect technology to solve your business problems

Technology is advancing at an alarming rate. We are achieving things today that were impossible a few years ago. Still, it is people that solve hard business problems. Digital services, artificial intelligence and electronic systems help to do things quicker, easier and with fewer errors than ever before. Yet while technology may provide the tools, they are of little use if we cannot integrate them into our business processes.

It is important to create clear, well-defined and realistic goals. The challenges we face are independent from the solutions we use to address them. A remarkable technological breakthrough does not add value unless it relates to what you are trying to do. The aim is to improve how we work.

Picasso said — ”Computers are useless, they can only give you answers”.

Thought-provoking questions can contribute just as much as the answers they demand.

8. Share a single version of the truth

The information we share should not change because of who we are sharing it with. Neither should we hide problems, hoping to resolve them before anyone notices. People cannot help to address issues if they are not aware of them. Problems are more likely to get worse when spending effort trying to maintain two (or more) versions of ‘the truth’.

It may be necessary to change the format and level of detail to suit the reader. However, the underlying content should be consistent. While there is value in reporting, stakeholders should not rely on a report for critical information. Written reports should reinforce information that stakeholders have already shared with each other.

When we are all aware of the challenges we face, we can all contribute to addressing them. As long as everyone has a common and consistent view of what is happening.

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