Executive Development Blog

Leadership Challenge: Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture

Posted by Nancy Tannenbaum on Sep 18, 2014 1:27:00 PM

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Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture

creating a collaborative culture

Collaboration can re-invigorate organizations by fully engaging employees, improving retention, and increasing innovation. It can help employees thrive in an ever-changing, diverse workplace. As organizations grow, however, employees scatter through telework and multiple locations, budgets shrink, and workloads expand, making collaboration a challenge. Unfortunately, many senior leaders view collaboration as a skill that is best applied to selected projects rather than as an organization-wide cultural value that should be embedded in the company’s fabric. 

What Is Collaboration and How Does It Benefit the Bottom Line?

Collaboration is usually viewed as an activity that involves team members working on a project together. True collaboration is more than an activity, however. It is a process with behaviors that can be taught and developed. It is a process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximize individual contribution while leveraging the collective intelligence of everyone involved. It is the way in which people collectively explore ideas to generate solutions that extend beyond the limited vision of a single person.

Organizations have conventionally applied collaboration to teams or organizational levels (such as senior leadership) to break down silos, to foster cross-functional activities, and to encourage better innovation. This type of collaboration can yield positive results. In addition to increasing innovation, collaboration increases employee energy, creativity, and productivity, which generally leads to less stressed, happier, and more engaged workers.

As many organizations can attest, however, when collaboration is focused only on teams or a single organizational level, it is extremely difficult to sustain, and this makes the benefits of collaboration fleeting. True organization-wide collaboration can provide sustained benefits such as:

  • Fully engaged workers who are eager to take on new projects and challenges and who embrace change.
  • Improved organizational flexibility and agility.
  • Improved employee health, wellness, and performance.
  • Extremely high retention rates.
  • A competitive advantage when attracting top talent.
  • The ability to develop and bring products faster to the market.
  • Increased top-line and bottom-line.

Organization-wide collaboration can breathe new life into a company and reinvigorate employees. Sharing new ideas and knowledge lets others see things from different perspectives, spurs their own work in new directions, and moves the organization forward.

The Building Blocks Required for Effective Collaboration

Collaboration does not come naturally for most employees, particularly those born before the Millennials. Previous generations were taught that competition was good, and that individual hard work—the “nose to the grindstone” mentality—would be rewarded with steady career progression. The nature of work has changed, however, and the management and knowledge silos that were created in the 20th century are no longer tenable today if organizations are to succeed. Collaboration helps break down those silos so that organizations can be creative, flexible, and ready to meet the changing, demanding needs of business today.

There are a few building blocks that must live within leaders and individual contributors to ensure that collaboration is part of an organization’s culture. These building blocks are trust, communication, and a shared vision and purpose.

Employers who take the time to teach and nurture these building blocks will lay the groundwork to create an organizational culture based on collaboration. They will see improved employee retention, less conflict, lower stress, an improved competitive advantage, a higher level of performance and a healthier bottom line.

How to Encourage Collaboration in the Workplace

To build and sustain a culture of collaboration, business leaders and talent management professionals may want to consider the following steps:

  1. Define what a collaborative environment looks like for the organization.
  2. Offer training that teaches specific collaborative skills.
  3. Make sure the metrics for success are aligned among different business units.
  4. Ensure that leaders understand their role in facilitating collaboration and maintaining a collaborative environment.


A truly collaborative environment involves every employee at every level and department, and is infused in an organization’s culture and reflected in its daily operations. It can help recruit, retain, and motivate employees; increase productivity; bring new products and services to the market faster; increase customer satisfaction and loyalty; and improve an organization’s bottom line. And because it lowers stress, it makes for a better work environment for everyone.

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