Managing Humans: Collaboration

Today’s guest blog post is the final post in a six-part series by Rachel Hands, Director of Client Administration, Patron Technology. Click here to start at part one. 

Over the course of this blog series, we’ve covered hiring and mentoring individuals and establishing core values for your team. For the final post in this series, we’ll look at ways to establish and encourage a collaborative team culture — because what you’re able to accomplish on your own in a limited amount of time is great, but it’s nothing compared to what a good team can accomplish together.

Let’s start by considering some obstacles to effective workplace collaboration. There are a few common hurdles that might be slowing a team down:

  • Concern that not everyone will pull their weight
  • The feeling that each individual needs to completely own their assigned task, from start to finish, in order to have done their job
  • Differences in priorities or working styles causing interpersonal conflict
  • Poor tools encourage siloed information and make it difficult to share resources

The first two obstacles are really variations on the same (very real) concern: “I’m worried that someone else won’t do their fair share” and “I’m worried that I won’t be able to do my fair share.” If you have the right people in the right positions, though, these don’t have to be a block to good collaboration. To mitigate these concerns:

  • Establish clear expectations for what needs to be done individually
  • When possible, lay out the full scope of the project up front — as a group, determine what feels like a fair division of labor
  • Let go of the notion that “fair” is the same as “equal,” and make sure your team understands that too. It’s not fair to expect that your box office manager is going to do an equal amount of work on a capital campaign as your director of development

Even when there’s group consensus about how to divide up the work on a project, your job as a manager is to be the arbiter of when a perceived imbalance is really unfair and needs correction, and when it’s justified. That’s a tough position to be in sometimes, but it’s a very low price to pay for the value you get from a successful collaboration.

The third obstacle — interpersonal conflict — can also be a difficult one to navigate as a manager. Even if you all like and respect each other, conflict over a shared project can still crop up. It’s important that you understand the working styles of each of your team members, and where differences are likely to arise.

There are all kinds of ways to assess working styles; I like the framework Carson Tate provides in her book Work Simply, which divides working styles by the questions someone is most likely to ask first when presented with a new project. (In her framework, prioritizers ask “what?”, planners ask “how?”, arrangers ask “who?”, and visualizers ask “why?”.) Tate provides good guidelines for likely points of conflict between various styles and how to guard against them. As a prioritizer/planner, for example, I know I have to be extra conscious about how I interact with visualizers; otherwise, I’ll drive them up a wall by obsessing about what to do first and how to do it.

Note: Sometimes the root of conflict or a concern about imbalance is a lack of respect among team members. This can be a very dangerous and toxic atmosphere for doing even individual work, so if you identify this as a problem on your team, you must address it immediately. This article includes some excellent suggestions for navigating disrespect at work by Alison Green of Ask a Manager.

The fourth obstacle is the easiest one to get through because we have access to all kinds of tools that enable easy collaboration. Whether it’s free applications like Google Docs, Slack, and Trello; video meeting software; or a bigger decision like moving your patron data to a cloud-based CRM that lets everyone on your team have access to the information they need wherever they are — the days of letting bad tools hinder your collaboration should be over.

Perhaps most importantly, your team has to know that collaboration is important to you. If collaborative processes are relatively new to your organization, you’ll need to talk about developing collaborative habits intentionally and explicitly, and you’ll likely need to explain why you want to make it a priority. If you’re already doing lots of collaboration, but you think you could be doing better, think about what obstacles your team is currently facing to improving collaborative efforts; maybe some of the resources we’ve discussed here will come in handy. I’d love to hear more about what your challenges are or resources you’ve found helpful, in the comments on this post.

Thanks for following along with this series on management. As you continue cultivating your relationships with your patrons, I hope you’ll find this series useful in developing the equally important connections among your staff members.

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