(See also part one and part two)
Today we move into new territory in how to succeed in a collaborative company–with some things that may not come naturally.
9. Choose Your Method of Communication Carefully.
Too often we think that just the act of communicating is adequate. However, it’s good to put a filter on your brain that’s always asking, “What’s the best way to communicate this? Is it email, a phone call, a text message, a face-to-face / video conversation?”
For example, if you’re going to raise a potentially emotional topic, email is usually not the best strategy. A face-to-face conversation is more effective: it allows for much more nuanced tone of voice and facial expression. You can really hear and see what the person means! Also, if there’s a misunderstanding in real-time communication, you can correct it immediately.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made in-person communication impossible for many leaders. Video conference is the next best thing, but every step away from face-to-face, in-person communication provides less context and less information. Video conference, especially as you add more people, makes it more difficult to track facial expressions and subtle communication cues. And there are the technology problems. Phone calls omit facial expressions and body language altogether; and the written word strips away vocal inflection.
Email in particular creates a lot of mischief. We sometimes spend too much time writing the perfect email, especially when we are upset. Then the recipient takes a similar amount of time to reply. It’s very hard to read tone and intent. Why not just talk to the person and work it out?
Also, the when is often as important as the how. For example, if you disagree with someone in a meeting, it can be better to talk about it afterwards, or if you anticipate the problem, before. Of course some topics will need a group’s input, and sometimes it’s good to air differences publicly. It’s just good to ask yourself, “What’s the best place and time for this communication?”
10. Make Friends in Times of Peace.
A time of crisis or need is not the best moment to start getting to know your peers and colleagues. It’s best to invest in your network of relationships on an ongoing basis. Cross-functional and peer relationships in particular become increasingly important the higher up you go.
Think about it: if you want to lead an initiative that impacts the whole company, you’ll need the help of your peers. And if they’re leading a company-wide initiative, they’ll need your help.
So, invest in those relationships, not just for you but also for them. However you do it, invest in those relationships before you “need” them.
Try drawing a map of all your stakeholders–the people around you in your company–and prioritize which relationships you want to develop. This can also include external relationships. There’s nothing wrong with being strategic about how you develop your network.
11. “What’s Best for the Company?”
It’s understandable that we make decisions based on our needs or our team’s needs. But sometimes it’s important to step back and look at the bigger picture. One way to do that is to ask, “What’s best for the company?” Readjusting our focus to a wider lens can invite new ways of thinking and lead to better decisions.
Cultivating a company-level perspective is another approach to collaboration. It works because like several of these strategies, it gets you focused more on how to help others succeed.
I once coached a leader who made the following statement after receiving 360 degree feedback: “I’ve been viewing myself as the customer, and that the people around me were there to help me succeed. I need to shift that so that I see others–my peers, my direct reports–as the customer.” That’s a great example of shifting to more of a what’s best for the company perspective.
12. Avoid Bad Behavior.
Finally, never forget the Golden Rule: Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Do you find yourself tempted to go around someone directly to their boss because it seems more efficient? Hold yourself back and try to sort it out with them first. You’d appreciate it if they would do the same for you.
Frustrated with someone and tempted to complain about them? Don’t say anything. Or better yet, find some productive way to try to build the relationship.
Overall, these four strategies and eight that preceded them may not encompass everything you could do to be successful at a collaborative company. But they do cover many of the important bases. Here’s a practical exercise: look through the list and ask yourself, “Where am I strong, and where could I improve?” Then pick one to work on. You might be surprised at how collaborative you can become through that one small step.