Collaborative Organizational Cultures: “Belonging” to the Entire Organization
In past blogs, I have explored the notion of an organization’s “collaborative advantage” and outlined core attributes of organizational collaboration.
Effective organizational collaboration is more than strategic tactical measures that produce results. It is not just a way of acting or behaving, but a way of being. Collaboration is being connected, is having a felt sense of being a valued member of workplace networks. It demands a level of inter-personal relationships. It requires being an integral part of the organizational team, a committed team player who actively contributes to the success of the organization.
For collaborative workplace systems to be effective, it is important that collaboration is a conscious and valued organizational component—that it is an intrinsic element of the organization’s very fabric: structure, culture, leadership style, human resources, power vision and practice, communication systems, and ways of networking.
This goes for both internal and external working relationships, including those with business partners, supply chain vendors, customers/clients, etc.
Collaborative organizations are challenged to be “dynamic adaptive relationship-driven networks” comprised of diverse talented people who can:
- not just tolerate ambiguity, but thrive in it by transforming it into an environment that fosters personal leadership, interaction, knowledge generation and innovation,
- assume responsibility for the organization’s success,
- accept, communicate with, and work with people who are different from themselves, and
- form dynamic relationships where inquiry, dialogue, disagreement, experimentation and learning from each other can occur.
Such a “flat, open door organization” strives to have an inclusive culture that fosters open communication across all levels of leadership and departments or units. Guiding values for managers and staff alike are conscious honesty, transparency and mutual benefit.
Boundaries inside and outside the organization are permeable, with employees being able to network and work across traditional organizational boundaries. The workforce sincerely and authentically respects employees as organizational members and valued resources. With this respect comes the expectation that all are contributing members who “bring something to the table” to make the organization successful.
In collaborative work systems, it is critical that people appreciate and are comfortable with each other. There is a level of trust and loyalty rooted in knowing each other and feeling that all are credible. This must exist even though managers and team members might hold opposing perspectives. Disagreement does not have to hinder collaboration, but can actually fuel its capacity to promote creative thinking and innovative solution building.
Another critical element is people actively being engaged with each other and willingly sharing their expertise so they and others can accomplish their job tasks. In this manner the organization is intelligent—comprised of knowledge networks—and can access and apply its knowledge as needed. Sharing is expected. It is a part of the job description. It is an integral part of the organizational culture and workforce profile.
Recognition and reward is not gained by being the solitary expert, but by freely interacting with others so one’s expertise is shared, stretched, and transformed thus generating new innovative expertise that can be applied in the given situation.
Collaborative organizations are interactive ecologies—structures, cultures and relationships that promote workplace belonging. People are active members of the workplace community, care about the success of their colleagues and interested in their projects, and are willing to help out others as needed. All of this is done because of the workforce’s commitment to the common good of the organization.
Central, then, to collaborative workplace systems is inviting workforce members (individuals, networks, teams, organizations, etc.) to belong to a dynamic group, network, team, partnership or community.
While there are various levels, degrees or dimensions of belonging, for collaboration to exist and to be effective there has to be at least a minimal sense of belonging to the collaborative system that has offered the invitation. One is not an outsider but a member. "Higher degrees" of collaboration demand "higher levels" of belonging. Some require a sense of membership while others a sense of “team” and still others a sense of “community.” Organizations choose which is most needed to operate and achieve its goals.
Individuals as well as the collective (be it a group, network, team, partnership or community) invite others into the collaborative group, etc. because they value the person, team, organization, etc. They want the "invited other" to find an enriching and empowering place (not just a utilitarian space) there, a place that allows “the other” to be and share themselves and expertise and to be engaged with others in a generative fashion for the mutual benefit of the group, network, team, etc. It is important, though, that the invitation and collaborative system not be exploitative of its members in intent or behavior.
In light of this sense of belonging, organizational collaboration challenges workers to be present, “to personally show up,” in an authentic and creative manner, with a willingness to go beyond self-interest and personal gain and to work for the common good of all.
Finally, this stretching to engage with and contribute to the collective so it is enhanced and greater than if one was not a member is paradoxical. Workers are simultaneously independent and interdependent with collaboration taking place at the intersection of the two.
One has value as both an individual and as a member of the collective. Collaboration calls one to place the needs and goals of the collective over one’s own needs and goals while not losing one’s own identity and self-worth.
A sense of collaboration rooted in belonging requires a level of safety, trust and caring because to collaborate in this manner there are levels of vulnerability and intimacy; that is, of people as individuals and as groups choosing to authentically know one another, share their viewpoints, values, questions, etc., and challenge each other.
Collaboration is challenging because it not only involves developing generative workplaces relationships, but also to risk to authentically engage in organizational networks.