Building collaborative teams where people work together for a common cause is critical to the success of any business. Collaboration opens the door to innovation. A perfect example of an innovative company with a highly collaborative workforce is Bell Labs. From 1925 to 1980, Bell Labs contributed more to technology than any other company in history. The organization filed for 17,000 patents, which is the equivalent of five patents a day for 50 years.
How did Bell Labs accomplish so much?
The technology giant had a clear vision, mission, and the work culture to support a free environment of “operational genius.” According to Jon Gertner, author of the book, Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, “Bell Labs combined the best aspects of the academic and corporate worlds, hiring the best and youngest minds, creating a culture and even an architecture that forced employees in different fields to work together. The informal exchange of ideas was part of the innovation process.”
“Most feats of sustained innovation cannot and do not occur in an iconic garage or the workshop of an ingenious inventor. They occur when people of diverse talents, minds-sets, and expertise are brought together, preferably in close physical proximity where they can have frequent meetings and serendipitous encounters,” continued Gertner. “Almost by definition, a single person, or even a single group, could not alone create an innovation. The task was too variegated and involved.”
So, how can you foster collaboration in your workforce?
Here are five tips:
- Clearly define and communicate your company’s goals, objectives, and expectations. Ensure that each person knows their role and how important it is to the team and the company.
- Create a workspace that encourages people to talk to one another. Either an open office environment or one that has areas designed for employees to talk one-on-one or in groups.
- Focus on communicating in person. Persuade people to get up and meet with someone instead of sending e-mails back and forth. Have frequent team meetings to keep everyone updated on projects as well as future initiatives.
- Develop an open door culture. Urge everyone to share their ideas – without fear or judgement – regardless of their position at the company. Invite people to question how and why something is being done in a particular way. Listen and implement suggestions that resonate with staff.
- Promote socialization. People naturally support people that they care about. Employees need to get to know one another on a personal level to form a good relationship. Encourage employees to have lunch together and host company outings such as a baseball game, family picnic, or a charitable event.
Michael Jordan once said, “There is no ‘I’ in team but there is in win.” Having a collaborative workforce is a win-win for the company and its employees.
Managing Partner, Leadership Engagement Services
Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)