Experience tells us that the culture has a strong impact on the ability of the organization to adopt new approaches and new practices. What applied to Total Quality Management and to Corporate Re-Engineering years ago, also applies to many of the organizational transformation initiatives, including Lean and Agile adoption.
Taking a quick look at Agile
As the VersionOne survey suggested (those involved with other types of organizational transformation would also agree), the culture of the organization has a huge impact on the potential adoption of new approaches.
So what is really a collaborative culture?
In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein defines culture as follows:
The culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
In this context, culture is a set of shared basic assumptions. Then, what are those shared “collaborative culture” basic assumptions?
The 9 characteristics of a collaborative culture
Implementing a collaborative culture, like many organizational wide transformations, is all about changing the way people in the organization work, think, behave and ultimately live. Changing the culture requires adopting new paradigms and implementing new principles, perspectives, and values – not an easy task!
Anybody who has ever attempted to significantly change something in their life – let alone attempt a corporate wide transformation – knows that change doesn’t come easy.
Adopting new approaches is very difficult because it impacts the ways people work and interact. Knowing that each organization has its own culture, the way “things get done” in one organization varies greatly from other organizations. As such, understanding the culture is necessary to expect the potential degree of resistance from the existing system. Below are the 9 characteristics of a collaborative cultures.
1. Structure and organization of the teams
No matter if they are called cross-functional teams, empowered teams, or self-organized teams, a collaborative culture emphasizes team work. In this sense, collaboration is seen as “a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective” (wikipedia). In a collaborative culture, teams are organized to maximize collaboration with a clear objective to reach shared goals.
2. Cross-functional participation
Collaboration within the team is critical and cross-functional participation brings additional power to the table. It is no surprise that a collaborative culture integrates the additional challenge (and complexity) of integrating people from various departments in order to achieve the corporate goals.
3. Non traditional management and leadership
As with many other types of culture, a collaborative culture still requires an effective governance model. For accountability to work and for the new approach to be accepted, executives need to know who is in charge and how they will communicate their progress. The last thing any executive is looking for, is additional obscurity. The addition of peer-pressure within the team and the selection of an informal leader to “manage” the team is an innovative way to implement leadership. In addition, after adapting their leadership style, the official managers become change agents in that culture.
In bureaucratic organizations, politics and processes are in place to reduce the potential power and accountability of employees. Accountability, especially when the consequences of mistakes are serious, is also something very few people wish to have. It isn’t a surprise that serious obstacles are encountered when, in an attempt to implement a collaborative culture, that accountability is harder to pin than the tail on the infamous donkey. The collaborative culture relies on people being fully accountable for their decisions – good and bad.
5. Trust, openness and transparency
Many (if not all) organizations have issues with trust. A collaborative culture heavily relies on trust. So how can one implement a collaborative culture knowing very well that few organizations have the proper DNA to do so? It all starts with people – one person at the time. For the right information to flow within the organization, people need to feel trust.
6. Continuous improvement, introspection and adaptation
Many collaborative cultures have implemented a continuous improvement process in order to adapt to a changing and fast-paced reality. The purpose is simple and the process is fairly straight forward as team go through a typical “plan-do-check-reflect” loop. Too often teams prefer a short loop of “plan-do-check”. Unfortunately, the last step (reflect) is critical to learn from the experience and improve the process moving forward. Such an introspection is not only useful to improve the performance of the team but also to increase team collaboration and synergy – both useful elements of a highly collaborative environment.
7. Focus on Business Value
The collaborative culture aims to increase business value by optimizing ROI, creating value, and eliminating waste. Other cultures aim to dominate their markets or capture as much market share as possible. Although these objectives are certainly not mutually exclusive, it is imperative to understand the fundamental driver behind a collaborative culture.
8. People development
A collaborative culture promotes constant learning, knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. A fundamental assumption is that in an uncertain environment, people need to continue developing their skills and expertise in order to remain competitive. The collaborative culture relies on highly competent individuals to succeed and as such, emphasizes the need for people development.
9. An enjoyable work environment
A collaborative culture promotes face to face communications but there is much more than that. Such a culture believe that happy people are productive people and as a consequence, a collaborative culture promotes methods and processes that make the work more enjoyable.
How collaborative is your organization based on these characteristics?