More often than not, the failure for developing successful collaboration in an organization starts at the top.

If the president, CEO or even your manager is inaccessible and not encouraging groups to work together – establishing rigid hierarchies of untouchables –  those ideas seep into the company culture and a negative form of competitiveness results. One-upmanship takes precedence over working towards common goals.

Another critical element to be instilled in a company culture from the top down is trust. Collaboration is impossible without it, as it is an exchange with the knowledge and expectation that there’ll be reciprocity.

It’s not a very highly promoted skill. Trust usually loses out. Research suggests that trust is not something that people climbing the ladder tend to prioritize. It’s often a political game, involving choosing sides, picking your battles, and keeping track of favors.

Trust in the workplace is contagious, providing environments that tend to be all or nothing, either trustful or mistrustful. If there’s a rotten apple, it’s likely to change the entire organization. Adi Gaskell suggests that conscious leadership can help guide a work culture to the more trusting extreme of the spectrum.

Sony is often cited as an example as a company that has failed at collaboration. According to author Gillian Tett, Sony missed the digital music revolution because “its competing divisions couldn’t agree on products, platforms, or strategy”. Silos are the death of collaboration, and when siloed and competitive, it’s a likely sign of poor results to come.  And ironically, the more successful siloed teams become they are even less likely to be open to collaboration (for reasons such as ego, politics, and the always important budgets).

A few tips:

  • Keep hierarchies as flat as possible.
  • To cultivate trust, be open from the top down and even make it part of your content strategy.
  • Use tools that promote openness (like Slack) and remove distance (like ReviewStudio) to help prevent geographic silos.
  • Be receptive to and encourage idea generation. Be objective, but even when you don’t agree, don’t berate the person offering the idea. The next time they have an idea, they might not offer it.
  • Approach every work partnership wondering, “What can we make possible together?”

We all face our own challenges with collaboration, but the tools and technology are making it easier than ever to knock down certain barriers. Human nature is not as easy to change. Collaboration is challenging. With encouragement and a top down management approach, the ideas to take your company to the next level are there. You need to encourage and enable them.