Getting Clever Together: 10 Ways to Build Greater Team Collaboration

Individually we humans are the smartest creatures on earth. Or at least we like to think so. You notice I said individually. However, sometimes when working together we produce far-from-perfect results.

Throughout history, we have pulled off amazing feats as a result of our ability to collaborate and build upon our collective efforts. As a species, when we coordinate and play to our higher purpose, we are pretty amazing. The launching of the Hubble telescope is a testament to what we can achieve with our collaborative efforts. Never has our ability to ‘pull together’ been more important or more challenged by the environment we live in. Collaborative Intelligence (or CQ) exists in all groups, and is defined as the process of harnessing the intelligence and energy of networks of people.

The cooperative potential within corporations and teams is huge; tapping into their Collaborative Intelligence becomes a game everyone needs to play. Highly successful organizations are those with the most effective teams – this is no accident. The question is: “How can we tap into and build more collaborative intelligence?”

Here are 10 ways to harness greater quantities of collaborative intelligence:

1. Establish a ‘higher calling’ for the team. This is a common purpose that represents a higher calling and brings context to the significance of the team’s existence. For example: Apple Computer stating that they ‘educate the world’. Providing a service to society is the simplest way that an organization can isolate a higher calling for its existence. This process must be entered into with full sincerity. A ‘true’ higher calling is reflective of the culture and intentions of the organization as a whole and therefore is core to what the organization is ‘for’ and how it plans to achieve that.

2 . Establish a reward system for innovation and creativity. Ensure that rewards are equally available for ideas and innovations that don’t work as for those that do. Rather than the practical results of any particular idea, the focus will be on the level of innovation, even those that don’t result in ‘success’ in the conventional sense. History is piled high with examples of ‘mistakes’ that became innovations of great value. When we reward attempts at innovation we are stating that it is the intention that is important.

3. Plan to use all of the experience within the team. Think of the years of life experience represented in a room of 15 people with an average age of 35. It represents over 500 years of life experience. That’s a lot of wisdom to tap into. Great team leaders and managers know how to harness and tap into those years of experience and wisdom.

4. Raise awareness of the importance of shared assumptions. Assumptions cause us to run on ‘autopilot’. Supported by assumptions that go unchecked and unchallenged, teams can continue to run the same old routines for a long time without anyone noticing. If the same old routine is getting you and your team the results you need, then that’s a good thing. If not, maybe it is time to life the hood and have a peep into what’s driving the team’s behavior – at the assumptions.

5. Encourage team members to find out about each others roles. The more they know about others perspectives, the more likely they will be able to empathize with them when the going gets tough. In the past, empathy has been considered a ‘soft skill’ that has no place in the business arena. In reality empathy is an important business skill. The ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes helps us understand what others needs and motivations are.

6. Intention is the Keystone. Just as a team’s attention is important – so is intention. Intentions have an eerie way of manifesting into reality. Setting intention causes our attention to notice specific aspects of our environment. Intention directs attention so we must plan that very carefully. Having the team form a positive intention around an objective is one of the best ways of doing this.

7. Celebrate successes along the way. Celebration acts to reinforce the progress a team has made and emphasizes the importance of the team process in reaching desired objectives. The rituals observed in different cultures, such as Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah, and graduations are a testament to how important celebration is to us. Making celebration an integral part of the life of a team / organization helps the individual fell more deeply connected to it.

8. Invest resources in learning. Continuous improvement is only possible when individual and the team as a whole are learning new things. By publicly demonstrating support for the learning process, leaders model the importance of building ‘learning organizations’. This serves everyone in the long run. Creating ‘learning teams’ is one of the core strategies for running an organization that is highly adaptive and responsive to change.

9. Provide opportunities for sharing ideas during the project-planning phase. People do not argue with their own material. That is, when everyone has taken an active part in the planning process then creating the ‘buy-in’ for the project is much simpler. Because it belongs to them. they are much more likely to give the project their full support.

10. Balance ‘top-down’ with ‘bottom-up’ processing. This means that directives and guidance from the top must be balanced with feedback and ‘street-level’ information. Swarm Intelligence is a very real factor in the functioning of any team / group. One of the reasons baboons are faster learners than chimps is that they congregate in larger numbers and are quicker at sharing large amounts of information. The reward for this distinction is that baboons have the nickname the ‘rats of Africa’ and the chimps last hope of survival is a wild life trust. Most organizations would benefit by facilitating more bottom-up processing.

Managers and leaders are realizing that more efficient collaboration is the key to their teams being more effective. Because human beings are involved, the solution is not going to be solely technological. Many companies have realized that everyone having a Blackberry has not solved more problems. With the high levels of employee stress reported, it appears that the human portion of the equation has not benefited much – we just have to run a little faster it seems. Helping teams tap into greater levels of collaborative intelligence @ work promises many things – lease of all making it possible for us to enjoy our work more, which has to be a good thing.