In an age of remote or hybrid work, complex operating environments, and increasingly siloed teams, collaboration has never felt more difficult.

It has also never been more important.

“A CEO recently reminded me that nothing really important happens in this world in isolation,” says Stephen Johnston, Senior Client Partner with Korn Ferry in Australia.

“Leaders know they need to bring people together to collaborate around a shared agenda. At the same time, work is becoming more specialized and problems increasingly challenging. It will take collective, specialist expertise to solve those issues.”

Almost a third of the World’s Most Admired Company leaders agree that collaboration is the behavior that has the biggest impact on business performance—as long as everyone contributes. It can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving as well as improved communication, creativity, and productivity­. That’s why it’s now a top priority for company culture.

Sanjeev Grover, Korn Ferry Senior Partner and APAC Digital Solution Leader based in India, agrees that effective collaboration also has a tangible impact on the bottom line.

“A telco leader recently said to me, ‘If you can crack collaboration, you will crack employee engagement’,” he says. “Better engagement helps reduce the cost of attrition­ or employee replacement, which he said is huge for the bottom line. What’s more, collaboration also means better, faster, and more innovative decision-making. It streamlines knowledge sharing across teams and improves agility in the face of change.”

Grover says Korn Ferry’s Leadership Architect™ competency data suggests leaders in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand rate highly on their ability to work collaboratively with others to meet shared objectives.

“APAC leaders naturally have a more participatory style of leadership. They collaborate on decision-making. But where they fall short is on managing conflict. They tend to avoid it,” he observes.

As Johnston notes, collaboration is more than ‘coordination’ or ‘cooperation’.

“Collaboration doesn’t always come easy for leaders because many are hardwired for control. They’re also accountable for results. That’s when you hear them say things like, ‘I’ll feel more comfortable if we go with my idea.’”

True collaboration requires trust. You may need to let that need for control go if you want the sum of the parts to be greater than the whole. Here are five ways you can create a more collaborative culture—and encourage your teams to co-create, cross-sell, and innovate across siloes and borders.

1 Be clear on your purpose

One of the most important things leaders can do is be crystal clear on their organization’s purpose. This sets the framework for people to come together in service of a shared goal.

Purpose can be both visionary and strategic. It enables organizations to come together to collaborate in a time of crisis—because everyone is clear on how decisions should be made.

2 Use inclusive language

Leaders set the tone for collaboration in how they speak and behave. Are the words you choose inherently inclusive?

“In our leadership development programs, we refer to the work of former US submarine commander and author L. David Marquet,” Johnston says. “He was frustrated when he heard his leaders and crew using the word ‘they’ as a way of passing responsibility—as in ‘they did this.’ So, he banned that word in favor of ‘we’.”

3 Encourage a ‘we before I’ mindset

‘We’ is also a mindset. Putting the team before the individual is an act of selflessness, and it is the most visible way leaders can walk the collaborative talk.

For example, bringing a team to that first customer meeting can give the client a better understanding of the full breadth and diversity of your capability. In turn, that can lead to more revenue—and reduce the risk of depending on one rainmaker.

But you’ll also need to ensure your rewards practice favors the team effort, not just the star player. For example, a collaborative bonus structure might share the profit pool evenly across the team—regardless of seniority.

Grover believes APAC leaders are more likely than their North American counterparts to recognize team efforts over the individual. “Deliberate focus on acknowledging collaboration happens a lot in the Asia-Pacific region,” he says. “For example, Kaizen—the Japanese culture of continuous improvement—has collaboration at its heart. It is about enhancement through collective endeavor.”

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4 Make space for intentional collaboration

In a hybrid workplace, how teams collaborate may change. IDC forecasts the worldwide collaboration tech market to more than double to US $71.6billion by 2027, and there’s an ever-expanding range of apps to help us meet, brainstorm, manage projects, share files, or collaborate on documents.

“It’s up to all of us to use these tools to be more productive,” says Johnston. “But the biggest opportunity is in ensuring hybrid work models are fit for purpose. I think there’s a strong argument to encourage people to come together in person for the really collaborative work—like brainstorming or hackathons.”

Instead of relying on random acts of collaboration, being intentional also helps you create the ideal conditions to stretch people’s thinking. For example, if there’s less pressure to quickly get to consensus, people feel safe to experiment more.

5 Embrace the tension

It takes courage to collaborate successfully. Leaders need to get out of their comfort zone, be open-minded to dissent or debate, and listen without judgment. As Grover noted, this can be challenging in some Asian cultures where perfection is expected or hierarchies are deeply held.

Research suggests only 30% of Asia-Pacific employees think their managers tolerate small-scale failures or make an intentional effort to foster a culture that embraces creativity and experimentation. Yet enabling open communication and psychological safety is an important step towards a more diverse and inclusive culture. And if your team members are withholding their ideas or questions, you might be missing out on a profound opportunity to learn.

The collaboration ripple effect

When companies get collaboration right, it creates a spark. Everyone feels inspired, and that energy increases employee engagement, improves performance, and strengthens relationships. Collaboration is not only confined to your organization either. Co-creating with suppliers and partners can also build much better solutions than one team in isolation could imagine.

It all starts with embracing the collective power of many minds.  Watch Andy Holmes and Mark Richardson discuss how leaders can put these collaboration principles to work.