• What is collaboration?

  • The "We Before I" mindset

  • Practice intentionality

  • Reimagine structures

  • Reward team effort

  • Test, adapt & improve

The World’s Most Admired Companies and top performing organizations know collaboration is the behavior that will have the biggest impact on their business—if everyone does it. But as organizations grow increasingly complex, and silos grow with them, how do you encourage your people to create, cross-sell and innovate across teams and borders?

How do you foster a “We Before I” mindset?

We know that the team members who raise their hand, put others first, and are willing to work together are consistently considered a company’s top performers. People naturally want to collaborate. In very few instances do we find employees who want to be their own islands. The problem is that a company’s culture or structure fails to truly support the “We Before I” mindset.

What’s one step companies can take today to be more collaborative?

Companies need to be deliberate about how everyone collaborates. Very often in the corporate world, the impulse is random acts of collaboration. It’s spontaneous moments, where an employee swings by a coworker’s desk for an impromptu chat. These moments of serendipity are great, but they don’t replace intentional collaboration.

Culture, Change and Communications

Crack the code on organizational behavior change through a blend of art and science

How can companies foster collaboration if their workforce is hybrid or remote?

Being thoughtful about inclusivity is key. The right tools and platforms will empower everyone to join the conversation. You also need to embrace experimentation. In-person brainstorming sessions may be effective for one team while a 15-minute virtual huddle each morning could be better for another.

We Know How to Drive Collaboration

Based on our years of experience in organizational strategy as well as our conversations with the World’s Most Admired Companies, we know what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to fostering a true culture of collaboration.

To learn more about how Korn Ferry can help your teams be more collaborative, explore our Culture, Change and Communications solution.

Click to read video transcripts


Video 1: What is collaboration?

Andy Holmes: OK, let's do this. First card: “collaboration”.

Mark Richardson: OK, so “collaboration”. How about we frame this, so when I think of collaboration, I think: collaboration’s a mindset. It's a behavior. It's a tool, that if you leverage and get right, then it should make you more competitive as a team or as an organization. It should improve timelines. It should improve efficiencies. It should improve the bottom line. But it doesn't mean it's the absence of tension. For me, collaboration’s about being prepared to step into positive conflict, it's getting that abrasion. It's thinking about high levels of assertiveness, but also high levels of cooperativeness because you need that spark. You need that endeavor. You need that performance edge to really get the best out of a team and it should be elicited and enabled through collaboration, if you get it right.

Andy Holmes: Absolutely. I love some of those elements, especially the spark piece and this element of tension. You know, for me, collaboration sometimes can become about the outcome, and I think it has to be as much about the experience. We're hardwired to be collaborative, but we need that tension, that almost that fire within ourselves that that aspiration of opportunity. But at the same time, with a sense of trust that we're all for the same reasons. But that spark has to be there. We have to be prepared to step beyond our comfort zones to take, you know, minor risks with the support of the team around us.

Video 2: The "We Before I" mindset

Mark Richardson: Should we move to the next one?

Andy Holmes: Let's do it.

Mark Richardson: “We before I.”

Andy Holmes: “We before I”, interesting, right for me the “we before I” piece is about being aware of what the agenda might be in terms of the outcome, but being honest about the fact that we all have a very similar agenda in terms of the experience. To be collaborative, to lean in, to take risks to put ourselves out there, we need to have our own needs—our own needs resource in the first place. So, we need to feel included, engaged, valued, respected, trusted. We need to feel a sense of equity and that comes through behavior. So, the “we before I” piece is about not just facilitating that but being very upfront about the fact that we're all in this for the same reason and our responsibility, as a group, is to contribute to that.

Mark Richardson: When I think “we before I”, I think there's something about, “how do you create the conditions so that the individuals within the team, they let go of their own personal agenda and drivers from a workplace context?”. So, for me, something that needs to be true is, “how do you get to a higher order goal?” So, there's a sense of meaning and purpose that is infused within the team. A feeling of identity that's completely in lockstep with the higher order organizational goal and mission. So, that mission, vision, and purpose is lined up with the team's purpose, because with that shared meaning and identity, it means that it's much more likely you're gonna transcend your own wants and needs and think about what's right for the team and step into that with your whole self. Y

Andy Holmes: Yeah, the only way this can be truly unlocked is when, you know, there's no one person who's really owning or protecting or validating. You know that shouldn't be the objective. It's about the curiosity to explore: “What could we do when we come together in in this way?”

Video 3: Practice intentionality

Andy Holmes: Ready for another one?

Mark Richardson: Let’s give it a go.

Andy Holmes: Right, “be intentional”.

Mark Richardson: Love that. That that's one of my favorite words, “being intentional”. So, “How can a leader be intentional about collaboration with their team?” I think anyone needs to carve out the space, I.e. the reflective space to think about: “Well, what are those moments and conditions where collaboration will optimize? Help us to get to even better outcomes.” And  really thinking that through. I think the other thing that that's really important with the intentionality piece is, “How do you create the conditions where people feel safe to bring that whole self?” And for me, that's about getting below the deck and establishing a sense of psychological safety, as well as team standards and protocols that we can adhere to. How about for you?

Andy Holmes: That yeah, I agree concrete with a lot of that. Two of the other things that you know really sparked for me were: it's about creating a sense of opportunity, as opposed to it all being focused around the task. You know, for me, that's the difference between lighting a fire within people versus lighting a fire underneath them. And I think that's when you get the really special stuff, that's when people step out and lean out a little bit further, a little bit more, you know, compassionate and empathetic with others, when they stretch themselves.

Mark Richardson: I love that if you combine that with the sense of possibility. What it would give us when we get there, as well. Wow.

Andy Holmes: Yeah, that “what if?”. Yeah, that's special bit.

Video 4: Reimagine structures

Andy Holmes: Here we go.

Mark Richardson: “Reimagine structures.”

Andy Holmes: OK, “reimagine structures”. I think the thing that really sort of brings to mind for me with this is that pre-pandemic, we had you know pretty established structures, processes, and ways of working for doing most things in the corporate environment. For me, what we haven't been great at is filtering out the things that are redundant, that are no longer fit for purpose. So, for me, one of the big things that jumps out is when I look from a cognitive load—from an efficiency, an ideation perspective—is not just how can we ensure that people are fit to collaborate, but when are they fit to collaborate? You know, “what is my rhythm versus your rhythm? You know, when do my ideas come to me? What sort of environment or systems or structures do I need to be immersed in to get the best out of me?”

Mark Richardson: For me, when I think about what our working days are like now, the cognitive load just feels like it's intensified and so, with our direct, back-to-back, really important key meetings and there's just no fire caps. There's no breathing spaces. There's no time to reset unless you're really planful and intentional about it. So, I'm really noticing that. I think it's really tricky because leaders need to think about that: what are the moments that you can create that sense of optimism, that sense of shared learning, that group learning, agility, and also create the sense of belonging when we are so disparate? So, some more key things to think through.

Video 5: Reward team effort

Andy Holmes: Another one, OK, “reward effort”. So, how might a leader reward efforts of intentional collaboration?

Mark Richardson: So, there's something about noticing it. And actually, if you get the blend right, I think you can create the conditions whereby the team starts to self-regulate in and around it and by that, I mean they'll start giving each other feedback because there's a climate of giving feedback. So, “I noticed when you did this, you had this impact on the team”. And it's really collaborative, but you also want the team to be able to step into that place. We need to give developmental feedback, as well, so arrest those types of behaviors or perhaps actions that are less collaborative.

Andy Holmes: Yeah, I think yeah, that self-regulation for sure I think there's an ecosystem environment that springs to mind when you talk about it in that way and in order for that to be the case, you know, it requires individuals to give discretionary effort. So, I think the discretionary effort piece is really key and it's about that sense of gratitude within the team about the fact that others are stepping in and others are leaning in. You know, too often reward becomes about recognition, which becomes about status and validation. “Reward” for me needs to be almost a sense of gratitude. It's about rewarding the experiences that people learn and create with each other.

Mark Richardson: And that piece that you said about discretionary effort, it links back to creating the meaning of purpose, that shared meaning and purpose, shared identity. So, if you've got that, you get that sense of alignment to it—fulfillment. And there's something just joyous about the work and if you're able to elicit that it, it helps to create that spark, it gives that foundational piece to people and they’ll run through brick walls...

Andy Holmes: Because of the shared sense of opportunity that everyone drives towards with the same sort of vigor.

Mark Richardson: Yeah.

Video 6: Test, adapt & improve

Andy Holmes: Oh, “test, adapt, improve.”

Mark Richardson: This one speaks to me. I love the notion of that. So, there's something about a team being restless. In terms of this restlessness, it's about the just the deep-seated desire to become even better. So, how can you use collaboration to be that potent force to get you to that exalted place? When I think back to my my track and field days, I think about athletes, sports people, they're really good at planning, executing, sense-making—so reflecting on what we're well or didn't, and then iterating, thinking about what improvements they can make. And for me that “test, adapt, improve” is all about that. It's relentlessly thinking about how can we make micro adaptations that might be bigger in the service of being even better going forward.

Andy Holmes: Yeah, I love that notion. It's almost like that, sort of, you know, principles of incremental gain kind of thing. When I think about collaboration, I can almost split the word down: Co-llab-oration, you know? So, it's about togetherness. It's about a sense of cohesion, a sense of, you know, mutual intent or shared intent. The “lab” piece to me, is almost about the experimentation. It's about, but it's not about, you know, big gestures. It's about small tweaks, small refinements. Testing and learning as we say in the question. And it's about the iteration of that, it's about, you know the sense of, “could there be something more in this? Could we get something more from that? Could the experience be richer?” And it's about the—I call them “millisecond lessons”, but it's about the the small things that we do subconsciously day-to-day, the way that you walk in a room the way that you shake someone's hand. The eye contact that you make, the way you greet someone on the screen. All of these things fuel our sort of mental setup, our mental framing coming into that session and they all matter, you know. So, it's about being conscious of that, this, this test and this constant iteration. You know, that's what makes things fun, right?

Mark Richardson: Do that again. That was a terrible clap.