The World’s Most Admired Companies and top-performing organizations know collaboration is the behavior that will have the greatest impact on their business—if everyone in the workforce does it. Collaboration leads to innovation, better communication and smarter decision-making. 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?

Find the "We Before I" mindset to increase collaboration

People are naturally wired to collaborate. The problem is when a company’s culture or structure fails to support a “We Before I” mindset, which is the foundation for collaboration.

An "I" mindset focuses on where the individual wants things to go. A "We" mindset removes the individual agenda and opens up the possibility of exploring things differently. To achieve this mindset, people need to feel safe letting go of individual needs and focus on the broader goal. In organizations, this starts with fostering a sense of psychological safety, allowing people to drop their fear of failure and performance pressure.

“In cultures with low psychological safety, people are more worried about the implications of failing than the opportunity of winning,” says Andy Holmes, Associate Client Partner. According to Holmes, when there’s no pressure to arrive at a consensus quickly, people feel safe to experiment and get creative. This leads to more effective collaboration.

Business leaders play a critical role in creating a safe environment that fosters collaboration by rallying teams around a shared goal that transcends individuals.

“Collaboration does not start in a meeting. It starts with how people feel walking into this meeting,” says Mark Richardson, Senior Client Partner. “Leaders who are intentional about creating an inclusive space for collaboration take an active role ensuring everyone shares a sense of purpose that excites the team.”

How to improve collaboration in 5 steps

1 Be intentional

The first step towards achieving the “We Before I” mindset, and the most important one, is to be intentional. This means finding a happy medium between spontaneous and forced collaboration. Very often in the corporate world, the impulse is random acts of collaboration. These are spontaneous moments, like when 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. Conversely, companies can swing too far in the other direction by over-scheduling meetings and calls. As a result, calendars fill up and there’s little time to brainstorm and be creative. Leaders can combat this by establishing a team charter that delineates team roles and protocols. Focus on cultivating diversity of thought and experience.

2 Shift structures

Embrace collaboration tools and consider different ways to connect. When feasible, bringing people together in person can help build a stronger sense of community, reinforcing team affinity and belonging. Try experimenting with locations, like gathering outdoors for a walking meeting. If your company has a hybrid work model or teams are dispersed across geographies and time zones, you can’t avoid video calls. The key is to be thoughtful about how they’re used and what tools are available for an inclusive experience. For example, it can be mentally draining to come into the office only to sit on video calls all day. The most effective leaders consider how to foster an optimal environment for everyone on their team.

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3 Reward effort

Reward employees who are active collaborators and recognize teams that find new ways to connect and innovate. This can be a combination of more formal recognition, like an end-of-year, company-wide reward ceremony, and informal moments of weekly appreciation. Consistently recognizing efforts reinforces desired collaboration outcomes. Celebrate moments of progress and call out stories where collaboration created a multiplier effect and greater output.

4 Take a multi-generational approach

Different generations have different “default” approaches for collaboration. In multi-generational groups, it can be helpful to keep these defaults in mind but avoid making assumptions about how people prefer to connect. Instead, ask: How can you feel best supported? What helps you do your best work? Leaders can help facilitate an environment where all team members feel comfortable articulating how they best show up, versus conforming to the norm of the most senior group member. The goal is for all team members to feel like they’re on an even playing field for participation.

5 Test, adapt and improve

A willingness to test, adapt, and improve sets the World’s Most Admired Companies apart. By embracing experimentation, leaders give their teams the freedom to test different approaches without feeling like they need to “get it right” the first time or even the hundredth time. Experiment with both tools and environments. For example, weekly in-person brainstorming sessions may be effective for one team while a 15-minute virtual huddle each morning could be better for another. What works for teams at one point in time may also change as people’s needs evolve. Ultimately, the goal of a team is to create a self-regulating feedback loop for continual improvement. A willingness to ask, “How can we be better?” – and then follow through by testing out the responses – takes improving collaboration to the next level.

Korn Ferry can help you increase collaboration between teams

“Collaboration” is more than a buzzword– it’s a way of thinking and working that drives business success. As a global organizational consultancy that works with 97% of Fortune’s Most Admired companies, we know what works and what doesn’t. We combine our unrivaled 50 years of experience driving change and our proprietary methodology, underpinned by more than five billion data points to help you crystallize the type of culture you need.

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