Building a Culture of Collaboration

When two or more are gathered, good ideas turn to great ones. Smart companies are beginning to see that two heads really are better than one.

In the past decade, businesses have entered the age of collaboration on a magnanimous scale. Information exchange has never been easier and while organisations used to compartmentalise their workflow into silos, this type of thinking is giving way to interdepartmental knowledge sharing. This is most visibly expressed in the global rise of collaboration software. Solutions such as Sharepoint® and even social media tools are being used as pivotal methods to exchange cross-team ideas. The McKinsey Global Institute has coined companies that have adopted such web technology tools The Networked Enterprise.

According to the McKinsey Quarterly, “Falling communications costs, globalization, and the increasing specialisation of knowledge-based work have made collaboration within and among organisations more important than ever. As ‘tacit’ interactions replace more routine economic activity and the scale and complexity of many corporations creep upward, the need to manage collaboration is growing.”[1]

In light of this growing complexity, companies are responding to the increasing need to make information available to team members worldwide by putting their money where their mouth is. In December 2011 McKinsey issued the results of a study that said a bigger portion of IT budgets will be dedicated to end-user communications and collaboration, innovation, and analytics capabilities than in the past. Survey respondents reported that approximately 46 percent of their IT budgets would be spent on investments of that nature in 2012 compared with budget allocations of 35 percent in 2011.[2]

 Adjusting budgets to address the rise in knowledge sharing is one thing. Creating a culture that sustains it is another. What can organisations do to build a collaborative culture?

It comes down to engaging the workforce and ensuring their interests are represented. In their new release, Beyond Performance Management, Jeremy Hope and Steve Player propose that knowledge sharing cannot be forced, claiming that “the most successful collaborations between multiple business units within firms occur not when they are mandated by management, but when self-interested managers spot opportunities to collaborate and share resources with one another.”[3] Removing that element of competition by rewarding collaboration is a key factor in developing an environment that supports it.

And it’s not as hard as you might think. According to self-determination theory, led by University of Rochester psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, human beings around the globe are essentially motivated by three psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Leaders can foster a culture of collaboration in which these overlapping needs are met.

Competence refers to the need to demonstrate skill, knowledge and experience. Whether it’s technical or interpersonal, competence is informed by internal motivators to exhibit implicit value.

To do: A leader can encourage workers to hone their skills and demonstrate their abilities within a team setting.

Relatedness drives to the very heart of collaboration. It refers to the need to work with others in a collaborative setting. Studies have shown that the intrinsic need to collaborate overrides external rewards or punishment avoidance.

To do: A leader can recognize the human need to bond with others by offering opportunities to work as a team instead of as an individual contributor.

Autonomy is the desire to shape one’s own work to support the work of others within set parameters. Even with workplace guidelines, workers thrive when they are able to exercise self-regulation and flexibility within established processes and rules.

To do: A leader can encourage independent thinking by listening closely to each person’s contribution. Listening is a leader’s best tool.

A culture of collaboration requires an understanding of what motivates people to continue to work toward business goals. Drawing the best out of workers involves filling their psychological needs, which impacts not only a happier workforce, but better business results too.


[1] Cross, Robert, Roger Martin, and Leigh Weiss. McKinsey Quarterly, Accessed March 12, 2012.

[2] Clancy, Heather. “CarouselConnect.” Last modified December 13, 2011. Accessed March 14, 2012.


[3] J Hope, and S. Player, Beyond Performance Management, (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), 81.

Thanks to ESI International for sharing great topics.