Four Critical Steps to Overcome the Cooperation Curse

In all of our experience with companies that are looking to build their culture, or change their culture, one of the things that I’ve noticed that gets in the way above all else is cooperation.

Effective cooperation means that everybody on a team in an organisation is heading in the same direction: passionate, committed, and aligned to one end game–or what we call one vision.

However, cooperation can often seem easier said than done. We’ve probably all been in frustrating situations at work, where we’re trying to push forward a cross-departmental project but it seems impossible to get everyone working together. Negativity creeps in and all of a sudden there’s a strange sentiment of internal competition, which ironically achieves nothing but slows down progress even further.  

This is why the thing we focus on when we’re working with teams, more than anything else is: how do we get cooperation right? Here I’ll share the four critical elements that create a culture of collaboration:

1. Understand how you are contributing

As a leader, the very first thing you need to do is have a strong understanding of  how you are personally contributing to the success and overall vision of the company.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and focus on doing things, that we forget how our roles contribute to the bigger picture. So go beyond your to-do list here and think about how your core role and the things you do each day uniquely contribute to the overarching purpose of the company.

2. Enable others to contribute

The next critical element to create a culture of cooperation is to ensure that you are enabling others to contribute.

This is about recognising that people want to contribute and people want to support you, that their intent is positive.  Enabling means making it easy for them to support you in the contribution you are making.  Example – a sales person providing accurate sales forecasts on time allows finance people to provide insightful financial projections to aid decision making. Getting back to people with decisions and feedback in a timely manner to allow them to progress ideas, recommendations and decisions so they can improve what support they provide you.

3. Support others

Here you need to go even further outside of your own role and think about how you can support others in the business, beyond the regular scope of your work.

This could involve going to peers in other departments and offering your time to sit on a particular project for them, giving up your own resources and your own budget, perhaps even sacrificing some of your own priorities in order to help them with their priorities, because you’ve made the decision collectively that this is the right thing for the overall vision.

4. Foster and facilitate

The final critical element to foster collaboration within the workplace is by facilitating and supporting it as a leader.

This is about tuning into the challenges and opportunities of other departments in a business and connecting people at the right time. It may be able to provide time and space for others to work on projects where they can cooperate together.  It could also be as simple as being a strategic voice of the organisation and explaining the broader context of what the company is trying to achieve and how cooperation across different functions or projects, is crucial to achieving those strategic priorities.  This sort of communication would encourage more people to cooperate (support and enable) each other.

If you can effectively implement the four critical elements I’ve outlined above, you’ll quickly notice that your team culture will reach another level of effectiveness.

We know that things start at the top and trickle down, so by getting your leaders to focus on these four elements, you should start to see collaboration becoming a more natural occurrence throughout the company.

For more insights into putting cooperation at the center of your company culture, take a look at this video, where I dive into each of the four critical elements in more detail.

So my challenge this week is to take 10 minutes and think to yourself:

  • What am I going to do today that’s going to make an over-and-above contribution?
  • What is one thing I could do differently today to help enable others to support me?
  • What is one thing I’m going to do differently for my boss or a peer to help support them in their role?
  • And what is one thing I’m going to do differently to help facilitate others to support each other?

If you’re brave enough, feel free to share your answers to one of the questions above in the comments below!


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