Cultivating Collaboration: People Working Together Productively


One of my clients, a reasonably large manufacturer, is in the final phase of launching a new product. The company realises their present organizational structure is not the best fit to deliver the product on time. Cross departmental and intra departmental collaboration and communication are now critical.

Research in the United States in 2023 has found that 50% of employees surveyed claim that their work is dependent upon collaboration. Furthermore, 86% of both managers and employees identify workplace failures as mainly resulting from lack of collaboration.

Benefits of Collaboration

Various research studies confirm workplace collaboration results in the following benefits:

  • Improved Communication – One third of employees attribute lack of open and honest communication as the main cause of low employee morale. Companies that encourage cross functional collaboration strengthen communication among employees resulting in improved productivity, morale and job satisfaction.
  • Enhanced Job Satisfaction – In one international research study of 4,000 employees nearly 70%, who described themselves as satisfied with their jobs, stated that they regularly work collaboratively. More than 50% of them claimed to collaborate with five or more people at their office on any given day. Another survey found 17% of employees were more satisfied with their jobs when they are able to collaborate with others.
  • Reduced Employee Turnover – Companies that have promoted collaboration have found it has reduced employee turnover by 50% and they are 4.5 times more likely to retain their best employees.
  • Increased Engagement – Employees who work collaboratively were 64% more likely to stick with an assigned task than peers who worked by themselves. In addition, collaborative workers reported higher levels of engagement, decreased fatigue and higher success rates.
  • Improved Productivity – One study showed companies that use collaboration are at least 36% more productive than those that don’t. While another study indicated improved internal collaboration could raise productivity by 20-25%, and 39% of employees were found to work harder if they were happy. Also, companies that promote workplace collaboration have five times better performance rates than those that don’t.
  • Innovation and Mutual Learning –Mutual learning occurs in cross functional working teams and other collaborative forums where people can learn from one another through the sharing of ideas, insights, knowledge and experiences. In addition, research found that companies where collaboration is deployed are 30% more innovative.

How to Improve Workplace Collaboration

It seems a no-brainer – workplace collaboration works! So why aren’t more organizations doing it? Probably the short answer is it isn’t easy. For although employees, generally speaking, enjoy working collaboratively that is not how most businesses are typically structured. While digital tools can facilitate some measure of collaboration, genuine working together requires much more.

1. The Foundation of Trust

The building blocks of a culture of trust come from the following key mutual trust-building behaviours between managers, managers and employees, employees and other employees. Such trust is developed when people are:

  1. Relatable – reasonably approachable, teachable, practise reflective listening skills, empathetic and able to laugh at themselves;
  2. Reliable – dependable, committed and accountable for their actions;
  3. Responsible – honest, truthful, communicative and competent.

To develop a culture of trust, recruit employees not only on the basis of ability but also on character, and hold people accountable for the above qualities (Relatable, Reliable and Responsible). In addition, provide time and spaces for employees to get to know one another (eg. for sharing their stories, inter and intra team meetings, fun activities, social events).

2. Cross Functional Teams

Another wayto develop trust is through establishing cross functional teams in which employees get to know others outside their own silo, discover their strengths and capacities, and build relationships together. Cross functional teams are particularly an effective strategy for working on a specific project or task where additional capacities are needed.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, to be effective, such teams need to:

  • Be aligned with the vision, values and goals of the organization;
  • Adhere to their role specifications and parameters;
  • Stay on schedule and on budget and
  • Respond on time to agreed expectations of all stakeholders, including customers.

The study also indicated that cross functional teams enjoy a 76% success rate when they are led by either a team of leaders from different departments or a high-level executive. In order to achieve all that these teams need a clear statement of their roles, goals and, as indicated above, clarity about how their role aligns with the vision and goals of the organization.

As Paulina Barrego from Humanyze writes, “The future of work will be less siloed. That’s why more organizations are investing in cross-functional teams. Instead of sequestering marketing, sales, IT, accounting and customer service into separate departments, a cross-functional team brings members from various departments together. As long as you have processes for how the team will operate, this is a great way to form a team with more experience and fewer blind spots.”

3. Modelling by CEO and Successive Management Levels

The single most powerful motivator for collaboration among employees is when they see it practised genuinely and regularly by their CEO and other managers. It’s the behaviour of leaders that has the single greatest influence on employee behaviour. And it is the responsibility of the CEO, other executives and all line managers to ensure their direct reports consistently practise organizational values and priorities within their teams and with other stakeholders.

4. Organizational Support for Collaboration

If collaboration is to be encouraged, working together needs to be recognised, affirmed, rewarded and supported across the organization. This can be achieved in a number of ways such as:

  • Team of the month award
  • Recognition in in-house publications/intranet articles
  • Gifts (eg. free lunch voucher) for the team of the month

5. Informal Communication Hubs for Remote, Hybrid, and In-Office Employees

Centralizing communications is a key step towards fostering team collaboration. Establishing a dedicated space and equipping it with an “always-on” video portal can encourage relational collaboration by facilitating communication between office based staff and remote employees during shared work hours. Paulina Borrego from Humanyze states, “…whether in-person, remote, or hybrid, creating environments that allow team members to communicate informally with one another and hold impromptu meetings — two elements that go a long way in facilitating innovation through spontaneous collaboration.”

6. Thematic Goal

Patrick Lencioni in his book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, advocates the use of a thematic goal to facilitate collaboration across an organization. Lencioni defines a thematic goal as, “a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team – and ultimately by the entire organization – and that applies for only a specified time period”. This goal is in effect a ‘rallying cry’ that harnesses the creativity, energy and focus of the whole leadership team to work together. An example of a thematic goal could be: “By 30 November 2023 our company will launch product X onto the Australian and global market.”

Lencioni points out there can only be one thematic goal at a given time, usually lasting somewhere between 3-12 months, which the whole organization gets behind. Allthough some departments may have a more proactive role than others regarding the thematic goal, it is critical that all leaders take responsibility for collaborating to achieve it.

Once the thematic goal has been established, the leadership team needs to set defining objectives; components that clarify precisely what the thematic goal means. These objectives are also qualitative, bound by the same timeframe as the thematic goal and owned by all members of the leadership team. Lencioni warns against establishing metrics at this stage because he believes doing so would risk limiting the involvement of executives who are unable to see how their departments could contribute to achieving the numerical target.

The next step is to identify the organization’s standard operating objectives. These are the 4-6 on-going priorities that remain constant in the organization, such as for market share, productivity, finance, quality, HR and customer service.

Only then does it become appropriate to establish realistic, quantitative metrics such as time-frames and numbers for the defining objectives. For, Lencioni warns, without the thematic goal, defining objectives and standard operating objectives, “metrics have little or no value’.


As described above, while systems, rewards and recognition will facilitate collaboration they alone won’t create a collaborative culture. I’ve already made the point that mutual trust must be the foundation, based on the 3 R’s: Relatable, Reliable and Responsible. And it’s only when the executive is committed, takes the time and works together to develop that culture that genuine collaboration will become embedded across the whole organization.

Graham Beattie

2 thoughts on “Cultivating Collaboration: People Working Together Productively

  1. Thanks for a great thought provoking article – mostly a model for work other than Churches, although I can see the relevance to working in teams and encouraging one another and allowing people with new ideas to work the goals out, submit the plan then when approved find a team of like-minded people to pray through and work towards the goal! All part of being the “Body of Christ” and doing our part to help one another!

    1. ‘Yes Meg, the article is primarily addressed to leaders in the workplace. However you are correct, like most of our blog articles it can be applied to leaders of local churches. For example, imagine what it would be like if members of a church’s worship, outreach, facilities, communications and pastoral care teams worked together to make church worship services more welcoming and inclusive for people who normally don’t attend.’


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