What do you do when teamwork doesn’t work? You can’t afford the loss of productivity, the depletion of energy or the drain on the bottom line.

The solution is collaboration — which may seem impossible if your team is struggling. But true collaboration is about ownership and, yes, it is possible.

“Collaboration is about creating an ownership culture. If you want your team to perform better, the members need to take care of it. People take care of what they own,” explains CCL former senior partner Edward Marshall.

Marshall, author of 2 books on collaboration in the workplace, says that building a collaborative team requires the leader to address what isn’t working, view trust as a must-have resource and insist on behaviors that support collaborative principles.

Understand why teams often don’t work. The list is long but probably not surprising, including:

  • the history of the team,
  • poor relationships,
  • ineffective meetings,
  • little transparency or inadequate sharing of information,
  • no team governance processes,
  • conflicting styles of decision-making,
  • behind-the-scenes conversations and processes,
  • competition,
  • turf wars,
  • poor ownership or engagement among team members.

Your team will not be effective as long as these are the team dynamics. Take a good look at what is going on in your team and diagnose what isn’t working. Better yet, get team members to look at what’s going on and start to think about how true collaboration would replace or resolve their problems.

Commit to building trust. Trust is essential for collaborative teams and is the foundation of a collaborative culture throughout an organization.

Many of the reasons teams don’t work — see above — are tied to lack of trust. Without trust, people operate out of fear.

“Trust is the tie that binds — if I trust you, we can do anything; I will subordinate my self-interest to the good of the whole,” Marshall explains. “With no fear, team members will give it everything they’ve got. As a result, teams gain productive energy, creativity, speed and better results.”

Bear in mind, however, that trust can’t be trained into a team. It takes a leader who is willing to show integrity, change behavior and take on the hard work of dealing with differences.

Operate on principle. Lead a team based on principles rather than structures, politics or personality.

Marshall’s “Principles of Collaboration” are ownership, alignment, full responsibility, self-accountability, mutual respect, integrity, and trust.

Your job as team leader is to help the team turn these values into agreed-upon behaviors or operating agreements.

“Operating agreements are the conscious choices we agree to 100% as a team, which define how we will work with each other. They are the foundation for mutual trust, respect and high performance,” says Marshall, who developed the Collaborative Team Governance Process, a time-tested best-practice method for establishing team norms.

“When team leaders don’t value and support collaboration, they are undermining their teams and sub-optimizing performance,” says Marshall. In contrast, when teams embrace an effective governance system and leaders commit to a culture of trust and collaboration, the building blocks are in place for success and strong performance.

What Are the Benefits of Collaboration?

  • Organizations collaborate internally to compete externally.
  • Decisions are faster, of higher quality and customer-driven.
  • Decisions are made on the basis of principle rather than power or personality, resulting in greater buy-in and impact.
  • Cycle time is substantially reduced and non-value-adding work eliminated.
  • The productive capacity of the workforce doubles.
  • Strategic alliances succeed, while building trust and producing extraordinary results.
  • Return on investment increases dramatically.
  • Span of control increases substantially.
  • The workforce takes on full responsibility for the success of the enterprise.
  • Conflict is reduced as work relationships open up and build trust.
  • The fear is gone — change is seen as a positive opportunity.

-Adapted from Transforming the Way We Work: The Power of the Collaborative Workplace by Edward M. Marshall.

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