Creating a collaborative workplace culture

Some CEO’S, executive teams, and leaders mistakenly assume that organisational culture is simply a social phenomenon that they have no control over, and cannot impact. Yet, according to Gallup, CEO’s, executive teams and leaders are the key catalysts towards creating a collaborative workplace culture. This is because culture is more about connecting with and sharing people’s values and beliefs, as well as understanding and hearing their thoughts. It is also about being connected to co-create positive rituals and supportive and aligned communication, reward and recognition systems as well as encouraging and role modeling constructive behaviours.

These factors wield enormous influence over people’s beliefs, mindsets, levels of engagement, actions and decisions, effecting performance, safety, diversity and inclusion, strengths, compliance and innovation. Especially as many organisations are moving towards initiating agile transformations, where the most fundamental and critical success factor is the ability to develop and support implementation efforts by creating a collaborative workplace culture.

Illustrated by ANZ Banking Groups Manager of omnichannel, Christian Venter’s statement – one of the key executives that has led an agile transformation at the Adobe Summit 2019 in Las Vegas –  “In many organisations today, work is siloed: it comes in, it goes into one specialist team, it moves to the next, moves to the next, and it moves to the next. Those handoffs are killing your organisation right now.” Reinforcing that it’s not just about disrupting and breaking up silo’s, it’s also creating seamless connections across geographic and demographic boundaries, differing industries, structures and technologies, and diversely different ethnic groups.

Compete or collaborate?

There is a very challenging and complex situation here in Oz, as organisational cultural data, amassed over the past twenty-five years, constantly reminds us, that many of our organisation’s core cultural instinct is to win by competing and not by collaborating.

As a transformational leadership facilitator and executive coach, I have come across many organisations where the CEO created intense competition among senior executives in the leadership team, which may be considered a smart move if their motivation was to work together to out-compete the external competition.

Instead, their motivation tended to be internally focused, to out-compete each other, to show who was the lone, smartest individual, whilst depreciating the efforts and contribution of others. Commonly known as the “Tall poppy syndrome”– describing aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers.

Colliding with another common Australian cultural syndrome, commonly known as “white-anting” – which is often used in reference to groups such as political parties, organisations, and individuals where information from insiders is ‘leaked’ or used to undermine an individual or the goals of the group. Applying the termite (white ant) metaphor, where termites are known to eat the inside of wooden building foundations, often leaving no outward evidence, until the structure (team or organization) crumbles. Resulting in a workplace culture where arrogance, backstabbing, in-fighting, and resource hoarding, become habitual ways of getting things, where there is minimal safety and permission to challenge the status quo, and mistrust rules.

If you want to create a collaborative workplace culture that will produce breakthrough results that digital, agile and other business transformations are built to achieve, then collaboration trumps competition by a long shot.

New ways of rapidly interacting

Whilst conventional team development approaches are still relevant, and foundational to organisational success, there are other needs to be met in our disruptive world.

Including the need to:

  • Provide a unified face to customers,
  • Be agile and make faster decisions,
  • Share resources to reduce costs,
  • Work interdependencies to improve efficiencies and productivity,

and finally, to be connected to solve bigger, more complex problems, and lead in a disruptive world.

In fact, technology is also supporting the development of collaborative platforms and ecosystems, which serve multiple functions, including facilitating (and sometimes profiting from) the innovation of others, expanding reach and collaboration, and enabling new multiparty solutions and offerings to customers.

Alternately, to harness people’s potential for change and innovation, and lead people in the imagination age, other reasons for advancing a collaborative workplace culture, involve;

  • Engaging, enrolling and aligning people in the organisations passionate purpose,
  • Being values-led, with clearly defined supportive behaviours, systems and symbols to build the trust and safety that connecting and co-creating results in the collaboration needed to be successful.

Focusing on up-skilling people’s confidence, capacity and competence in collaborative skills and practices enable them to creatively challenge and disrupt the status quo in ways that maximize differences and diversity through flowing with constructive tension, discord, and conflict.

Enabling people to develop discomfort resilience, to connect, explore, discover and invent co-creative solutions to complex business problems.

Emerging tribal, networked and collective structures

A collaborative organisation adopts a more fluid and loose structure, where individuals are given greater responsibility to take smart risks, make decisions appropriate to their role and the task concerned:

  • Without hierarchy, status, power plays and the conventional “red tape” implicit rules, where people have a hunger to learn, are willing to continually improve and learn by doing.
  • Where people recognize the need to change the broader working environment to implement and sustain the desired changes, including governance processes, funding models and processes.
  • Where organisations invest in software tooling and automation to support people to work smarter and faster.

Collaboration workplace culture examples

New, inspirational and adaptive models for embedding a collaborative workplace culture have evolved, that is timely, agile and relevant for 21st-century organizations include four collaborative constructs:    

  1. Teams and teaming; defined by what they are trying to achieve, maybe transient, and are made up of a collection of diverse and different roles required to complete the purpose, goals or tasks. Also by sharing their complementary skills, knowledge and experience they can contribute to a particular task, problem, creative conversation, discussion or activity through effective team processes, trusted relationships, role clarity, and mutual accountability.

“A typical team at Australia Post has a business analyst, a designer, a tester, several developers and an “iteration manager” who operates as a conductor, managing the workflow to get the best out of the team. Gough says he looks for “T-shaped people” who have deep knowledge of their specialist area (the vertical part of the “T”) but know enough about other areas to help out if needed (the horizontal part of the “T”)”.

  1. Tribes: ANZ’s agile transformation uses terminology from the so-called “Spotify model” where it arranges workers into “tribes” of 150 people, and breaks down those tribes further into between 20 and 30 squads – each squad has a mix of people and skills to enable it to function autonomously and be self-contained. Where difference’s and diversity are maximized through creating discord and disagreement and even conflict to co-create generative solutions.

“Getting cross-tribe collaboration is something we’re really working hard on again now to go ‘How do we keep people aligned across tribes so that we don’t reinvent the same problem and solve it in one tribe and then solve the same problem in another tribe? Part of the solution to that is to have “cross-tribe collaboration groups called chapters and guilds” – essentially comprising people with common interests and experience – such as user experience – that has the remit to roam across tribes”.

  1. Collectives: a Larger group of individuals, connected by technology, who self-organize, work together on common projects without relying on internal hierarchies, which may exist temporarily or over long periods. Where membership is voluntary and people willingly share knowledge, skills, resources, experience, and wisdom to create a free, transparent and safe space, where people are motivated to contribute to the whole or the common good.

Kickstarter is an American public-benefit corporation based in Brooklyn, New York, that maintains a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity and merchandising. The company’s stated mission is to “help bring creative projects to life”

  1. Eco-system: A business ecosystem is the network of organizations – including suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and academic institutions get involved in the delivery of a specific product or service by co-operating and collaborating internally. The goal is to compete externally by driving new collaborations to address rising social and environmental challenges, harnessing creativity and innovation to lower the cost of production or allow members to reach new customers, accelerating the learning process to effectively collaborate and share insights, skills, expertise, and knowledge and creating new ways to address fundamental human needs and desires.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a non-profit organization whose members include many of the world’s largest food producers, distributors, and retailers. It helps coordinate a global, co-creative, and collaborative approach to addressing the growing challenge in a global food system of ensuring safety for consumers and protecting the reputation of the industry. Some of its members compete ferociously in their markets, but also collaborate aggressively to ensure the certification, shared standards, superior monitoring, and shared learning and leading practices that together create a safer food industry and boost consumer confidence.

In a nutshell, it’s about being connected

As Adam Kahane states in his new book-  “Collaborating with the enemy”“Collaboration doesn’t mean that either you prevail & get what you want, or both of you sacrifice & meet somewhere in the middle. The higher potential of collaboration with diverse others is that together you’ll be able to understand more of your situation & so will be able to create new options that are better than the ones you’d been able to imagine or implement separately – better than forcing, adapting or exiting.”

Experimenting with these adapting some of these new collaborative models, enables organisations and their leaders, to shift their focus – from being defensively competition towards being constructive. Where the goal is to create a high performing, connected, collaborative workplace culture where people;

  • Have the time and space to deeply connect and co-create value,
  • Generate the creative energy to innovate,
  • Feel safe and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives.

The best way to achieve that is through building trust, creating discord and conflict to generate creative ideas and innovative solutions, where people are connected and focus more on co-creation and emphasizing collaboration, not competition.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate and deep personalized learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting October 22, 2019. It is a deep blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles & applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Read the ImagineNation Manifesto, and contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.