To Win Hearts and Minds, Try a Bit of Collaboration


As managers, how can we bring the power of collaboration into the everyday encounters we have with team members, peers, executives and others?

A couple of practical strategies to bring your people ‘into the tent’ with you:

1) Reduce the perceived distance between you as the manager and each of your team members through building collaborative working relationships.

2) Use collaborative language so that any problems are framed as “we will work on it together,” rather than ‘I’m not happy with you/your work.  What are you going to do about it?’

On the first point above, at the most fundamental level, each person – that is, all 7.1 billion of us on the planet – wants to feel as if she/he matters. We want to be thought of a significant person in the team; that we are unique and special. We want our manager to notice us. When our manager does not notice us, without being conscious of why we are doing it, we will say things and do things that will attract her/his attention. From childhood, we have learnt that bad behaviour does at least get the attention of our parents. At work, the role of ‘parent’ is filled by our immediate manager.

To reduce perceived differences, as managers we must be observant and take notice of our team members’ good and bad behaviours. When we observe good behaviours, give the person immediate and direct feedback, “Thanks Tim, for all the extra efforts you put into implementing the new distribution system…..” Be specific in the feedback you give rather than a generic statement such as “Thanks, Tim, good work.”

Look out for positive performances and give praise when it is least expected by your staff member or team. “Out of the blue,” put on a morning tea with cupcakes for the whole team to express your thanks and appreciation. Again, you are reinforcing the behaviours you want to see repeated.

Another easy way to reduce the ‘distance’ between you and the people you manage is to take a personal interest in them. Each week, make it a goal to have a short personal conversation with 5 of your staff. Ask questions like, “Did you go to the footie on the week-end?” “How is the wedding planning going?” “Where are you off to for your holiday?” “What sport is your son playing?” This strategy does not need to take a great amount of your time, but it is a very big deal for your people. They feel good that you have recognised them as a whole person, and not just for what they do at work.

On point 2 above, remember the royal “We.” We gain so much more from our peers and team members when we treat them in positive and collaborative ways.

If a team member has made a mistake or has shown poor behaviour or missed a target, you, as the manager, must take action which generally commences with a personal meeting. Ideally this meeting is face to face but when managers are separated geographically from some or all of their direct reports, this meeting will take place by Skype or telephone. Given that the purpose of the meeting is to highlight and solve a performance/behavioural issue, the meeting must occur through a personal channel, not through an electronic channel such as email and text message.

Before the meeting, deliberately choose the collaborative words and phrases you will use in the meeting such as:

“We can work it out …..”
“…. find common ground….”
“How can we deal with it…?”
“What else might work …?”
“Let’s work together….”

We can approach having this conversation in a couple of ways:

A. “Mary, I gave you more resources and the extension you asked for to finish the project. You still missed Friday’s deadline for submission of the report. What am I going to tell the client? Quite clearly, you dropped the ball on this one.”

B. “Mary, the deadline for the report was COB last Friday and we have to work out how to tell the client that it will be another two weeks before we can deliver. There are two aspects to our conversation today: first, how do we manage the current situation with our client? and second, what do you think will prevent this situation happening again in the future?

In the above example, it is very likely there are elements of error by the manager and the team member. For example, the manager may have assumed that all was well when he didn’t hear anything and therefore he didn’t follow up. While these issues are important, they are secondary to getting the project and report back on track and finalised for the client. Which approach do you think will gain the most motivation and cooperation from Mary – A or B?

Our language speaks ‘us’ loud and clear. As managers, when we reduce the distance and manage more collaboratively with our team members, we will gain and sustain their morale, contributions and performances.