In a marketplace where the only constant is change, embracing a culture of collaboration is essential for small businesses to grow and thrive. We need to learn the art of collaboration, because without this skill (and it is a skill that can be learned) true teamwork across an organisation is difficult, if not impossible.
I have the pleasure of working with innovative start-ups and university students; we match the two up to collaborate on marketing projects. While they are collaborating, I have noticed time and again that although start-ups don’t have a big budget to create and implement diversity and inclusion programmes, they are nonetheless in the perfect position to define their organisational culture. They can make sure their culture is inclusive and embraces collaboration. This way, start-ups often produce teams that thrive and perform extremely well.
When and where should we start?
As we work in more diverse environments, building a culture of collaboration needs enthusiastic and ongoing commitment from everyone in an organisation; for this to happen, the heads of the organisation must lead by example. As my colleague Daniel Shakhani, Co-Founder of Salary Finance, puts it, “Responsible leadership means collaborating with everyone in your team to define standards and encourage diversity.”
If you own a start-up or manage a small team, you might think it isn’t necessary to do anything at this stage, but the fact is, implementing a culture of collaboration is more complicated later on. If you start promoting an open and motivating communication style from the beginning, new employees or collaborators will replicate the behaviour as the organisation scales up.
What can we do to build a culture of collaboration?
• Determine the values and behaviours you want to see in your team, and think about the incentives you will give in return.
• Communicate openly and often to the entire staff and/or collaborators. Communication doesn’t have to be face-to-face all the time (although that is important), you can also use email or other internal channels of communication. The important thing is to communicate what’s happening throughout the company. In the words of my colleague Estefania Landaluce, Associate Strategy Director of Carat, “In today’s era of technology, human success relies on collaboration and the ability to inspire.”
• Involve the whole team in interviewing candidates and onboarding new hires. Candidates will get a good feel for collaboration and teamwork from seeing the current behaviours of the group. As Emily Jane Brown, Head of Marketing at VoxSmart explains, “I couldn’t imagine working for a business that doesn’t value collaboration and diversity. Without these things our businesses cannot thrive.”
• Reinforce history, and start a tradition! Think about the one thing you could always do to welcome new team members. For example, putting their fingerprints on a wall to represent how they are building the company with you, taking a team picture, sharing a secret team handshake – the possibilities are endless.
• Celebrate colleagues’ personal lives and honour their individual achievements. For example, when visiting a FinTech start-up, I noticed that in their monthly staff meetings the people celebrating their birthdays bring sweets and cakes, and all staff talk about the things they are proud of (and these are not always work related).
• Encourage personal connections. You can establish an independent employee group to plan team events, meals, etc. Even with a small budget, your team could plan experiences that help people get to know each other!
Finally, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to have a big team to embrace a culture of collaboration: you can always partner with other organisations and people with similar values. For example, I run a social enterprise and we support and collaborate with young entrepreneurs and influencers; as result, we feel like a bigger and better team!
I would like to end with an inspiring quote from a colleague of mine, Giorgia Sterza, Co-Founder of London Start-Up Marketing: “Let’s discover the power of collaboration and diversity. Let’s see how far we can go together.”
Laura Vanessa Munoz FRSA is founder at Empowering Futures.