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5 Ways Business Leaders Unintentionally Kill Collaboration and Creativity

The good news is that most of the reasons business leaders kill collaboration are easily fixable.
5 Ways Business Leaders Unintentionally Kill Collaboration and Creativity
Image credit: Sam Edwards | Getty Images

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln formed his Cabinet with his defeated opponents in the election of 1860. His “Team of Rivals” saved the Union, won the Civil War and passed the 13th Amendment ending slavery. He was able to accomplish this massive feat because he possessed one of the most important traits of strong leaders: the ability to foster collaboration.

This is a timeless trait that the leaders of today’s most innovative and disruptive companies are harnessing to fuel continual growth. 

In addition to changing the way humans communicate on a daily basis, Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google changed the way of the modern office. Cubicles were replaced with open areas and couches were swapped for ping pong tables. Among other things, this layout helped foster employee collaboration which led to game-changing innovations like Google Earth, driverless cars and Facebook Live.

Other industries, taking notice of their success, started using open office models, too.  Senior leaders hoped that the new set-up would lead to the type of collaboration, creativity and communication needed to gain more market share in their own industry.  

The problem is that these very same business leaders, through their own actions, sometimes unintentionally kill the very collaboration they hope to instill.

As the CEO of a company that helps world-class companies build high performance sales teams, I’ve learned how various cultures and leadership styles can negatively impact collaboration.

Here are five ways business leaders unintentionally kill collaboration and creativity:

1. By not collaborating at the top.

Creating a collaborative environment starts at the very top. If the senior leader does not act collaboratively, that will filter down to the rest of the company, regardless of what is said nicely during quarterly kick-offs. Just look at what happened to Microsoft. It developed a tablet more than a decade ago that would have preempted the iPad but political infighting led to its demise.

A prime example of how to avoid this type of self-sabotage was on display several years ago when Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff made a bold change to their annual executive offsite retreat. Benioff invited all 5,000 employees to virtually attend the meeting, which was previously restricted to the top 200 executives. The event served as a catalyst for the creation of a more open and empowered culture which has helped the company become the number one CRM platform in the world.

Related: 6 Companies Reveal How Their Unique Cultures Make Them a Success

2. By not investing resources to foster collaboration.

If you fail to put resources behind collaboration, the results will be lackluster. Motley Fool -- a web-based stock management company – knew this. They hired a Chief Collaboration Officer whose responsibility is to help employees connect and work together in creative ways. Employees earned a bonus by naming all 300 people in the company but it only kicked in if everyone participated. These types of programs have made Motley Fool one of the top places to work in America.

3. By rewarding individuals instead but not teams.

Most companies boast of a corporate culture that rewards teamwork, but then reward individual performers come promotion and bonus time. But one of the best ways to foster teamwork is to recognize a firm’s most dynamic duos and productive trios. Just look at the recent ESPN documentary celebrating Dean Smith, which points out how the late North Carolina basketball coach cultivated team sprit by making players who scored literally point to the last player who passed them the ball. According to his players, this act of teammate acknowledgement was critical to winning two NCAA Championships.

Related: Being a Trusted Leader: What You Need to Know As Your Company Grows

4. By overstaying your welcome at social functions.

While socializing with co-workers can feel like a chore, PayScale argues that social time among staff can boost company productivity and increase morale and quality of life at work. For senior leaders, that means you should encourage social interaction and even join in… but just for a little while. You can’t be no-show since it will appear as if you are not part of the team.  But come for a bit and then make your exit so the team can properly blow off steam.

Related: The Highest Paying Jobs in America, According to Glassdoor

5. With negative body language.

When a junior member of your team rushes up to you with an idea, no matter how terrible or damaging it would be to your company or the entire global economy, listen to them and look them in the eyes. Nothing kills collaboration faster than negative body language and seeming disinterested. It causes employees to feel unimportant and curtails their drive to succeed.

On the other hand, inclusive body language will create an environment that supports collaboration and high performance. Carol Kinsey Goman, author of the book “The Silent Language of Leaders,” explains in a recent Wall Street Journal article that striking the right balance of power and authority with warmth and empathy is essential. Smile, but not too often or it could be seen as weakness; you want to keep you head straight with no tilt when addressing a crowd; and leaders should avoid steepling which conveys you are not confident.

The good news is that most of the reasons business leaders kill collaboration are easily fixable.  By making small adjustments to style and company culture, you can create a winning work environment that will lead to happy employees and increased profits.