Ten Ways to Turn Individual Contributors into Collaborative Colleagues

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Concept illustration of teamwork and people co-operating for teaIt happens often.

You are leading a team and some (maybe all) of the members see themselves as individual contributors, not necessarily members of a team. They state (and show) that they’d rather work alone, and prefer individual accomplishments and results to tying their fortunes to a team.

But you want a cohesive team – a group collaborating freely and harnessing the synergy that comes from 1+1+1=more than 3. How can you convince, cajole or persuade your individual contributors to become collaborative colleagues? Here are ten ideas.

Set clear expectations. As a leader, it is your job to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them. Perhaps you are new, and under the previous manager, operating as a Lone Ranger was acceptable or even desired. If that has changed, how can we expect people to change if they don’t know it is now needed? If you need people to collaborate, make sure they know.

Show examples. This is an extension of clear expectations. The expectations must be clear – “collaborate” is a word – and one that people operating differently may feel they are already doing. You need to show them small and bigger ways they can deliver on your expectation. Share real life examples of the behaviors you are looking for – specific ideas of what “collaboration” means.

Provide the needed tools. If people have been operating individually, to succeed they may need help beyond new expectations. Maybe people need additional collaboration tools, training on tools that exist, or interpersonal skills training to help them be a more successful team member. If any of this or more is required, as a leader we must make it available if we want people to truly collaborate.

Help them see benefits. In the end, people must see how they will benefit by operating in a new way. They operate alone today because it makes sense to them based on how they see the world. Perhaps they think the only way to get ahead is to look out solely for themselves. When people see real personal benefits to a new way of working, they will begin to gravitate in that direction.

Encourage and correct. Changing to a more collaborative way of working is a change in habit and behavior, and that isn’t easy. When people fall back to old habits, give them coaching and correction – but do it in an understanding and encouraging way. You never changed a habit in one try and they won’t either. Supportive correction is a key to success.

Recognize and reward. And once people see a new world in front of them, they will begin to change. When they do, let them know you notice! Recognizing both progress and success is important to the mental and behavioral shift to a more collaborative approach to work.

But before I go, you may be wondering what to do if you aren’t the team leader, but a member of the team. How can you encourage and influence people within your team to be more collaborative without being their supervisor or manager? Here are four things you can do (they work if you are the leader too).

Ask for, and offer, help. When you earnestly need help that they can provide, ask for it. Don’t just ask for a pair of hands when you are in a bind. Ask for their help, input and support around skills and talents they bring to the team. And don’t just ask for help, but offer yours as well.

Value their contributions. Valuing contributions ranges from providing a quick thank you for their help, to mentioning their contribution in a team meeting, to sharing their value with others in a hundred ways. Peer recognition and feedback is a powerful motivator.

Give them benefits. I know this seems like a duplicate from above, but sometimes a conversation about how people could benefit from collaboration that comes from a peer or a friend will have more impact than from “the boss.”

Be an example. Perhaps the most powerful idea of all is to walk your talk. If you want others to be collaborative, make sure you are being collaborative in both the small and big ways every day. The good news is that doing many of the other actions on this list are ways of being that example. When people see you successful and happy operating in a way different from their behavior, especially when coupled with you doing other things on this list, the chances of them changing their behavior increases.

None of these things are guarantees, and while one alone might be all that is needed, the bigger answer to this mindset challenge is to apply as many of these ideas as you can, as consistently as you can. If you believe in the power of collaboration and mutual benefits are real, the time, effort and persistence will likely be repaid many times over in the future.