PolyU student question: What are the steps for getting collaborative work environment?

One of the questions asked by PolyU students is:

Since nowadays people are quite used to the human resource structure under which employees work according to manager’s orders, what are the steps to take, in order to change this common mindset and achieve a collaborative work environment?

It can start very small. It begins with your direct manager and how you approach him or her. The managers in any culture actually want their workers to be more proactive, make suggestions for improvements and so on. They also want to be challenged, but they are afraid to be disrespected. Or lose face in Asian countries. Therefore, many managers are playing a role of a manager, somehow different from you as a non-manager. They sometimes seem to forget we are at the end all just people.

One of the ways to start changing this, is by emphasising the stated end goal. For example:  “Manager, I understand you want to sell more clothes, and I want that too. It would be great. I understand your order to…., but I don’t believe it will bring us towards selling more clothes at the end. I have another idea…”. If you don’t know the end goal, ask for it, demand it.

Another suggestion: “Manager, I have an idea. I want to do a workshop with our team. In this workshop, everyone can make suggestions how to improve sales. We can even discuss which ones are best.”. There are several simple ways to get everyone to give their opinion, even if they are shy or afraid to speak out while manager is present too. Result: a bit more collaboration in your team. You don’t do this because it is your task given by someone, but because it is a right thing to do. By the way, knowing what is right and acting upon it, despite others’ opinions, is characteristic of leaders.

The golden rule: make sure manager always knows that you have the same goal as she has, and keep repeating it. This encourages her to make a distinction between disrespect for authority and someone who is simply proactive, engaged, and wants to improve things.

At the end, these are very small steps, which might or might not produce meaningful improvement in your first job. It can be difficult because of limited influence you might have in your job. In most companies which have embraced Agile or some very similar values, these changes happen a bit more dramatic. Believe it or not, they actually usually start at management level. Managers crave even more for big changes in how their workers behave. They desperately want for them to be more engaged, effective, and they would gladly give some of their power or decision making to achieve that. It is the managers who request for an Agile training or coaching, because they’ve seen a presentation and see a possible solution to stay on top of this competitive world. These are valid reasons to introduce Agile, but occasionally I come across managers who simply want to have happy people. This should be the primary reason, all others are secondary.

In these trainings and coaching, a great deal of effort is spent to “reset” some fundamental things they take for granted, and let them realise by experiencing in their own company how much better it could become. The change happens as combined effort from one or number of managers in the company who firmly believe in this new way of thinking and an Agile Coach from outside.

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