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Belinda Gannaway

8 ways to spot a collaborative organisation

Ask what a collaborative organisation looks like and people often talk about open plan offices and creative spaces where groups can come together to think and work. US game developers Valve Software, for example, has desks on wheels in its offices so people can pitch up to new projects as and when needed and get working straightaway. Such physical manifestations of culture can certainly point at a collaborative organisation, but there are many other ways to spot a collaborative culture.

Evan Rosen, author of The Bounty Effect: Seven Steps to The Culture of Collaboration suggests collaborative organisations – or collaborative parts of organisations – can be characterised by people interacting spontaneously regardless of level, role or region. For example, Toyota expects team members at every level of the organisation to participate in process improvements and decisions. And more and more organisations are trying to model this sort of approach.

Making that coming-together across silos and hierarchies realistic or fruitful is very difficult in the old industrial age command and control style of management. It takes more than a cross-functional session and lofty good intentions to create value through collaboration.

Where you find the most collaborative organisations, you also find new business structures

Tangerine Bank (formerly ING Direct Canada), for example, has no job titles so people are expected to collaborate from day one to understand where and how they can add value every day.  And many large organisations, including the Vatican and the World Bank, are redesigning their own rigid structures to enable internal collaboration across functions, groups and regions.

But whether or not they succeed will depend on the alignment of a very special trinity: leadership, culture and strategy. Collaborative organisations have leadership models that are open, conversational in style and flat. That’s certainly the style at Tangerine where everyone is a “leader” and everyone can expect to talk to anyone and be listened too.

These organisations also have cultures that are open, high on trust and low on fear of failure. The message isn’t: “What went wrong?” but “What did you learn?”. They have strategies that clearly articulate the benefits of new styles of working. And they create the structures that support, recognise and reward it.

Overall, there are eight ways to spot a collaborative organisation:


  1. Leadership teams model collaborative behaviours
  2. Resources are devoted to developing and sustaining this way of working
  3. High levels of task interdependence
  4. The default setting is sharing information
  5. There are high levels of trust
  6. Conflict seen as part of the creative process – everyone understands and can deal with it
  7. The environment of the company and its technology support collaborative working
  8. People don’t have to talk about it – it’s just the way things get done

In which ways is your organisation creating a collaborative culture?

Want to learn more? Join me at Melcrum, 26th June. I’ll be talking about the key concepts and practical frameworks for collaborative social business.

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