In my experience as an education leader, I have come to learn that collaboration and teamwork are simply non-negotiable characteristics of successful organizations. That is, they are essential to effectiveness and innovation. However, effective collaboration is easier discussed than actually attained. Having first-hand experience with facilitating collaborative efforts amongst many groups, I have come to an understanding of how best to foster a culture of collaboration.
Collaboration leads to teamwork. However, collaboration cannot be forced. That is, simply requiring participation won't lead to a culture of collaboration and joint efforts driven by teamwork. To foster a culture of collaboration, there are certain factors and conditions that need to be taken into account by leaders.
First, the collaboration process must be a socially acceptable one. That is, everyone that comprises the community of practice needs to be given access to the collaboration forum and be actively engaged--from the leadership on through the entire team. Too often, leaders establish collaborative systems and simply require their subordinates to take part. Or, conversely, only the leaders of the community participate actively and those that are entrusted to carry out the decisions made are left out of the equation when discussing best practices and strategies. When a healthy collaboration is in place, it engenders teamwork and as such, participation becomes desirable by stakeholders.
Second, the collaboration process must be an easy one. Although some technical platforms may be appropriate for use, my experience has proven that these platforms are sometimes too complex to access. For example, the use of Microsoft's SharePoint Team Sites (a collaboration suite) requires team members to not only create an account but to subscribe to the Team Site and then access the site itself through a four-click routine. Once the collaborator is in the collaboration site, there are four to six different ways to participate, some of which are effective but some of which are simply too complicated. Of course, I use SharePoint Team Sites currently with the organization I work with but can attest that it took several months before any real participation took place because the system was simply too complex.
Next, although the most effective way forward for any organization is through teamwork, the members of each team have to see both the short-term and long-term advantages they will enjoy through their collaboration. That is, it needs to be clear to the members of the team that their involvement may, as an example, yield a leadership position in their future or that their participation in achieving a better solution to a problem may make their own work more gratifying or less time consuming. All of this is to say that the individuals that make up a team have their needs and in order to leverage their best work, team leaders need to ensure that they are mindful of the personal psychologies that make up the team.
Lastly, having led multiple collaboration efforts, I have learned that cultivating collaboration often requires that the leadership reward both expertise as well as contribution. Educators and other knowledge workers tend to be valued based on what they know and their level of expertise. Therefore, some tend to keep their knowledge to themselves for fear of being devalued if they share their knowledge. But if individuals are recognized not only for the knowledge they possess but also for their ability and willingness to teach and make others as knowledgeable about a field as they are, then meaningful participation in the collaborative effort becomes more enticing to them. As a result, they feel valued, they contribute to the adopted processes of the organization, and they are willing to bring their best to the table for the betterment of the team.