Five Keys to a Collaborative Culture

Ann All
Slide Show

Six Tips to Improve Collaboration

Six steps you can take to improve collaboration in your company.

Perhaps you've seen the awesome video that chronicles a Volkswagen project to transform a staircase in a Stockholm train station into a working keyboard similar to the one Tom Hanks danced on in "Big." Result: The number of people taking the stairs instead of the adjacent escalator rose by 66 percent, proving, as a Volkswagen spokesperson put it,"Fun can obviously change behavior for the better."


This may be true in the workplace as well. As I wrote back in June, companies like animation studio Pixar go to great lengths to ensure employees enjoy their time at the office, based on the idea that happy employees are more likely to be collaborative employees. Google has substituted slides for stairs at some of its offices.


A fun environment also factors into the collaborative culture at game maker Electronic Arts. But there's far more to it than that, writes Bert Sandie, the company's director of Technical Excellence, in an Enterprise 2.0 Community post. He lists five key components to the company's culture:


Environment. EA employs the open cubicle office layout I wrote about earlier this month, as well as whiteboard walls and other environmental features designed to get people in a collaborative mood. Cube customization and decor-like posters also make the office feel like a fun place to work.


People. EA hires people who possess cultural attributes including passion, active listening and openness to new ideas and change. My colleague Susan Hall yesterday wrote a post sharing how one company, Grand Circle Travel, uses creative interviewing techniques to ensure it hires employees that will thrive in its corporate culture. Group interviews, in which multiple candidates interview for various open jobs at the same time, gives a good idea of how folks interact with others. The company also asks candidates to tackle unique and often quirky challenges such as designing "travel vessels" for raw eggs to determine whether they possess its core values.


Business Opportunities/Need to Collaborate. These opportunities occur in both formal settings such as meetings and in informal ones such as game rooms and kitchens. While some folks criticize the Google cafeterias that serve gourmet fare to workers, at least one former employee pointed out that doing so encourages employees to gather. When they do, team-building and collaboration often result.


Technology. Among the technologies used at EA, writes Sandie, are wikis, microblogging, social profiles, document libraries and shared folder systems and desktop videoconferencing. Technology must match the needs of the work that employees are doing, says Sandie. It's best to examine existing workflows and try to find tools that complement them. With some tools, like wikis, I think it's important to lay the groundwork with employees.


Leadership. At EA, leaders collaborate transparently and as part of their role, actively use collaboration tools internally (wiki, social profile) and externally (blog, social networks) and understand the business needs for collaboration solutions and help fund them, writes Sandie. Based on my interview with Jeremy Roche, CEO of startup FinancialForce.com and an enthusiastic user of Salesforce.com's Chatter service, I can see how leading by example is essential. It really illustrates a company's commitment to collaboration by bringing together the other areas Sandie mentions.

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