Collaboration Begins with You

Author and consultant Jane Ripley has vivid memories of her father’s involvement in numerous strikes as a union worker during her childhood in England.

“We would go through months of struggling for money,” Ripley shares. “My father would say, ‘I just don’t understand why they [union and management] won’t get around the table and talk. Management needs us and we need management. That’s how we all have a job. All I want to do is go to work and do my job so I can provide for my family.’

“My father’s words stuck with me,” explains Ripley. “And I believe his experience contributed to my interest in collaboration—specifically, what keeps it from succeeding.”

“I experienced a high level of collaboration in the British Army, but little did I know that once I joined the private workforce I wouldn’t see the same level again until I started working with The Ken Blanchard Companies in a sales and consulting role. Instead, I found people in other companies operating in silos with little cooperation beyond the team or department level.”

In their new book, Collaboration Begins with You, Ripley, Ken Blanchard, and Eunice Parisi-Carew encourage leaders at all organizational levels to promote collaboration as a mindset to encourage knowledge sharing, innovation, and joint responsibility for accomplishing goals.

“Organizations that don’t take action on collaboration now are going to find themselves in the slow lane,” explains Ripley. “In today’s workplace, decision making and problem solving require a cross functional, collaborative approach. You can’t have a hammer that just hits one section. You need to have a range of different size hammers to be able to hit different size nails. And that will work only when you engage everyone in the organization.”

According to Ripley, any time an organization needs to respond quickly in the marketplace, collaboration needs to be an integral part of the strategy. If it isn’t, your company is likely to suffer when compared with the competition. The authors believe an organization without a collaborative culture will have a difficult time achieving results they strive for.

“There’s a real danger in falling behind,” adds Parisi-Carew. “It can affect innovation, creativity, and employee retention. Organizations that don’t collaborate well can’t retain top talent—high performers don’t want to be stagnant.”

Although not always easy to do, Ripley and Parisi-Carew believe promoting a collaborative spirit is, in many ways, a matter of rekindling dormant learning.

“One of the first things parents teach children is to share toys and play nicely,” explains Ripley. “We learn from the very start that this is the way to behave. But once we get to school, we usually experience a different c-word—competition—that shifts our attention. Through rewards and other incentives, we learn we need to be competitive if we want to get ahead.”

This leaves organizations struggling as they try to encourage collaborative behavior in employees who have grown up with a competitive mindset.

“Intrinsically, we know how to collaborate,” says Parisi-Carew. “But in a pressurized work environment, we forget. The goal is to resurrect the old behaviors and bring them front and center again.”

Don’t Confuse Collaboration with Being Nice

In her consulting work with organizations, Parisi-Carew sometimes finds that organizations confuse collaboration with simply getting along or being polite. That’s a common mistake—and one of the most difficult to address.

“Collaboration is often hardest within polite groups of people because they don’t tend to express differences openly,” explains Parisi-Carew. “True collaboration is built on the appreciation of diverse opinions. In many departments or project groups, the standard behavior is to shy away from conflict or debate. People are afraid to speak their truth.”

In Parisi-Carew’s experience, a key role in creating a collaborative environment belongs to the department or project leader, who models behavior that allows collaboration to happen. For leaders looking to take some steps toward improving collaboration in their organizations, Ripley and Parisi-Carew have a few suggestions.

“Senior leaders often frame and try to personally live the value of collaboration, but don’t call it out behaviorally,” explains Ripley. “I had the good fortune to work for a CEO who really believed in values who would start every meeting with a ‘value of the day.’ He would recite that day’s value and give examples of how he had seen it lived and not lived in the organization so people could completely understand each one.”

“In a collaborative culture, there should be consequences for those who do business without collaborating,” explains Parisi-Carew. “If a senior leader rewards someone who has achieved success while being self-serving and competitive, not collaborative, what message would that send to others?”

Parisi-Carew recommends that senior leaders get a firsthand look at how their culture operates by monitoring project teams under their direction. By attending meetings, senior leaders can see who is collaborating and who is not and can bring a little bit of persuasive power into the mix.

“As a leader, you have a large sphere of influence,” says Parisi-Carew. “That means not only modeling desired behaviors but also providing the environment, structure, strategies, and practices that support collaboration. This includes reviewing the reward system, the performance management system, and other processes that can be tweaked.

“Your people are your treasure. The more you can tap into that resource, the more everyone can work together to benefit the greater good. We hope our book, Collaboration Begins with You, encourages readers to have a look at themselves and what they are doing to improve collaboration with the people around them.”


Would you like to learn more about creating a collaborative work environment in your organization? Then join us for a free webinar.

Collaboration Begins with You
Wednesday, October 21, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Learn how to become a silo buster in this webinar that looks at the five key concepts from Ken Blanchard’s new book coauthored with Eunice Parisi-Carew and Jane Ripley, Collaboration Begins with You.

The authors will identify some common challenges along with ways you can create a collaborative mindset from a heart, head, and hands perspective.

Participants will also explore five best practices to help develop the attitudes, strategies, and actions that promote information sharing and true collaboration across departments. Using the five-step UNITE model, you’ll learn how to:

  • Utilize Differences—how to embrace new approaches and perspectives
  • Nurture Safety and Trust—how to encourage others to speak freely without fear of judgment
  • Involve Others in Crafting a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals—demonstrating a commitment to the greater good
  • Talk Openly—how to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Empower Yourself and Others—how to ensure colleagues have confidence and clarity around tasks and goals

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn practical strategies for improving collaboration in your organization, no matter what your level or position.

View On-demand