Our Western culture has a tendency to encourage individualism and competition, except in times of emergency. This creates tensions because everyone has to prove their individual worth, and looks to blame others if anything goes wrong.
In the workplace it is counter-productive to say the least! Most organisations are designed in an inter-connected way – the word organisation means ‘a living system of inter-connected and inter-dependent parts.’ If one part isn’t working properly, it has a knock-on effect throughout the system, and equally, if one part is receiving more resources, more recognition than others, it unbalances the system.
What is more, the effect it has on individuals in the organisation is generally negative. We find it stressful to be always ‘fighting’ with other teams, other departments, other leaders – it is not our natural state. We are hard-wired to cooperate with others, because that is how we were able to survive and thrive throughout the evolution of humanity.
For example, an individual couldn’t hunt and kill mammoth for food, but a cooperating group could, and thereby feed themselves for a lengthy period of time. And in the agricultural phase of our evolution, if another village helped bring in the harvest, then everyone benefitted. The effect of cooperation was the improvement of life for all.
We are also living proof of the value of cooperation: our bodies work as well as they do because our personal ‘living system of interconnected parts’ – we are a perfect example of cooperation in action! Our 60 trillion (or so) cells work together to produce and distribute the elements we need for health, and puts the extra resources needed in any area of our body for specific types of activity, or diverts resources to any part which is not functioning as well as it might, to help it to heal and play its part again. Our bodies constantly monitor and adjust, to ensure that the whole system works as well as it can. This is cooperation in action, every moment of our lives.
So what does this mean in the workplace?
When we have a culture of cooperation, then individuals will work together for the goals of the team, going beyond individualistic or isolated working to benefit all. It means that team members help each other out when needed and use their strengths to be as effective as possible as a team. This is what we call at Meta a truly excellent team, one that is more than the sum of its parts.
When teams cooperate well together in this way, it leads to a similar approach to the work which requires cross-functional cooperation, working together to find effective ways to hand over from one team to another.
How do you achieve such a culture of cooperation? It all starts with the leadership team exemplifying effective ways of working together for the greater good of the organisation, rather than just building or defending their own empires. The leaders also need to encourage their teams to do the same, giving recognition and valuing the cooperative work they do.
There is also a bonus that will automatically begin to show when there is a culture of cooperation in an organisation – people begin to do more than just cooperate with each other: they begin to collaborate.
Collaboration means working together from different points of view or skill sets in order to develop something even better. It is the synthesis of ideas or perspectives or particular skills, in order to innovate. This is where you get more effective ways of cooperating, improvements in process that really work, new ideas for products where real creativity begins to flourish.
As human beings, we find work and life less stressful when we cooperate with each other, and that enables us to be more productive and creative in the way we approach our work – it also means that we enjoy work more and that has great knock on effects not only to our fellow workers, but also to our customers, our organisations and yes, our family and friends at home.
When you think about it, it just makes sense to cooperate doesn’t it?
In our experience, everyone want to give of their best, everyone wants to cooperate – its just that when you are incredibly busy and under the constant demands and pressure of almost impossible workloads, it’s not easy to see the wood for the trees, we tend to focus on what we can get done ourselves, rather than see the bigger picture.
So it’s vital as leaders and as teams to get away from the office, we recommend at least a couple of times a year, to get some perspective and refocus on what’s important for the upcoming year. We all want to work together more effectively, because we understand what a difference it can make to us when we’re working together as a team. Cooperation is our natural bent, collaboration will always work better than isolation – we know that in our heart of hearts, and we know that on whatever level we are within an organisation.
It’s time to get that ‘living system of inter-connected and inter-dependent parts’ that is your organisation, or your team, truly working in harmony again. So why not treat yourself and your team to an away-day in the New Year? Now’s a perfect time to include it in your budget projections for 2020, and it might just be the best budgetary decision you make this year – not just for your team, but for you and your organisation as a whole.
At Meta we’re passionate about helping people to get back to a more natural cooperative approach to work. We work with leadership teams and teams within organisations to help them become more excellent teams. If you’re interested in developing your team, and want to develop a culture of cooperation and collaboration that allows you to excel, then why not get in touch? We have developed a unique approach to working collaboratively and we can help you bring that more natural way of working back into your organisation and your team.
Di Kamp and Jo Clarkson