Trust in the workplace: If you want collaboration, get employees to open up


Originally published in American City Business Journals

By David Levin

In today’s business world, once we get the right people on our leadership teams, the next biggest task is to get everyone to lower their guard, trust each other and truly collaborate on the company’s strategy and priorities — because as we all know, in business, nothing happens when only one person wants it to, even if it’s the boss.

The importance of collaboration in any environment can’t be overstated. And while it should start with the executive team, it shouldn’t stop there. You’ve got to empower everyone in your organization to contribute.

That’s why it’s imperative to transition your company from a group of individuals into a community. Communities stick together. Communities care about each other. Communities collaborate.

Often, that sense of community is built through the discovery of shared interests, points of view or mutual respect. If people find a connection, they’ll start talking, and if they start talking, they’ll likely form a stronger bond.

Stronger bonds between more people within a company create a stronger community — and that leads to more successful collaborations.

It’s not the way most organizations approach team-building, yet these connections are the foundation of effective collaboration.

Here are four approaches I believe really work in promoting greater workplace collaboration:

Provide classes

Activities are one of the best ways to help people connect. At my company, we offer multiple opportunities for people to meet and build relationships through shared passions and experiences. With weekly CrossFit, high-intensity interval training, yoga and meditation classes as well as other wellness programs, our team members get the chance to participate in activities alongside people they might not normally interact.

Even if you don’t have an onsite fitness center, it’s easy to coordinate running groups, off-site fitness classes and other programs that provide the dual benefits of comradery and enrichment. Consider offering classes for public speaking, retirement planning, cooking — the sky’s the limit.

We all have an inherent desire to learn and better ourselves. So, capitalize on that.

Leverage collaboration channels

There’s no shortage of collaboration apps out there. Just off the top of my head, I can think of five: Slack, Chatter, Teams, Yammer, and Hive. Pick one, then encourage your people to use it.

We went with Slack. Outside of the file-sharing, powerful search functionality and integration capabilities, Slack gives us the ability to easily create interest-based sub-communities. We’ve got a running channel where our employees can encourage each other and offer training tips for races. We’ve got a channel for parents. We’ve got a channel for vegetarians. We’ve got over 30 channels dedicated to the various communities inside of our company.

For the people who don’t have a desire to participate in structured classes, these channels provide a way to connect in an open yet safe environment.

Use your office space visually

From bulletin boards to posters to digital signage, finding a way for employees to share personal experiences and feelings creates a community that can more easily collaborate. We use these outlets to welcome new employees and recognize the achievements of our team members.

When people are willing to share something publicly, they are actively engaging with your company as well as their coworkers. It sounds touchy-feely, but that level of vulnerability and openness really does create a workplace atmosphere where people feel more comfortable collaborating.

In-person events

If you want to get people talking, give them something to talk about. Host a speaker series. Invite a panel of experts in to talk about a topic your workforce would find interesting. Hire a string quartet to play for an hour during the day. We’ve done all of those things for our quarterly FWI Series events — and each one has contributed to our overall sense of community.

By hosting informal events during work hours, you lower the barrier to participation and accelerate connections based on a variety of topics. Make events like these a part of your culture, and be sure to appeal to a different subset of employees.

The point is, your workplace culture either promotes community and makes collaboration easy or it doesn’t.

While there’s no single way to get everyone to engage, if you’re committed to putting in the work, creating a collaborative culture is achievable. And it’s as beneficial in the short-term as it is in the long-term.

David Levin is CEO of digital signage company Four Winds Interactive.