Leaders who are intentional about building a collaborative culture will unleash the full capabilities of their team.
If you are a manager, when was the last time that you remember someone on your team asking for help? If team members are not asking each other for help this could be an indication that your organization has not created a collaborative environment. Too often, consciously and unconsciously, we buy into the false perspective that asking for help somehow is an indication of weakness. So, why don’t business leaders, entrepreneurs, and employees ask for help?
Leaders must be intentional about developing a collaborative environment.
One reason that team members don’t ask for help is that no one wants to appear weak. Who wants to admit, “I need help?” People in a position of leadership have to take a hard look at whether the culture they are building is conducive to facilitating team members feeling comfortable asking for help.
- Does the leadership team, from the executive level on down, lead by example in asking for help?
- Do local managers ask their teams for help?
- When was the last time someone on your team asked for help?
Assess your culture by what it does not what you hope it is.
If our organization’s culture has a false bravado, whether spoken or as an undercurrent, you likely will not hear employees asking for help. If the environment in the office says to employees, “If you can’t hack it then don’t let the door hit you on the backside,” you shouldn’t be surprised that no one is asking for help.
- You shouldn’t be surprised, but you should be alarmed, as this environment is common.
- If you don’t want to join the scrapyard of failed businesses, you will have to adapt your approach to unlock your team’s full capabilities.
- When an organization does not exemplify how to ask for help or create avenues for team members to request help without repercussions (real or perceived), the leadership, in effect, hinders collaboration.
Five questions that can help managers build a culture that is conducive to collaboration:
- Is your leadership team perceived as being positive? The perception of your team is their reality. Raising the bar on positive interactions with your team requires intentionality and consistency.
- Are you perceived as being approachable? This is easy to measure – how many people from your team have approached you with things large or small?
- Are you taking the first steps? When was the last time that you, as a person in a position of leadership, asked someone if they needed help or sought help for yourself?
- Are you being intentional with your culture with regard to collaboration? How often do you watch your teams interact with each other and their leadership teams? Do you discuss and train for helpfulness?
- Are you leading by example? When was the last time that the leadership team opened the floor or asked for help from employees or other departments?
Leaders who exemplify collaboration build collaborative environments.
When a leader is confident in their skills they can create opportunities for team members to express their strengths. No one wants to be overrun. It’s not enough to tell employees that they can ask for help, it must be demonstrated by leadership. Additionally, organizations must be mindful that when employees ask for help that their roles and responsibilities are not them co-opted by someone else. If an employee believes, “I know I can ask for help, but that means someone else will take my project over,” then they will maintain their silence.
The impact of being positive and approachable as a leader.
Perhaps people have asked for help but they did not receive a positive response. When this occurs, the silence will continue. Managers have to be mindful as well as intentional to create a culture where asking for help does not lead to exclusion or imperialism. Being mindful and intentional with how you address a request for help starts something as simple as paying attention. Management expert Tom Peters reminds supervisors to ask the question, “Do I make eye contact 100 percent of the time?” Being positive and approachable, as mentioned above, could start with a few simple steps:
- Put your phone down
- Make eye contact
- Give 100 percent of your attention to whomever you are interacting with
Two negative responses by managers to employees who ask for help:
- Imperialism is the expansion of power through brute force or diplomacy. In the workplace, there are hostile takeovers of another employee’s position. If someone asks for help and they are steamrolled by the one providing assistance, this will send a negative message to the team. “I was just trying to help,” the imperialist will say. Someone helping in this manner may believe that they have the best intentions but their process does not lead to independence for the workmate that they are “helping”.
Help must respect and build independence otherwise assistance becomes imperialism.
- Exclusion is much more subtle. On paper, or to the outside world, exclusion may appear like assistance but it nets the same result as a takeover, it is just done with a bit savvier. When the person asking for help is quietly pushed out of their role or responsibility then the process of exclusion has begun. Many well-intentioned leaders are guilty of taking over the kitchen rather than teaching their employees how to bake the bread.
Rather than excluding an employee, help must increase confidence for their roles and responsibilities.
Leadership skills include learning to help others without diminishing growth.
Assistance should lead to independence rather than dependence or takeover. Many organizations create internal competitiveness which may build towards growth goals but if not managed with the correct environment could suffer greatly in the lack of internal collaboration. Working together to make the whole team stronger allows teams to collaborate so that they can innovate and compete.
Growth minded managers should remember to listen before they speak and listen longer than they think they should. Listening unlocks doors and removes barriers to employees reaching out for assistance.If employees perceive leadership and the culture as one that is not open to being helpful then they will not engage in seeking assistance.
Leaders cannot expect collaboration to happen by accident.
If you asked your team why they don’t ask for help, what do you think some of their answers would be:
- “I didn’t realize you all wanted us to ask for help.”
- “You want me to ask you for help? You don’t listen.”
- “No one ever taught us how to ask for help in a professional setting.”
- “I don’t know who or how to ask for help.”
- “I saw what happened to the last person who asked for help.”
When was the last time your leadership team discussed the importance of asking for help within your organization? You cannot take it for granted that everyone knows how to ask for help or knows whom they would go to for help. Like most companies, you likely have a gap in the onboarding process as well as the ongoing development of the team of making it clear who employees can go to for help when they need it.
Leaders must continue to be intentional in developing culture.
There may be people ready to ask for help but they are not clear about communicating what their needs are.
- If employees approach the boss but they are busy or appear too busy, opportunities are being missed.
- If team members have reached out in the past but they were shot down, ignored or even scorned, they will go silent.
- If a direct report asks for help only to have their project taken over, they will lose confidence and the example is being set that management cannot be trusted.
Leaders must be investing in their own professional development.
Raising your emotional intelligence (EQ) as a leader empowers you to understand that perception is a tricky thing and it often overrules reality. It is important that those in a position of leadership are intentional about interacting with their teams in positive ways to open up channels of communication. In a training outline from McKinsey & Company on how to take charge without taking over, they recommend that new leaders, or teams in a process of change, should, “Keep all messages explicitly positive and defer all penalties until it is clear that positive behavior will not emerge without them.”
Building collaboration will open opportunities for team success.
Simple and consistent investments go a long way to both developing as a leader and building a strong culture that reaps the benefits of collaboration. As a manager, you want your teams to feel comfortable asking for help without the fear of being taken over, excluded or negatively impacted. A culture of collaboration starts with listening. Be intentional to empower your team to ask for help and exemplify what positive assistance looks like within your team.