The Importance Of Your Collaboration Culture

Blog Post created by jgaudin on Apr 23, 2014

I've often talked about the importance of having a solid culture of collaboration in the workplace.  It's been shown that when employees are collaborative there are positive results at both a personal and professional level.  However, having a collaboration culture is just as important. A collaboration culture is what your employees have as guiding principles for their collaborative efforts.  Recently, I was asked to present to over one hundred new hires on Cisco's collaboration culture.


This request was not that simple.  I had very little time to prepare and had never given this presentation.  I was working from my home office and had just finished a web conference when I saw high priority e-mail.  The e-mail read something to effect of "I saw you were presenting and didn't want to IM you (thank you presence), but I urgently need to speak with you.  Just had a speaker cancel and want to see if you can pinch-hit this afternoon.  Please call me as soon as you can.".  This did not sound good.  I called Richard and he told me that the speaker for Cisco's collaboration culture had to cancel with short notice and asked if I could present in three hours.  I already have a one-hour commute and now I'm being asked to present content I've never seen or presented before. 


I reached out to the original presenter (thank you again presence and instant message) who was able to send me a breakdown of his content- a very high-level breakdown.  I know this presenter and he has a very conversational and engaging style, which meant his breakdown was a bullet point list with references such as: "Tell the job interview story with Ted.".  This was not very useful for me, since I wasn't in the interview room with Ted.  However, I was still able to glean enough from the bullet points to put together my own set of stories to represent the following principles that make up the collaboration culture at Cisco:

  1. Transparency: the very first thing I did was let the audience know I was called in to present just a few hours before and had never given this presentation before.  However, I had received a breakdown of the content and have 14 years of experience with Cisco. And, there were no slides, but I did present a picture of a smiling puppy because everybody loves a happy puppy.  With transparency comes openness from management up the chain from senior to upper to executive.  We have a culture of skip level collaboration, 360-degree collaboration, and social collaboration that provides a voice and visibility to all levels.
  2. Ethics: at Cisco we regularly review and certify the Cisco Code of Business Conduct (COBC), which includes ethical guidelines for collaboration, such as what and with whom information may be shared.  There are two barriers to collaboration: not invented here (NIH) and hoarding.  Not invented here is the practice of not listening to or accepting advice and ideas from outside your organization, while hoarding is the practice of not sharing your expertise and ideas with others outside your organization.  Both of these practices are highly unethical.  By refusing to participate in collaborative efforts, those individuals are not contributing to meeting the goals and objectives set by management. They're actually going against the company and such behavior should not be tolerated.  Ethics means doing the right thing and having the confidence that management will back you.
  3. Think outside the box: there are many ways to communicate and collaborate.  As technologies progress, as new applications come to market, we shouldn't be afraid to take advantage of them. In other words "That's the way it's always been" is no longer a justification to not adapt.  Because I had very little content I had to think outside the box for this presentation.  I decided to add an element of audience participation.  I goaded (and it took some goading) the audience to give examples from their own experiences of transparency, ethics, and thinking outside the box.  I took a typical monologue presentation and engaged the audience.  Two days later when I was scheduled to present, people would come up to me with another story they had thought of around collaboration and these principles.  I was extremely pleased with the results.


Having a strong and positive collaboration culture helps to ensure people are working together and focused on the success of the company rather then having a myopic focus on their own needs.  Culture is one of the most challenging aspects to drive into the way employees interact, because you're actually trying to change human behavior.  This change is best approached through the snowball effect in which more and more people adopt the culture until those who don't adopt, are called out for not.  Never underestimate the power of peer pressure, but do continue to encourage thinking outside the box. What's your collaboration culture?  How is it working?  Have you noticed positive results?  Leave a comment and share your stories.