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When collaboration tanks, which it often does, because it’s really incredibly hard to do well, you see a lot of stress. This is where we carry home our, you know, our workplace worries, where we’re trying to figure out how the heck to get out of there, where we’re not bringing our whole selves to work, and so on.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workspace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, and Powered by Purple Ink, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is workplace collaboration. Collaboration is crucial for a successful and JoyPowered® workspace, but it’s not always easy. Between differences of personality, background, politics, and other opinions, it seems like we have no problem finding reasons not to collaborate with others – and that means we’re missing out on all the benefits that effective collaboration can bring to our workspaces. You know, when I think back of when I started my career out of college, I was an auditor and we worked on audit teams. They were constantly changing. I mean, I didn’t work on the same team the whole time. I might be with a team for two or three weeks, or I might be with a team for two or three days. And so I think I just really had the privilege of collaboration right from the very beginning. It’s almost like I… I never knew anything different in the workspace and I… I did that for the first nine years of my career, so I’ve sort of… I almost, like, don’t know what it’s like to not work in collaboration.
That’s great. You know, for me, I never played sports. And you know, often when we were trying to hire people to management training programs or into roles where they’re going to end up being team leaders or supervisors, we would look to see did they have any experience working on a team already. I didn’t have any. So, JoDee, I think collaboration for me did not come naturally. And I can remember when I first started in the world of work, that I would be on a team, and it was it was kind of like, you know, are we competing against each other? And then of course, some things in the world of work kind of pits you against each other, because… especially in a rating system, they’re trying to figure out who is the top performers, who’s the okay performers, who do they need to call out? So you do get this kind of reinforcement about individual accomplishments and not so much about how do I make my team win? And that’s why I’m really glad we’re gonna talk about this today. Because I do think if you’re not naturally a collaborative person that can really harm your career and certainly your ascendancy into higher levels.
Yeah, absolutely. I think back when I started Purple Ink, and I was… I was on my own for the first two and a half years, I even hired collaborators or contractors within my first couple months of the business. And I think it’s… I mean, I really hadn’t processed that before I just said that out loud, that I almost subconsciously felt like I needed people to… to work with.
Wow. And I’m glad you did, because when I started consulting about… almost… it’ll be almost nine years, you brought me on as a collaborator, and so I loved it. And I love being part of the extended Purple Ink team.
Yes, yes. And we love that term “collaborator.” It’s really… it’s independent contractors, but we like to… we include them in a lot of things and think of you and others as collaborators. In a June 15, 2022 article on lumapps.com, that’s L-U-M-A-P-P-S dot com, they describe collaboration in the workplace as a work style that helps employees work together to achieve a common goal in ways that benefit a company and their employees. Collaboration is an essential part of teamwork and helps a successful team function most effectively. I love that definition, Susan, but I think even going back to your example where collaboration is not always natural for people or, you know, many people prefer to work alone, have a quiet space, so it’s not… It sounds easy to me, but doesn’t always come naturally to a lot of people. So what are some of the benefits of a collaborative team? Well, it encourages problem solving and allows employees to learn from each other.
Employee productivity, definitely, I do see going up, and I see people’s enjoyment of their work go up. They get more engaged, because you know what? They’re not in it just for themselves. They get to have success through other people. And for remote teams, that is so important. If you can get your remote team members collaborating with each other, they’re not going to be as lonely, they’re going to feel much more connected, and you’re going to have just a, I think, a more high functioning team.
Yeah. So we wanted to learn more about this topic, so we invited a subject matter expert to tell us more. Social Psychologist Deb Mashek helps business leaders navigate the relationship headwinds that tank timelines, bottom lines, and morale. An experienced business advisor, professor, and nonprofit executive, Deb’s writing appears in MIT Sloan Management Review, Fortune, The Hechinger Report, and Psychology Today. Deb has been an invited speaker on collaboration and viewpoint diversity at leading organizations including the United Nations – Wow! – and the American Psychological Association. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “Collabor(h)ate” in January 2023. Deb is also a member of Powered by Purple Ink, which Susan and I are both a part of as well. Deb, welcome to the JoyPowered® podcast!
It’s a delight to be here. Thank you so much.
So how do you describe collaboration, and why is it important to do well in the workplace?
So first of all, there’s this very sterile definition, which is “two or more people working together intentionally toward a shared goal.” Easier said than done. Why it’s important? You can think about it in terms of why it’s good for the company. When your teams are working together, they’re humming along, it’s beneficial to your bottom line, to timelines, to morale, you get lower turnover, and also to the quality of the work product. So you know, better ideas are coming up if you can have these diverse teams bringing together their diverse interests and talents to make magic happen. So it’s good for the company. And it’s also really good for individuals when collaboration is humming along. This is where we see higher work satisfaction, more engagement, and more willingness to actually contribute to collaborations. So, yay, collaboration. But when collaboration tanks, which it often does, because it’s really incredibly hard to do well, you see a lot of stress. This is where we carry home our, you know, our workplace worries, where we’re trying to figure out how the heck to get out of there, where we’re not bringing our whole selves to work, and so on.
Yeah, well, that all makes sense to me. And I think probably many of our listeners can relate to the fact that they probably are in work teams or they’re the business leader of work teams where they’re not seeing collaboration. What are some of the reasons, do you think, that it’s so difficult to have a really collaborative team?
So my favorite answer is because collaborations depend on relationships, and relationships are incredibly difficult to do well, even though we’re social creatures, right? So I like to draw the parallel to, you know, how many of us have actually taken parenting classes, or how to be a good friend classes, or how to be a good marital partner? It’s like, we just don’t do it. So we might do a little pre-marital therapy – great – or we might take, you know, labor and delivery classes. That is not parenting, for instance. And I think this same mythology culturally pops up where we’re either good or bad at collaboration, you either sink or swim, you know how to do it or you’re not, and there’s not much we can do to improve it. That’s just not true. So there really are better things and worse things we can do to make collaboration more successful, more positive, or uplifting – all the good things. But why we don’t actually know how to do it, I think, is because the absence of training. And then of course, you end up in these workplaces where everyone’s trying to do it together. You’re being led by leaders who also don’t necessarily know how to do it or how to structure the work or how to facilitate the relationships. And so everyone’s just kind of feeling their way around hoping for the best and not being perhaps as intentional as they could be.
Wow, I never thought about it that way. And I am a big believer in training. JoDee will be glad to hear I took grandparenting classes because even though everyone said, “Oh, it’s just so natural,” I said, I don’t know, I’ve never been a grandparent. So I would go to class.
Oh my gosh, that is brilliant. I love that example.
I’m thinking I need more, too. I mean, as they get older there’s got to be one for grandparents now of toddlers as opposed to babies. Yeah, I’ll be on… I’ll be on the hunt.
Grandparenting 2.0. Right?
That’s right. Grandparenting 2.0. Yeah, funny.
That is awesome. You know, when I… speaking of grandparenting, or parenting, a lot of times when I think about collaboration, it really so came to light for me, not only just doing it myself, but really watching my kids go through college, when they would get assigned to work groups and some people, you know, didn’t do much, and they felt like they were doing all of it, or they got dumped on or, you know… I just can remember telling all three of them, like, that’s life, and that that’s how it is then the work world sometimes, too. So.
Can I say when my kiddo was in third grade, he came home livid one day because they were put into group work and told to create a board game and this young girl took charge and told him what to do, and she… my son was so mad, and he just really folded his arms, sat there with the most upset stare you can imagine because he was blocked out of contributing to this group work. And I, a couple of years ago, collected data with College Pulse – it’s a national survey house – from college students and said, so this group work thing, are you actually getting training in how to do it? Well, a whopping 65% – so what is that, three out of every five students? – were like, “No, we’re just given this assignment and told to go for it.” And what’s fascinating from that, so thinking about now at the workplace, there are data from the American Association of Colleges and Universities, that shows – they did an employer survey, there are lots of them out there, that asked, you know, what’s the number one skill you want new college graduates to have? The answer is the ability to work together and collaborate. So there’s this huge gap between, you know, students are not getting this training, workplaces need it. And I have since collected other data from fully, you know, people who are employed full-time asking, so are you getting this training in the workplace? They’re not getting it there either. In fact, a whopping – what was it? – 30% said that they have received exactly no training. And another handful of people said, you know, a couple of minutes, which I have to assume they’re either, like, watching a TikTok video, or, you know, maybe reading a Dilbert cartoon. But that is… that’s nothing. And only… only about one in four people are receiving any substantial training in how to collaborate well. So again, super important for the workplace and for individual well being and for not investing our time, our energy, and our attention in learning how to do it well.
Yeah, I… that is fascinating to me. So how can we move towards more collaborative relationships really going from – how you describe – collaborhate to collborgreat? Which I love.
Thank you. I love a little wordplay. So these collaborhate relationships, they’re characterized by two things. One, they have really low relationship quality. So we don’t like the other person, we don’t trust them, we don’t feel that they have our back, we don’t feel that, you know, they’re… that we’re really in the same boat together. The second quality is that the work you’re doing together is incredibly interdependent. So what that means is that the way the work is structured, measured, and rewarded is super contingent on whether that other person is doing their job. So you’re sinking, you’re swimming together, but you don’t trust the person. How we move out of that is a little bit counterintuitive. And a lot of leaders assume, oh, you just, you know, go improve relationship quality. Like, have them go do some trust falls, and maybe if we go do a bonding happy hour, everything will be great. Probably not, because what you need to look at first is how can we decrease that interdependency in the work? So how can we give people a little breathing room to not… to not sink or swim depending on what the other person is doing? How can we maybe, you know, change how… what we’re measuring? Are we measuring at the team level or the individual level those KPIs? And then once you untangle a little bit, then you can work on relationship quality. Once that relationship quality is strong again, then you get them back together in those highly interdependent relationships. And that’s where I see the glitter encrusted unicorns flying through the sky, where things truly are collaborative. Right? Where you’re working as a team, you’re, you know, the energy is flowing. You’re… everyone’s able to bring not just our whole selves, but their incredibly unique talents. They’re willing to take risks. They’re willing to fail. All those great things that we say we want in the workplace. And we need to create the space for those relationships to really flourish.
Yeah, I think it makes good sense. So collaborative relationships is really key to this and really building them and working on them. But what are some other collaborative tools and collaboration processes that we really want to put into the mix, or that we should be thinking about so that all the pieces fit together?
Yeah, so I think about it as, you know – this is gonna sound cheesy, but I totally believe it – that collaboration is a competitive advantage. And there are… so in all businesses we’re looking to, you know, to do amazing things, to change the world, to create amazing products, to make a gazillion dollars. When we’re collaborating, well, that’s more likely to happen. And there are really, in my mind, these three parts. There are the collaborative relationships. There’s the collaborative action, so how do we actually move things from concept to implementation, for instance. And then there’s also collaborative culture, so are we creating the atmosphere that enables these relationships and these actions to really flourish and take hold? And so my background is as a close relationships researcher, so I have that frame when I come into organizations and when I’m working with clients, but I’m also looking at, on the action side of things, are there processes in place that allow people to share their ideas, for ideas to be vetted against whatever the… you know, here’s really our goals, here are our values, to figure out finally, what are we what are we really trying to do? What is the vision here? Figuring out how are we going to support the implementation of that vision? And so this is where you get important things like project management and project management tools, then when you start to think about culture, the culture involves everything from is collaboration even possible, is collaboration easy to do, like, have we created interactions that make this, you know, it’s a low lift for people? Have we made it normative, so is everybody doing it or is it this one oddball out there who keeps wanting to play well with others and we find them really annoying or is this just… just the way we do it? Is it something that we’ve created, you know, structures around? And at the very, very kind of top of that hierarchy is things like, Are there policies that mandate you play well together? So you could create policies like that. It’s not necessarily great. It’s better to have those… those foundational pieces of is it possible, is it normative, those sorts of things. A lot in there, but the idea that the relationships, the actions, and the culture are all working coherently and compellingly to drive that competitive advantage of collaboration, that’s what I’m working to help people do.
I love it. Is there a model that really puts all of this together?
The one that’s in the book – and I’m happy to send people a graphic of this, I… we have this really lovely illustration that summarizes it – is called the Mashek Matrix. And it has these four quadrants of collaborhate, what an emerging relationship… an emerging collaborative relationship looks like, what a high potential collaborative relationship looks like, and ultimately, what a collaborgreat relationship looks like. And people are welcome to email me and I can send that to them. It’s something we only, you know, mention on… on podcasts, it’s not available on the website or anything like that, but feel free to reach out.
How can our listeners get a hold of you?
The easiest way is to go to debmashek.com, and from there, you’ll be able to access the book’s website, the… all of my social media handles, and I am on LinkedIn every single day. I love being part of the conversation there, so I invite people to… to connect and to join the fun.
I love that. And I’m going to spell your name just in case it’s helpful to folks. It’s Deb – D-E-B – Mashek is M-A-S-H-E-K.
Excellent. And collborhate is also hard to spell, but it’s the word collaborate with an H before the “ate.” So collaborhate.com works as well.
And you know, Deb, we are the JoyPowered® podcast, so we love to ask people a question about joy in their work. What situation have you been been in recently or worked with that really brought you joy in your work?
So I have been doing a lot of thinking for my business about how to make these models, these tools, these interventions available and accessible to a wide range of audiences, and I’ve kind of been banging my head against the wall because I know these things work and that it’s sometimes hard to talk about them, and as a solopreneur, you don’t necessarily have sounding boards all around you. And this other consultant reached out on LinkedIn because, again, I love LinkedIn and said, “It looks like we’re doing similar sorts of things. If you would ever like to talk I would welcome that.” And I said, “Sure, let’s talk,” and set up a half hour call. We ended up chatting for an hour, and it was… sure enough, he was incredibly collaborative and open and generous and sharing ideas and wanting to share his work and get feedback on his work, and I shared my work and got feedback on my work, and it was just one of those magical meetings where the ideas were flowing, lightning was happening, a lot of immediate trust, which is sometimes hard to get at. And it was really clear we were value aligned on this… on this notion of being able to contribute to other people’s success as well as one’s own, and I just left that meeting buzzing. The next morning, when I woke up my kiddo and walked him to school, I wanted to talk about that meeting and how… how fun it is to get to talk with people who share your values and your orientation to the world. So, so much joy there. And I’m just grateful.
Oh, I love it. Thank you for sharing that with us. Well, thanks for joining us today. We’ll have your contact information in our show notes so people can reach out if they’re interested in your model and or to follow you on LinkedIn, and thanks so much for joining us.
My pleasure. And I just love your show. You two are doing an amazing job, so congratulations to you and the team for bringing so much value to the world.
JoDee, I really enjoyed that. I thought Deb had some really good insights. I think the one I’m going to carry away the most is we have really high expectations of our employees to be collaborators, and we, in fact, often in our 360s, we’re evaluating people in how collaborative and what kind of teamwork they show, and the reality is we don’t really teach teamwork. We don’t teach collaboration, we just expect it. I think I’m gonna take that away, as you know, I gotta reframe it in my mind as, are we giving people the tools they need to be strong collaborators? I think many times I’m not.
I totally agree. And I’m even here… you know, Purple Ink does lots of different kinds of leadership and management training, and we don’t train on that either. So, yeah.
It’s time for our listener question. The following question came from a listener of one of our October 2022 podcasts. We welcome questions from any of our listeners. If any of you have not submitted questions yet, please consider doing it. Here’s the question. “As HR, oftentimes, you are in a place where you need to give contrary advice to the leadership team based on HR considerations, perhaps legal considerations, best practices of personnel management, etc.” The question, JoDee, is do we have any tips on how to influence up in a respectful but impactful way?
One of my suggestions… I probably even talked about this on the show before, because it was so impactful for me at the time. But my very first client that I worked with, when I started Purple Ink, and the very first day I went down to his office and spent half a day with him, he told me that when he worked with consultants, he didn’t want them to tell him he couldn’t do something, but he wanted them to tell him how they could accomplish the same goal by doing it a different way, maybe. So I’ve always taken that so to heart as to not, you know, say, oh, legally, we can’t do that, or oh, that’s not best practice or, you know, sort of jump on them, or they feel their idea was slammed, but to maybe say it in a way as, well, here’s… here’s another way we could approach that, or what if we did it this way, or this would avoid some conflict around that issue if we considered this approach, or whatever it might be. So trying not to say the word “no.” That’s always my goal, is not to say no, but to just come back with some questions for them and/or a different approach.
I think that’s really good. And the only thing I might just pipe in with is, I think it’s important when you have your leader or your client, if you’re in consulting practice, say this is what I plan to do or this is what I want to do, I think you have to acknowledge that there’s emotion there. Usually there’s emotion, because they’ve got some pride in their idea, or they have conviction. So I like to start with, “I can see why you’d want to do that.” I mean, I want to… I see… I see you. But then I’d slip right into, but let me give you some other thoughts or some other ideas, because I want you to make sure that you pick the one that’s going to really get the results you want. Or especially if they say they want to do something that I know is illegal, I can see why you want to do that, but let me give you some ideas of things that we could do that would actually comply with the law. Yeah, so I don’t know, listener, I hope that helps.
I love that approach too. Great advice. In our in the news section today, is anything worse than uploading your resume to an online job portal, then being asked to manually type all the information it contains? It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but I know that it’s a frustrating process. In a recent survey by JobSage that was published in September of this year, 2022, they found many pet peeves of job seekers, so I thought we’d share just a few.
The first one is the term “rockstar” is the most annoying buzzword employers use, followed by “ninja” and “guru.”
You know, I think I use two of those words, “rockstar” and “guru,” all the time, so that was good insight for me. Number two is the lack of salary information annoys job seekers the most. And, you know, that has become law in a few states now, and some more states are looking into that, where employers are required to publish that salary information.
I’m really excited about all the pay transparency laws, and I think it’s a really good thing, puts everybody, I think, on a more even playing field when they’re trying to figure out what jobs they want and when they are trying to negotiate their salary.
“Fast paced environment” is a red flag for those worried about being overworked. I can’t tell you how many job postings I’ve written about the fast paced environment, because I feel like I’m always working in one or that I’ve tried to hire somebody who’s in a fast paced environment. Now I know that could be pretty off-putting.
Yes. And 51% of job seekers say online job applications take too long. We give that advice all of the time to… to companies, that initially just get some basic information on them to decide if you want to talk to them further, and then you can ask for more information as you go along, but people will bail out of applications that have too many questions. So… so if your company is still doing some of these pet peeves, stop it! They don’t like it. They don’t like it.
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