Successful collaboration: A Q&A with Michael Thompson

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of Generation Next Edition

NTEA Generation Next Chair Michael Thompson (LinkedIn) shares his experience with managing collaborative teams. 

What are the benefits of successful collaboration? The downfalls if not done well? 

Collaboration has to be more than just a goal – it must become part of an organization’s daily life. It takes many forms, not the least of which is simple communication. This is often overlooked, perhaps because, on the surface, it appears to be a no-brainer. But regardless of industry, regardless of company size, lack of communication is a universal problem.

In small-to-mid-sized businesses especially, cross-functional collaboration (read: communication) is vitally important. We often wear multiple hats at work and so we often find ourselves out of our natural element. Constant collaboration among colleagues – a all levels – is vitally important to the organization achieving its goals.

When not done well, failure abounds. We see disjointed efforts across the entire enterprise as enclaves begin working in silos. We often find people actively working counter each other, and when it comes to light, they honestly indicate they had no idea it was happening.

Collaboration in the form of 360-degree open and honest communication is paramount to the success of any organization.

As a manager, how do you get people in your organization to successfully work together when they are dealing with competing priorities, incentives, and ways of doing things?

It all comes down to communication; and, specifically, clear communication. We aren’t telepaths, and unless our emotional intelligence quotient is through the roof, we cannot pick up on every single cue others give off every single moment of each day. We cannot embark on a journey if we do not know where we are headed, so I try to keep things simple:
  1. Provide a clear objective – the “what” and “why”
  2. Provide a clear timeline – the “when”
  3. Get out of the way!
The third step can be the hardest, but micromanagement can take the most efficient of employees and drive them to poor performers. My purpose as a manager isn’t to tell my team how to do their jobs; it’s to support them, give them tools they need, and drive the organization to success.

How has this approach shifted over time? Has it remained true despite the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say the approach has necessarily shifted, but we have definitely had to adapt. This year has given us more than its fair share of challenges, not the least of which is the concept of “working from home.” For some, finding a quiet corner of the house to set-up a laptop and phone is simple; for others, managing an eight-hour workday along with overseeing remote learning for children and dealing with pets can be beyond overwhelming.

Again, it all comes down to setting and clearly communicating expectations, and trusting that your team has what they need to get there. Likewise, your team needs to trust that you will provide the tools they are missing if they need more.

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