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“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

Ryunosuke Satoro

In 1986, after leaving Apple for the first time, Steve Jobs purchased the digital division of LucasFilm, the company that made Star Wars. He renamed it PIXAR.

In 1999 he and his team, including globally renowned architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, set about designing a new, state of the art headquarters. The core vision for the design had to be the encouragement of collaboration. At the entry to the campus was written,

“Alienus Non Diutius”, which is Latin for “alone no longer”.

Jobs was passionate about Pixar creating sustainable innovation and development in the film industry and he was aware that in order to do that, people couldn’t be allowed to work in their silos; finance in one office, HR in another, marketing somewhere else and creative in their own domain. He knew that meaningful development and achievement could only come from a culture of collaboration, both planned and unplanned.

“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So, we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Jobs believed in the connectedness of a common purpose and helping people from every department, see themselves as a larger team where shared experiences and expertise were the only way to create a sustainable culture of learning and development.

I am convinced that a culture of collaboration lies at the heart of any organisation looking to thrive over the next few decades. The fact that innovation and proactive change comes from ideas, from fresh perspectives and from challenging conventions means that we have to find ways to put collaboration at the heart of our strategic planning. It requires factors to be developed, recognised, and understood by everyone. It cannot be the preserve of the hierarchy or line managers; it is an organic process that needs nurturing. It is so important that we remember that great ideas can come from anyone, at any time, no matter what job they do or where they work in an organisation.

At the heart of collaboration sits trust and a sense of psychological safety. A climate where people can be honest and egos are set aside. Here I my 5 top tips for auditing whether you have a healthy collaborative climate… and before you think about the eight, remember that you need to check that it isn’t just you that feels you check the boxes but people at every level in your teams!

• Trust: Do people see their colleagues as exactly that, or do they sense a culture of competition which prevents them from being honest, from sharing their challenges, strengths or ideas. Do people feel confident enough to give others credit for their actions, thinking and contributions or threatened by it? Collaboration can only flourish in open, confident, and honest environments where there is a real sense of shared purpose and value.

• Support: Is there a spirit of support where people don’t feel judged if they ask for it or interfering if they offer it. Do people recognise their own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a constructive way?

• Sharing: Do people/teams share their ideas, challenges, and processes openly, both when things are going well and when they’re not? Communication is so very important.

• Inspiration: People can only develop new thinking if they are catalysed by new experiences. If you only ever have people with similar job descriptions, ways of working and experiences in the room, you are going to breathe stale air where at best you tweak your methodologies? Do you give people time and opportunity to experience new things; working across teams and departments? Do you value their interests and hobbies away from work? Inspiration comes from often random and unplanned moments, make sure you allow space and time for those to happen.

• Success: Do you regularly celebrate ideas, achievements and thinking, not just the big stuff but the micro too. We are often so busy looking to at the summit we forget the work being done to get to base camp. Also, the four previous tips are fuelled by feel good moments and nothing breeds success like success. Take time out to celebrate, together.

Here's to the future… Alienus non diuitus!

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