Multiple studies show that organisations with open cultures that emphasise collaboration and idea sharing are more successful than their peers. This success is mainly due to more productive, motivated, and loyal employees.
From both a business and values standpoint, creating a culture that encourages collaboration and knowledge-sharing among employees and across hierarchies is critical. Don’t create an environment where employees feel they have to compete against each other to succeed. Instead, encourage them to work together and share information and ideas openly.
What is an open and idea sharing culture?
The corporate culture is a set of written and unwritten rules and values that set the behaviour standards of its employees, from the CEO to its interns and trainees.
In an open and knowledge sharing culture, the collaboration between employees across levels is routine. That leads to a positive work environment where teammates are expected to help each other out while sharing information and ideas openly—teamwork and collaboration help build strong interpersonal relations between employees.
Such environments encourage open communication and knowledge sharing. Knowledge and ideas are shared horizontally among peers and vertically between management and workers. All employees, including the CEO, follow an open-door policy. Knowledge flows organically between functional departments and is openly shared even with external stakeholders like vendors and licensees.
Why your organisation needs it
Open cultures encourage employees to collaboratively work since they see their peers as colleagues and not competition. These cultures and work environments increase employee engagement, motivation, and productivity. Some additional benefits include:
Psychological safety at work
According to Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School, a safe workplace is one where “people are not full of fear, and not trying to cover their tracks to avoid being embarrassed or pushed.” Once the fear of negative consequences is removed, the employees tend to be open about what they don’t know. That enables their manager or coworkers to step in and fill the knowledge gaps. Psychological safety fosters learning, innovation, and growth.
Prevents knowledge hoarding
When a key employee leaves, their knowledge base also walks out the door, hurting a company’s performance. A company with a stable knowledge sharing culture would have already distributed this information through multiple channels within the organisation. That would enable current and new employees to benefit from it, even after the departure of an individual.
Eliminates a silo mentality
Companies with a closed culture often have a silo mentality between departments. One department will only share information if the sharing benefits the department. The focus is on what’s best for a given department and not what’s best for the organisation. Open cultures help in breaking down these silos of operation.
The most significant advantage of an open and idea sharing culture is increased workplace productivity. Employees collaborate and share what they know freely, allowing for quicker decision-making. That raises productivity at an employee and organisational level.
The benefits of an open and idea sharing culture apply equally to both online businesses and brick-and-mortar stores.
Ways to build a collaborative workplace culture
Now that you know the importance of a collaborative workplace culture, let’s look at ten strategies you can use to build that culture that encourages the open exchange of ideas among employees:
Encourage an open-door policy
An open-door policy gives employees access to senior executives in a company if their immediate superior cannot resolve their work-related or personal issues. That is important because, often, the immediate supervisor or manager might be the source of the problem, thus making it difficult for the employee to open up to them.
Establishing trust is the first step to building an open and idea sharing culture. An open culture makes employees confident that they can approach anyone to ask questions or share ideas. Trust also stems from the certainty that management will give credit for new ideas to the people who first thought of them.
An open-door policy also empowers the employee to approach anyone to seek clarification or fill a knowledge gap without being judged. The openness, in turn, also makes the employee more likely to share information they have when someone comes to them seeking clarifications.
Install a collaboration platform
Today, technology has made collaboration and sharing information and ideas across the company a whole lot easier. Workplaces today have evolved considerably from those of 20 years ago. Part of this is, of course, triggered both by offsite employees dispersed over local and global geographies, as well as the work-from-home culture.
Research from the US Census Bureau reveals that, before the pandemic, roughly 5.7 million US employees worked from home at least half the time. This number is bound to increase over the next few years as companies deal with the effects of COVID-19, and employees demand more flexibility with their working arrangements.
Hence, technology-driven collaborative platforms help bring the entire company together on one platform. You can start with collaborative shift planning tools that allow employees to create their schedules and exchange shifts with others.
Other collaboration tools include Slack, Hiver, Trello, and ProofHub – all web-based tools that employees can access from different devices and platforms. These tools let managers and supervisors assign tasks, approve task output, and track project progress. They are also useful as idea sharing tools and knowledge repositories.
If your employees spend productive time on unproductive activities like looking for information, it’s time to start using one of the collaboration platforms to raise overall productivity. While looking for a suitable collaboration platform, keep in mind the knowledge management system you are currently using. Ensure that the platform is compatible with your legacy management system.
Encourage knowledge sharing
Workplace collaboration and open sharing of ideas come with benefits. However, not everyone may be comfortable sharing information and ideas. Hence, the company culture needs to promote this sharing. Here are some tips and guidelines to encourage a free flow of information and ideas:
Asking questions from your employees is the quickest way to generate new ideas. It helps in teaching deeper thinking across all employees. It empowers the employees to look at even routine tasks and think if they can be done more quickly. That leads to innovative thinking across the company.
Schedule brainstorming sessions
Brainstorming enables you to find solutions for existing projects and ideate new projects. These sessions can be physical, where people meet in person, or digital. The two most significant advantages of digital brainstorming are that it brings remote employees into the loop and allows employees who may be shy to share ideas in-person to share their ideas online.
It’s essential to provide feedback to the employees on the ideas they share. If the idea is not yet feasible, explain why it won’t work, thank them, and encourage them to share more ideas.
Reward the knowledge sharing and ideation process
Working in an open culture where idea sharing is routine doesn’t come naturally. You may need to encourage the process by incentivising it. However, rewarding ideation and knowledge sharing doesn’t need to cost the earth. Give your employees a reason (incentive) to open up and speak up about both what they know and what they think would help their teams and the organisation.
Offer an incentive or reward to everyone who proposes the best solution to an existing problem. Everyone who contributes gets a small gift, like a gift voucher at the local coffee place. The employee who submitted the chosen solution could get a cash reward.
Another way to do it is to put the names of all participants into a lucky draw after a predefined time. The contest could be open for a month so that everyone gets an opportunity to contribute multiple times. That gives the employees more chances to think, share, and win.
You can offer non-cash incentives, such as company-branded items like mugs or T-shirts with the slogan “idea of the month.” On the other hand, the winning entry could win a big-ticket prize such as a smartwatch. You can also offer specialised mentoring to the winner to turn their ideas into reality.
By incentivising the sharing of ideas, you help convince your team that everyone benefits from an environment that promotes a culture of collaboration and knowledge creation. Consider implementing a tool like Stack‘s Spatial Browser to allow employees to collaborate and share ideas with ease.
Sometimes all that’s needed is the correct tool and environment to incentivise this culture.
Don’t penalise mistakes
Imagine making a $2-million mistake and not getting fired for it. It happened at Braskem Americas, a petrochemical company. The concerned employee approached the C.E.O. with his resignation letter and was shocked when the C.E.O. said, “We have just spent $2 million on training you, you can’t leave.”
It is essential to understand that people will make mistakes, and it’s essential to take the fear out of making mistakes. If you’re creating an open environment where employees share ideas and collaborate freely, people are bound to make mistakes. The quickest way to lose an employee’s trust is to promote openness but penalise them for their mistakes. Making mistakes and learning from them is how we all learn; it’s normal.
A company where the management only talks about practices that worked well makes the employees feel like the leadership team will not tolerate typical day-to-day mistakes. They may get the impression that since no one talks of mistakes and learnings from them, it’s not acceptable to make mistakes. Penalising mistakes is the surest and fastest way to kill the spirit of innovation at a company.
Assign a mentor to new employees
Attracting top talent and then retaining them are two different things. The new hire is typically unsure about the culture and environment at a new company. You can lose valuable time until the new hire gets comfortable with sharing their knowledge, skills, and ideas. Assigning a mentor to each new hire is a quick and easy way to establish a certain comfort level.
The mentor is typically a mid to senior-level person whom new hires can go to at any time with questions or concerns. Typically, the mentor is not the new hires’ immediate superior to eliminate any reluctance about being judged while trying to fit in the new environment. The mentor leads by setting good examples and encourages the new hires to openly speak their minds and contribute their skills and ideas right away.
New hires develop a bond with the mentor, and the mentor often becomes their sounding board for issues they may face down the line. Mentoring is also the first step in building confidence in new hires that someone will always have their back.
Seek direct feedback from the employees
In an open and idea sharing environment, the best way to get feedback from employees is to ask them directly. Don’t assume that someone may not have feedback on value or innovative ideas because they are new or don’t actively participate in feedback sessions. The key, as always, is to ask the right questions. Here are some tips:
Ask specific questions
Instead of asking, “how am I doing as your manager” ask them, “how can we improve our team’s goal-setting process?”
Focus on behaviour, not traits
Ask, “how can I better recognise your inputs” instead of asking, “why do team members feel I’m not effective at recognising their efforts”.
Practice active listening
Listening before you respond is the key here. Don’t get defensive when employees provide critical feedback. Demonstrate that you are practicing active listening by maintaining good eye contact and open body language—especially while speaking to remote employees.
Seeking feedback is a 360-degree process: seek it from your subordinates, peers, and superiors. Get feedback from multiple people at each level to get a clear picture. Running regular employee surveys is another great way to seek employee feedback.
Schedule downtime events
Sometimes the best ideation happens during casual encounters, around the water cooler or coffee machine, and at casual company events. If people are relaxed, they are more likely to share new ideas. Organising social events like a company dinner or a night out at company expense is an excellent way for your workers to spend time together and bond in a casual setup.
These events provide an ideal backdrop for people to personally get to know each other. To facilitate this process, you can make a rule that there will be no work-related discussions for the first hour of the evening.
When choosing activities for the evening, ensure that they are group activities and keep them diverse to cover different interests. Avoid skill-based activities or those based on athletic ability. A company picnic in the park may be a better option than a company football game.
Patience is key
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will you create a knowledge sharing culture overnight. It requires time for the employees to adapt to change as a significant number may have worked at companies where an open environment wasn’t the norm. Like with all new policies, developing an open culture and getting your employee’s
People used to a competitive and closed culture need time to adapt and build trust with the organisation. As they settle into an open culture and build trust, they will open up and share ideas and information. Patience and perseverance are the key.
It is well established that collaborative workplaces are more productive and profitable, and employees prefer working in open and collaborative cultures. An open culture fosters idea generation and sharing as well as innovation.
Establishing an open and creative culture where ideas are acknowledged and rewarded will encourage employees to collaborate and innovate. Building this environment is always top-down and needs to be a part of the organisation’s DNA. Involvement and transparency from the top-down lead towards motivating employees to engage with each other.
A regular feedback cycle and team rewards help maintain a high collaboration.
Encourage collaboration by using technology platforms that support the process. That makes it easy for people to share information and ideas and keep all internal stakeholders on the same page.
About the Author
Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO of Shift4Shop, a completely free, enterprise-grade ecommerce solution. He’s dedicated to helping internet retailers succeed online by developing digital marketing strategies and optimised shopping experiences that drive conversions and improve business performance.