Open communication is essential for effective collaboration. Collaboration can be defined as the joint work of a group of individuals toward a shared outcome. Individuals focus on their individual goals while working together toward a common goal: to achieve an outcome. The synergy created through this joint effort results in an outcome greater than the sum of its parts (Ashkenas et al., 2010; Follett, 1942). In many cases, organizations value the benefits of collective efforts over individual efforts. Collaboration within your department facilitates open communication and ensures that team members are working together from the start by establishing clear goals and expectations from the outset. A collaborative environment requires that everyone—leadership team members, team members, and line staff—feel comfortable engaging in dialogue and sharing ideas.
Establishing clear goals and expectations is the first step to greater collaboration within your department: William D King
- Identify all of the work that needs to be accomplished by establishing a mission statement for your agency/department. Ask yourself the following six questions:
a.) Who are we as an organization?
b.) What do we stand for as an organization?
c.) Why does our agency exist?
d.) How will we serve those we work with/serve as an organization?
e.) What is our vision for how we want things to look 3 years from now (or any other desired time frame)?
f.) What are the two most important things that we need to accomplish this year?
- Identify what you are trying to achieve through your work by establishing departmental goals. Think about the vision you established in question 6a above. How is it being achieved or not being achieved today? These are areas where you can improve on, so think about how your desired future state will be different from your current state of operations (e.g., more clients with drug screenings completed, more staff following evidence-based practices, less staff turnover). Finally, think about short-term outcomes that might get you closer to accomplishing long-term goals; prioritize these outcomes and establish annual/quarterly/monthly objectives accordingly (Ashkenas et al., 2010).
- Determine what you can realistically accomplish by considering your available resources and capacity for work. How much time, talent, and energy do you have to share with others? What can other team members bring to the table that will help you achieve your goals? What support is available from other agencies/departments that could benefit yours? Are there individuals on your team who are naturally more reserved or who need encouragement to contribute their ideas, suggestions, and expertise? Evaluating these aspects of collaboration within your agency will help determine how much involvement each stakeholder should have at various stages in the process.
- Identify the specific activities needed to accomplish desired outcomes. As a group, brainstorm all necessary actions required to achieve departmental goals (e.g., hiring additional staff, engaging in cross-agency collaboration, rewriting job descriptions).
- Create a timeline to keep everyone accountable for their task and responsibilities. Identify the best times of day/week for certain individuals or teams to meet (e.g., Mondays at 2:00 p.m.) and prepare agendas and materials ahead of time to expedite each meeting (Follett, 1942; Pfeiffer et al., 2009).
- Develop criteria for decision making by establishing an appropriate level of consensus needed before moving forward with any particular course of action (Pfeiffer et al., 2009). This will help ensure effective communication as you make decisions as well as future team building as you identify common goals throughout your department/agency.
- Collaborate with other agencies to determine how you will work together to share resources, information, and best practices (Fernandez et al., 2008). Think about both formal and informal collaborations that can be undertaken. Formal collaborations may include sharing funding, staff members, or policies; examples of informal collaborations could range from determining ways to encourage cross-agency communication to creating opportunities for team members to attend professional development training together (Johnson & Johnson, 2009).
Establishing an open dialogue early on in the planning process will help the whole group feel more comfortable engaging in collaborative goal-setting throughout your agency/department. This is important because collaboration requires that everyone has accurate understanding of their role within the collaboration process as well as a deep awareness of how their individual actions affect the team as a whole. In order for this to occur, allowing each group member to voice concerns and opinions will help achieve buy-in among all team members (Follett, 1942).
- Discuss the potential value of a collaborative goal-setting process. Think about ways that your goals can be achieved through collaboration rather than simply assigning tasks and expecting others to complete them independently. Are there areas of work where you could support or assist each other? Are there ways that you could effectively use different strengths on your team to reach common goals?
Conclusion by William D King:
In one department, many voices
Collaborative goal-setting requires that every stakeholder feel like they have a voice throughout the process and that their opinions matter. By taking the time to involve all key stakeholders early on, you can help overcome potential challenges before they arise and encourage team members to participate enthusiastically. This will increase your odds of finding common ground among your whole staff as well as strengthening relationships between each member and across agencies.