Unity in times of trouble will always prove its importance in terms of both business survival and success in the future.

If this Covid-19 nightmare has taught us anything, it’s how important collaboration is for a business’s ability to survive and ultimately thrive.

Going it alone has proven to be mentally draining and ultimately ineffective. Particularly in a crisis situation like this, organizations need to pull together experts with unique, cross-functional perspectives to solve rapidly changing, complex problems that have long-term implications. The diversity of experience allows a group to see risks and opportunities from different angles so that it can generate new solutions and adapt to the continually changing landscape.

Problem is, the research shows that anxiety actually makes people more risk-averse in a crisis; as a result, they may be less likely to seek out differing perspectives. They tend to fall back on actions and solutions that have worked in the past. The desire to try to bring things under control can also lead to the “go-it-alone” mentality. And as resources (finances, job opportunities, even physical supplies) dry up during a crisis, people often focus on self-preservation. As a result, collaboration across an organization can break down. Research from the 2008 financial crisis, however, shows that collaboration leads to sustainably higher performance.

So now that we understand how important collaboration is, here are seven actions that leaders can take to make it happen

1. Encourage questions, (no matter how ridiculous), as well as constructive feedback. It’s not only accepted but expected that people challenge each other’s assumptions and offer new ideas. This means that nobody feels like he/she risks looking foolish by asking others with different functional backgrounds from theirs to explain their thinking. Involving people with a wide variety of skills in an effort to tackle novel and complicated problems can help the group collectively see potential risks or solutions that would elude the individual.

2. Connect with the front lines people. Make direct contact with people down the hierarchy so you have unfiltered information about people’s actions and states of mind. (This is especially critical when people are working remotely.) Such interactions can help leaders understand how employees are coping, identify areas where risks of go-it-alone behaviors are more likely, and establish linkages among people so that they are better able to support each other.

3. Reinforce the business’s purpose and goals frequently. A belief that their work fulfills a higher purpose motivates peopleto think and act in a more collective fashion — to be more open to collaboration. Clearly understanding the business goals helps people see how their own knowledge contributes to the needs of the business.  Leaders need to lower employees’ sense of uncertainty and boost their confidence to reach out to colleagues. So even if your message hasn’t changed, you need to repeat it because the world has changed and employees need to know that the existing direction still holds.

4. Get the team to reflect on their preferred ways of working. This includes the leader. When you’re under stress, you’re more likely to retreat to your comfort zone, so it’s crucial that you think about what kinds of behaviors come most naturally to you. When the pressure builds, are you more likely to pick up the phone to commiserate and brainstorm with a colleague or to hole up and go it alone?

5. Play to your strengths. Rather than trying to change your natural tendencies — which is almost impossible during the stress of a crisis — focus instead on consciously using your style to improve collaboration. Boosting engagement and morale isn’t “soft work”; it leads to quantifiable gains in productivity and other “hard” business outcomes.Leaders need to appreciate that it doesn’t take a single type of person to boost collaboration; they need to draw on the diversity of behavioral styles and coach each team member to play their own part in boosting cross-silo working.

6. Champion collaborative leaders and teams.Many leaders undermine their talk about the importance of collaboration when they focus praise exclusively on individual employees for hitting a sales target or working overtime. While recognizing individual effort, also acknowledge the team that helped make the person a hero by calling out the specific actions it took to provide support and the ways all of its members accomplished a goal together. Especially when employees are working from home, leaders should emphasize the role of supporting players by mentioning family members’ role in making it possible for workers to be productive.

7. Integrate collaboration into the organizational culture. At the end of the day, what sustains effective collaboration is our ability to practice it in a safe space. When collaboration is part of the organization’s daily routine, it becomes a habit, which in turn strengthens our ability to work with one another to develop new ways of working and solving complex problems.

Unity in times of trouble will always prove its importance in terms of both business survival and success in the future. Most of us realize we didn’t grow our businesses to where it is today by running the show by ourselves. We depended on other people and their abilities. It is critical that now, more than ever, we work together and to not try and “go it alone”.

Want to learn more? I’d be happy to help.