"Saving the World" One Team at a Time: Today’s Formula for Cross-Collaboration

Fresh from seeing the new Marvel release Avengers: Endgame, and as with every new Marvel release, I am reminded of the parallels between the team dynamics of a group of diverse Superhero’s and the dynamics of many work environments today.

At its most basic level, it goes like this:

There’s a job to do, a single purpose.

A team is formed to complete the job.

They all have unique skill sets and are talented at their craft.

Coming together means recognizing it takes more than what you can offer to get the job done and making room for others and their contributions.

And then …

Now, this is usually when there’s a halt, a bottle neck, teams are standing at cross-roads where they’ll either come together and win or fall apart and lose.

Bringing together a team of remarkable and diverse people hoping that together they can become something more isn’t enough.  It worked for Nick Fury, but most leaders in today’s business climate need a solid plan and let’s face it Samuel L. Jackson can do anything he wants to. He’s a bad ass.

Hoping that people will ultimately abandon their own agendas and ego learning to trust each other and do the job that is needed to reach the goal, is maybe something we save for the Avengers. In today’s work landscape we are dealing with high stakes outcomes and learning to embrace diversity by mastering inclusive behaviors is one way to ensure we are cross-collaborating at the kind of levels where individuals turn into something more, one team.

Today’s “team” looks and feels quite different than it used to.

Time spent by Managers and employees in collaborative activities has increased by 50% or more over the last two decades.

Today’s organizational landscape is complicated. At the heart of it all is the Customer, and revolving around the Customer are all the moving parts, all the departments, functions and people that collectively hold the key to accomplishing the common goal.


How many of us have struggled or hit a road block when trying to collaborate with a different department or even a person outside our own department?

It’s frustrating.

How many of us have not been able to get a customer what they needed when they needed it as a result of this?

This is bad.                         

So, how do we even begin to move the needle on things like cross-collaboration when the work landscape is so complicated?  I want to share with you a simple formula that I have found to work really well when designing a solution that promotes cultural and organizational shifts driving cross-collaboration, and I like it because it’s easy.

By answering these simple questions, you can crack the cross-collaboration code and begin to design a solution to help drive the initiative within your culture.

1-What attitudes and behaviors do we need to eliminate?

2-What attitude and behaviors do we need to add?

Recognizing every team is different and has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, the obstacles are not the same for all, but here is a list of common barriers teams struggle with in many organizations today and by recognizing which ones exist and by becoming aware of them, you are moving the needle on fostering a climate ripe for cross-collaboration.

1.     Digital, Dispersed & Diverse- Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership). But while teams face new hurdles, their success still hinges on a core set of fundamentals for group collaboration.

2.     Lack of Shared Purpose-Only 5.9% of companies communicate goals daily. Only 14% of companies have employees that understand their company’s strategy, goals and direction.

3.     Ego-“The ego is one of the biggest barriers to people working together effectively–which is crucial to meet the ever-increasing expectations of customers.”

4.     No Time or Space for Relationships-50% of the positive changes in communication patterns within the workplace can be accredited to social interaction outside of the workplace.

5.     No Rewards for Team Performance- About 75% of employers rate team work and collaboration as “very important”, yet only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews

6.     Top Down Commitment- At the most basic level, a team’s success or failure at collaborating reflects the philosophy of top executives in the organization. Teams do well when executives invest in supporting social relationships, demonstrate collaborative behavior themselves, and create what we call a “gift culture”—one in which employees experience interactions with leaders and colleagues as something valuable and generously offered, a gift.

Now, that we are aware of the barrier behaviors, let’s think about the make-up of most top performing, effective and inclusive teams. What attitudes and behaviors are common to teams that are cross-collaborating successfully?

You have to dig a little deeper to uncover what successful people or teams are doing because studying behaviors is tedious……and well, that’s a lot of analyzing, data, research, studies, patterns and you need to bring in organizational psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, engineers, researchers, academic studies spanning a half century probably, massive studies on loads of people and teams….and who has those kinds of resources, time and funding?

Drumroll please…….

Yep. Google’s done, done it.

They have a whole effort via a site called re:work that is dedicated to the study of what makes people productive, happy and more effective, a whole people analytics team AND they’ve poured millions of dollars into to, tapping into to all those resources I just rattled off, merging science with the human and interpersonal stuff. Thank you, Google for getting our backs.

And they even took it a step further and in 2012 initiated a team performance study called Project Aristotle

They wanted to find out what makes some teams thrive while others struggle. Over 2 years, 200 interviews, studying more than 250 attributes of 180+ teams, they set out to find the answers.

Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was the critical differentiation to making a team work.  Full disclosure-I could write more than you would want to read about PS, but I’m going to leave that to the experts like Amy C. Edmonson and try to net it out for you here. If a team possesses Psychological Safety, these conditions usually exists and these attributes are what we’re aiming for in our formula for added behaviors:

·       Shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.


·       Sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.


·       It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.


·       And if you want to take it one step further, it simply comes down to:



The code has been cracked and it’s time to put the formula to work for your team.

The solution can be an array of actions: adding new tools, technology, specialized training programs, incentives, organizational shifts, new initiatives and ideas and strategies to drive the solution that is right for your team.

Don’t just put remarkable people together hoping for the best. Be sure all the elements exist (or don’t) setting them up for success and yeah, “saving the world” one workplace at a time.