Building and running record companies, airlines, shops, mobile networks and train services requires being smart, but read anything about how he achieved his success and it is quickly pointed out that Sir Richard Branson places a lot of capital on the importance of connecting, collaborating and delegating. Britain’s most dynamic (and most bearded) of billionaires, Sir Richard Branson, achieved great things through being able to work effectively and talk persuasively – with other people, across his business and outside of it.
Branson is not alone in pointing out the importance of building networks and smart teams. Scan any management magazine or leadership advice column and you’ll be advised to strengthen your networks, promote innovation, and encourage greater collaboration across your business to drive efficiencies and get rid of hierarchies and stodgy processes. But although it sounds the right thing to do, it is harder to do in practice.
Management Professor, Morten T Hansen, offers five useful tips on how to encourage a collaborative culture:
1. Build outwards – you need to find connections across and outside of your department and get into other units and other areas.
2. Aim for diversity, not size – you need different opinions, skills, knowledge and variety, not hundreds of in-house marketing executives.
3. Look for ‘weak ties’ – casual and quick interactions, not highly involved communications, are valuable and low-touch is better than high-maintenance.
4. Find ‘bridges’ – the people who can connect you to distant shores of knowledge and skill.
5. Swarm – enlist others to help you discuss and open up the right connections and conversations.
Knowledge management and leadership guru, David Gurteen speaks and consults across the world on how leaders can build smarter knowledge networks. He stresses the importance of not making assumptions and understanding that you may have different cultures across the organisation. Most importantly, he points out managers must give people time to create the social and personal connections between team members, so they can work well together. Again, as Gurteen and others have pointed out, it’s important to understand that, although our work is often technical, it’s at its heart, a highly social process.
Previously, being a manager meant controlling, ordering, directing and administrating. A competitive edge today is more likely found within a leadership style that steers, coaches and connects people right across the organisation. That means creating a meeting and conversational culture that supports healthy debate, where questioning, exchanging ideas, and sharing information is the norm.
Ultimately, as Sir Richard points out, business is about getting the most out of people. By promoting a culture that encourages better meetings with open questions – whether by audio, video or face-to-face – you may not end up a bearded billionaire but you will be on your way to building smarter conversations and more effective teams.