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How to encourage collaboration during a downturn

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When a company enters troubled times, getting employees to pull together is often critical to clawing ones way out of trouble.  Alas, more often than not, those same troubled times encourage employees to look out for number 1, and focus all their efforts on saving their own skins.

A new study conducted by Monash University and the University of Queensland set out to explore how leaders can encourage a more cooperative culture during times of extreme instability, such as during a downsizing or merger.

Associate Professor Hirst said most employees felt uncertain of their status, power and role in the midst of change.

“During times of uncertainty employees often compete against each other in an effort to secure their own positions rather than embrace change and cooperate seamlessly for the good of the organisation,” Associate Professor Hirst said.

The researchers found that leaders managed to inspire their employees by promoting a shared vision of the future, thus minimising any uncertaining present and encouraging employees to work together to fulfill that vision.

“In times of uncertainty CEOs play an important role in minimising competition and suspicion amongst employees by encouraging their employees to be more cooperative and selfless,” Hirst continued
The research went on to reveal the importance of leaders highlighting the shared goals and experiences everyone in the organisation shares, thus playing on classic in-group/out-group psychology.“Managers should implement a range of practices that show they care for the well-being of their employees. They need to take note of the concerns of each employee and recognise their needs to resolve their concerns,” Hirst said.

What’s more, the researchers went on to state the importance of taking a collaborative approach to the new direction, on both an individual and an organisational level.  The more employees can be involved in their own destiny, the greater sense of ownership and therefore comfort they have with it.

The failure rate of mergers is typically said to be between 70-90%, so the implications of being more collaborative are huge.  This is especially the case when many mergers are made with the aim of reducing costs as much as increasing revenues, with the very real implications that typically come with calls for cost cutting.

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