Collaboration: Working together. The act of working together with one or more people in order to achieve something.

The more time spent in the corporate world, the more it is realized how true collaboration is an art – an art only certain people have the talent to hone, encourage, use and execute.

Much like a painter learns through experience how to use a brush to make scenery and images jump off the canvas, a business, through the hiring of key staff can put together a team that not only works together beautifully to carry out daily enterprise goals but painlessly can switch gears from every-day practicality into innovations to keep the company moving forward.

They key to this is truly understanding the dynamics of the people on your creative teams.

You see, true collaboration doesn’t just happen because you throw a group of creative people in a room with a whiteboard, bad delivery pizza and a pep talk challenging them to change the business. It happens when the elements align – knowledge, passion, creativity and vision collide (and yeah, pizza is sometimes involved) and everyone sitting around the table feeds off the ideas of one another to come up with a business-changing plan.

See, a company can have the most expensive, experienced, knowledgeable staff in the organization but if the leadership does not know how to pull those people together in a way to produce winning collaborations, the staff is no more than expensive dead weight that’ll slowly sink the business.

But with the many burdens of management, it is often difficult to actually take the time to pull people together for idea building and collaboration. Alternatively, brainstorming a half-baked idea yourself and then throwing it out on the table for a team to finish easily becomes par for the course.

Not only does this leave much to be desired in the ‘collaboration’ area, it often leaves a team feeling they have no say in direction and aren’t invested in their success – but only in the success of their manager’s ideas. And there most certainly is a difference.

Mature leadership understands the importance of collaboration and more importantly, the environment needed to encourage and allow it to thrive. Here are a few tips and tricks needed to get healthy collaboration going and growing.

Explore your team’s strengths. With the daily grind taking up most of employees’ office time, it is often difficult for leadership to get to know their team members well enough to understand their unseen strengths. Chances are the people you’ve got out there doing the day-to-day are capable of so much more. A good manager who yearns to build effective collaboration knows how to use the sometimes hidden talents of the team in such a way it benefits the individual, the team and the company.

Build trust with your people. While it is always difficult when friendships take place between management and employee, it is by no means frowned upon to be a leader your team can talk to. If a leader is receptive to ideas, takes the time to listen and genuinely appreciates his/her employees, then collaboration is natural. There is still a boundary there, but it is not a looming, intimidating one. It doesn’t hinder innovation but encourages and rewards it.

Realize no one likes a one-way conversation. You want to know why most employees HATE meetings? It’s because they have become the unwelcome stage for management to flap their jaws about anything and everything without listening to a word their employees say. The best meetings EVER are those where management gets the meeting started and team members take the topic and feed off of it.

What many managers don’t understand, good collaboration starts with management’s ability to talk to and communicate with their people. The idea that management is a club unto itself kills a staff’s ability to collaborate with anyone other than each other; therefore making game-changing differences within the business becomes impossible.

Realize it takes a village. When every single person feels he has a stake in the community, then every action and decision is poised to help the village prosper. The same thing happens in business. When an employee feels important, listened to and vested, then he finds himself thinking of alternative ideas to save time, creative ways to increase business or even better product outcomes. If management makes employees feel they’re important then

Give ‘em something to talk about. While management holds up at a meeting or a retreat trying to solve the problems of the world, a wise leadership comes back and shares some of the problems with the team to spawn ideas. A collaborative leader is a strong leader and understands the power of team work. Get your team talking and see what happens.

Know when to quietly leave the room. Sometimes, leadership’s insertion into a collaboration is indeed a hindrance. It doesn’t mean employees don’t respect you, it indicates they aren’t quite ready to speak freely because the employee may not want to come off as ridiculous. Regardless of how close you are with your team, there is always a line some employees won’t cross when the person who holds their financial future in their hands is in the room.

Collaboration is not a competition. A collaborative environment does not incense competition. It isn’t about one-upping another team member. It is about every team member feeding off each other’s ideas and making it better. No criticism. No hounding. Just ideas getting bigger and better every single second.

Find the kernel of sanity hidden in the crazy. Some ideas may seem ludicrous. Some, absolutely insane. But remember, the most laughable and insane of ideas could have a grain of brilliance in them. A great manager can dissect those ideas and find the kernel that will help the business grow.

Remember what your momma said. It’s as true today as it was when you were on the playground – words hurt. When you are leading a collaboration or trying to foster it among a group, guide the conversation and nurture it. Nothing good will come of it if negativity enters the equation.

Whether it’s pulling together brilliance from a team of that has worked together forever or gathering a bunch of misfits into a room to brainstorm greatness, leadership is key. A manager who understands the importance of full team participation in collaboration is one who is setting the business up for success, as well for himself and the employees he manages.

Collaboration is the key to innovation and the future of every business out there and a management that understands this realizes the next best thing that’ll take the business into the future is possibly sitting out there in the mind of an employee. And it’ll just take a little coaching and collaboration to get it to see light.