Working together doesn’t look like it used to.
So says Keith Ferrazzi, founder and CEO of research and consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, who has literally written the book on leadership and collaboration. He’s the author of New York Times bestsellers Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back, both of which center on the fundamental idea that gaining success in the workplace isn’t a solitary endeavor and relies on connections with and support from your teammates.
But connection has become a tall order in the era of remote work. That’s especially true at companies where bosses wield return to office mandates as a catch-all fix for workplace and team leadership dilemmas like Zoom fatigue or communication mishaps between boomer bosses and Gen Z workers. Being forced to return to the office has disgruntled workers, creating a disconnect between them and leadership. The past three years have uncovered the fault lines of the modern workplace that haven’t been solved by something as simple as a return mandate.
Perhaps, then, connecting at work isn’t about everyone being in one place at the same time. It’s more about emotionally connecting. “It’s not about how many days in your office,” Ferrazzi said during a recent panel on Fortune Connect, Fortune’s exclusive education community. “I want to know how you reinvent your collaboration, and fundamentally reinvent the way you work.”
He shared his three biggest tips for collaborating in the new world of work.
Ignoring the common myths
Collaboration in the workplace starts with dispelling myths. The first: Against popular convention, don’t stay in your lane.
“A team has nothing to do with your org chart,” Ferrazzi told Fortune executive editor Peter Vanham. “You need to begin to lead across networks, not within.” Leadership may be a solo sport, Ferrazzi contends, but teamwork is the essence of success.
The second: Ignore the adage of praising publicly and criticizing privately. Challenging peers doesn’t mean throwing them under the bus, Ferrazzi said. Instead, reengineer that social contract—teammates can be respectful and caring while also challenging one another in the open. “We can sharpen our tools and get to a better answer, and wrestle ideas together—and that’s out of respect and care,” he said. “It’s not hijacking authority, and it’s not undermining a peer. It’s that you care so much that you share [what you think] openly.”
The third: Recognize that collaboration is not synonymous with meetings. Collaborate asynchronously first and foremost, and only hold a meeting when you really have to—like “when you need to wrestle an idea to the ground collectively,” Ferrazzi said. But better problem-solving stems from more inclusive dialogue, which you’re more likely to find in async work. “That’s probably one of the biggest shifts that needs to happen,” he added.
Data backs Ferrazzi up. Improving work flexibility allows for greater participation from workers in underrepresented groups—who already tend to be less vocal in all-hands meetings.
Reconnecting in a distributed workforce
A leader’s job, as Ferrazzi sees it, is to facilitate a team’s value. Naturally, pulling that off requires thoughtful partnership and collaboration with workers at all levels—a tactic, amid remote work, in vanishingly short supply.
The pandemic led to workers being physically walled-off from their teams, but even as offices have reopened, that emotional distance has held steady. “Everybody says it’s not personal. It’s business, you know, and I keep my personal life separate,” Ferrazzi said. “If [we’re] struggling, we’ve got to be deeply empathetic to people’s personal and professional challenges.”
Sharing personal stories and experiences—and allowing space for reflection—is crucial for getting a deeper understanding about people you may not have met in person. “Empathy equals connection, and connection equals understanding, and that’s how we change things,” Lezlie Poole, a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner who leads virtual training at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, told Fortune.
For all employees at Ferrazzi Greenlight, Ferrazzi said he has made bringing your whole self to work, whatever that may look like, the new contract: “And we need to continue to sustain that.”
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