Be Vulnerable to Build Collaboration

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be vulnerable at workHow to Build a Collaborative Environment-Be Vulnerable

As I sit here over Thanksgiving weekend considering what I am thankful for….one of the key lessons I am thankful for is understanding the true power of vulnerability. Whether it’s attending my organization’s yearly User Group, attending graduate school classes, or reading the Huffington Post, the power of vulnerability keeps emerging.  Or, maybe I am just starting to notice it.  A few thoughts on vulnerability as we start the long weekend.

Vulnerability is about being honest, open, and emotional. It is human. It is trusting. And it changes everything in the dynamics of a team and an organization.  As discussed in the Huffington Post today from Bill George at the Harvard Business School:

“Imagine a moment when you felt fully comfortable with others. You weren’t guarding what you said. You weren’t monitoring how others perceived you. And you shared life stories you rarely do.  You were vulnerable, and you were perfectly authentic with others, and you were accepted by them — and that gave you a deep sense of well-being.”

Imagine the type of innovation that could occur when everyone was vulnerable, trusting, and open.  But where do you start?  It must start with leaders.  In order for employees and members of teams to feel comfortable being vulnerable and open/honest, they need their leader to be vulnerable.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word vulnerability comes from the Latin word vulnerare, meaning “to wound.”  When we are vulnerable, we are open to attack and capable of being wounded. There is a certain amount of fear tied to being vulnerable at work.

  • Will it be perceived as a weakness?
  • Could I lose my job?
  • Am I less of a leader if I am vulnerable and admit mistakes?
  • Will I be attacked and damaged if I am vulnerable at work?
  • Will people think less of me?

Employees cannot be first.  They need to see their leaders be vulnerable in order for them to feel safe being vulnerable.  Once employees are comfortable being vulnerable, the fear of conflict and disagreement starts to disappear. It’s now okay to ask the out of the box questions, it’s okay to challenge your manager on decisions.  Conflict becomes about business problems versus getting personal.  If you make decisions without conflict, without looking at the many sides of the decision, without thoughtful disagreement, will the decision have full buy in from the team?  Will the team be committed to the decision?

For true collaboration to occur, there needs to be conflict, disagreement, which then leads to commitment and accountability. The only way teams can do this in a productive manner is for everyone to be vulnerable and bring their best self to the table.