To help in the fight against COVID-19, Gtech, the people who make cordless vacuum cleaners and garden power tools, recently responded to a request to design a medical ventilator.

Knowing they had the right blend in-house of both engineering and model-making skills, and with the NHS experiencing a dangerous shortage of vital medical equipment, the Government Chief Commercial Officer asked the company if they could help.

Nick Grey and his team rose to the challenge enthusiastically.

Not only did Gtech develop a medical ventilator that was able to run on pure oxygen, but the design was made from off-the-shelf parts so it could be produced in the future by any engineering and manufacturing company in the world. It could also be driven and controlled entirely from a hospital’s oxygen supply without the need for electricity.

Although ultimately Gtech wasn’t selected as a supplier, the company showed how effective it can be when different disciplines come together to solve a problem. The example demonstrates leadership and a sense of purpose in working together to achieve a common goal.

It also shows that the mood of an organisation has to be right in order for multi-disciplinary thinking and working to thrive. Nick Grey, the owner of Gtech, was receptive to a new idea and keen to deliver the goal. He was able to identify the skills he needed and create a team of people he trusted – and who trusted each other – to achieve the best outcome.

Effective collaboration stems from trust and communication

And when you have trust between team members, communication naturally follows. It holds you together and gives you the confidence that the people you’re working with are reliable and honest. Where there is suspicion or mistrust, people are inclined to withhold information or stop asking for input.

Good leadership encourages collaboration because it enables the kind of environment in which these qualities can thrive.

“A collaborative team isn’t a group of people working together. It’s a group of people working together who trust each other,” says Carol Kinsey Goman in her article Six Crucial Behaviours of Collaborative Leaders.

She establishes a number of elements that are vital to collaboration – and sharpening your ‘soft’ skills is high on Goman’s list. Empathy, specifically the ability to listen with understanding, helps us see a situation from someone else’s point of view. And as the psychologist, Carl Rogers, writes in his book On Becoming a Person, this is when “real communication occurs.”

Even body language plays a part. A ‘warmer’ set of body language cues – smiling, open postures and mirroring – all of these can help to generate trust and empathy and create the most collaborative working relationships.

A safe space where ideas can be explored

If the mood is right, and soft skills come into play as they should, the collaborative team is a safe place where individuals can talk and listen to each other, develop ideas and make decisions. It’s an environment in which people feel “secure, valued and trusted”.

Goman believes that soft skills are vitally important even in today’s digital world. A “psychologically safe” workplace environment improves the way we communicate and increases the easy exchange of ideas. Knowledge can be shared and ideas can cross-pollinate – and this is exactly the kind of space where creativity and innovation are able to flourish.

Ensuring this type of environment and equipping colleagues with the requisite skills, say Lynda Gratton and Tamara J Erikson in their piece Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, “can make an important difference in team performance.”

But these soft skills are often the hardest to develop. Coaching helps to create awareness, both of ourselves and of others. It gives us the opportunity to question, to work out the best way of resolving conflicts, to prioritise and to engage in meaningful conversations.

Coaching can be challenging, but fulfilling

Through a process of listening, questioning observing and feeding back, coaching encourages you to look at yourself and your behaviours clearly and objectively, breaking down often long-held assumptions and identifying areas for improvement.

A coaching programme can help us develop specific skills – in leadership, collaboration and organisation, for example. And coaching techniques are useful in aiding communication – not only what we say to others and how we say it, but also in the way we listen and really start to understand what others are saying to us.

If you’d like to improve teamwork in your organisation, personal development coaching can help. Call me to discuss how we can work together.