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How to cultivate a truly collaborative workplace

Mandy Gilbert, CEO of Creative Niche

Jen Gilbert/Jen Gilbert

Wine and cheese parties aren't usually part of the recruitment process when companies hire, but how great would it be if they were?

That was the thinking of Mandy Gilbert, chief executive officer of Toronto-based staffing firm Creative Niche, when she needed to hire a client services manager. The new staffer would need the right skills but, just as important, would have to fit in with the corporate culture. That was crucial for Ms. Gilbert to get right, because early on in her business she rushed the hiring process and made some poor decisions. She didn't want to make the same mistakes.

"Our culture is so important and one person could really throw it all off," Ms. Gilbert said in an interview. "That's a road I don't want to go down again."

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So she arranged an after-hours party for the top candidate to meet her staff, and left them to get acquainted. "When I got home, I had text messages from my entire team saying, 'Hire her! Thank you!' Every single person gave the thumbs up."

Whether your company has 21 employees like Creative Niche or 2,100, there are things you can do to create a more collaborative workplace, Ms. Gilbert said.

Develop a strong brand

Top talents want to be part of a team, so your company needs to be known for that. "Many candidates are looking for a company that has a clear vision, and part of that vision is they get to play a role in either developing it or partially executing some of it – something that makes them feel good about the company, the future of the company, and what their vision is to give back," Ms. Gilbert said.

Social media plays a huge role in getting your message to young audiences. "The younger generations are well-informed. They're communicating more, they're reading more about global issues, and they like to align themselves with a company that's giving back, whether locally or globally."

Treat staff like partners

To encourage a collaborative culture, Ms. Gilbert makes a point of consulting her team on all major decisions and changes in the company's direction. When it was recently preparing to expand into Europe and the United States, for example, she sat down with the whole staff to see whether they were on board with the idea, understood the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and were willing to put in the hours to help complete that rocky journey. "I sat down with my laptop and every single person went around and gave their thoughts. I can't tell you how much support and confidence they gave me in making that big decision," she said.

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Build entrepreneurs

Empower staff to make decisions on their own. Ms. Gilbert said that while she sets the overall tone and direction for the firm, her staff need to apply that direction to their work. This has been crucial as Creative Niche prepares to expand, because she has been away from the office a great deal and has had to rely increasingly on employees' good judgment to ensure the Canadian operations continue to run smoothly.

Be open and honest

Ms. Gilbert has long practised open-book financial management. When the recession hit Creative Niche's business in 2009, she laid out the challenges and was able to garner staff support. As a result, the company managed to navigate the worst of the recession with relatively few layoffs.

Coach constantly

Rather than relying on annual reviews to highlight areas for improvement, offer feedback daily, Ms. Gilbert said. This helps managers remain engaged with staff, allowing them to see problems as they emerge, and also to give immediate praise when deserved.

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Don't forget to have fun and celebrate your wins, Ms. Gilbert said, adding that it's amazing "how much better the glory is when it's a company decision."

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About the Author
Report on Business Community Editor

Dianne Nice is community editor for Report on Business and writes about social media. Previously, she was The Globe's online editor for Careers and Personal Finance and has written about these topics for Report on Business and Globe Investor. More

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