How To Build a Collaborative Retail Team

How To Build a Collaborative Retail Team

In retail – teamwork absolutely paves the way for success. We are unable to work within our individual bubbles of responsibility either in the field or in an office environment and truly find success without support from our colleagues and business partners. A collaborative, smart, and enthusiastic team is probably the best weapon you can have to win against retail competition and the obstacles we face in retail as we work to deliver results.

Ironically, according to HBR, “Members of complex teams are less likely—absent other influences—to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines, and to share resources—in other words, to collaborate. They are less likely to say that they “sink or swim” together, want one another to succeed, or view their goals as compatible.” Although ironic, it is a real issue in the retail industry and one that can be overcome by hiring people who have a penchant for working in a collaborative environment while still maintaining their individual drive and sense of responsibility.

So how can retail leadership strengthen an organization’s ability to perform complex collaborative tasks to meet the goals and objectives of the business? Practices that maximize the effectiveness of large [often geographically spread out], diverse teams, while minimizing the disadvantages posed by their structure and personality and skill level composition?

Here’s How To Create A Culture Conducive To Collaboration

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  • Define Collaboration For Them: Collaboration is absolutely a teachable skill. Your team needs to harness their individual strengths into a collective team strength in order to reach the organizational goals. It is the strength of individual members of a team working together that makes an organization or business unit successful. Other organizational characteristics such as unique strategy, innovative approach, creative intelligence, communication, strong leadership, trust, and work culture are also important in defining the success of a company, but collaborative teamwork plays a pivotal role.

The best teams are made up of diversely talented individuals, people who are strong in particular areas and working to achieve strength in others through mentoring relationships, self-development, company tools and resources. Through a balance of talent and ensuring the right people are in the right places you can build a very well-rounded team. People who identify the strengths of others and appreciate that – as well as have a platform to recognize the successes of their team and appreciate them – find a culture that supports and unifies a group of individuals into a collaborative team.

  • Senior Leadership Support: The success of your team’s collaborative effort largely depends on the philosophy of your organization’s top executives, leaders, and the emphasis you place on it. The organization needs to create and consistently model supporting social relationships with team members and demonstrate collaborative behavior. Your employees should be able to interact with leaders and colleagues alike, gaining valuable and meaningful information from those experiences that help drive solutions and best practices.
  • Invest In Creating Signature Relationship Practices: Signature relationship practices are unique to your team or organization and how you function. These practices are defined by the way the employees interact and respect each other in the workplace. They fit well within your organizational culture and are often tough for others to replicate due to the uniqueness of your retail organization. These relationship practices are very team-oriented and are often memorable for those involved and are aligned with the overall values and vision. By making investments in these practices and evolving them to the change we frequently experience, leadership demonstrates their commitment to supporting and encouraging collaborative behavior. The most collaborative and successful teams have these “signature” practices – they particularly well suited [and adapted] to your business partners and organizational objectives/goals.

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  • Establish Realistic Expectations & Clarify Goals: In a collaborative [and successful] team environment, each team member understands their roles and are accountable for the projects assigned to them. But for that, as the leader, you need to set expectations clearly so that your team members are aware of how their role fits into the bigger picture.  Realistic expectations form the foundation of a successful, efficient, and flexible team. The next task is to clarify the roles each team member would play. For this, you need to:

    • Relate each member’s expectations to the overall purpose of the team
    • Clarify responsibilities when creating the work plan
    • Utilize an effective communication tool that is designed to elevate to collaboration [aka: NOT email or conference calls]
    • Review and communicate roles of each member – frequently
    • Encourage and allow learning and development from other members
  • Foster A Team Spirit That Builds Trust & Respect: To build a collaborative team you need to first create an environment based on trust. Trusting each other and trusting the organization is essential to promoting creativity and innovation. Both these factors have risks associated with them. Creativity and innovation, in their most organic forms, are nothing but ideas and suggestions. They may sound ridiculous, kooky, or possibly irrelevant in the initial forming stage. But organizing the process to create a team free of judgement or ridicule will benefit the team greatly. People need to communicate ideas and thoughts freely and easily in order to be truly collaborative.  You can never force your team members to participate or share their ideas unless they feel trusted and respected.

Very often, especially in the field leadership role in retail, we are dealing with teams on different time zones and different challenges, and different customer perspectives all under the same umbrella of a “region” or even “district”. But, a committed and collaborative team [with a leader capable of inspiring and motivating] can bridge all the gaps that exist. Communication, recognition, fun, accomplishment, and creativity are all components of a collaborative team and one that is destined to deliver excellence. We need more of this is in our retail industry.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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