What does collaboration mean to you? Merriam-Webster’s definition of collaboration is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor”. In this instance, the endeavor is Reimagine Retail – a workforce initiative focusing on turnover reduction and currently consisting of 10 Chicago organizations helping to improve the quality of jobs for entry-level retail workers, creating pathways for advancement in retail and related sectors, and increasing retention for retail employers.

All of the partners in our newly created Chicago retail community of practice are working together across the boundaries of their expertise to ultimately change the perception of retail and establish job quality principles for frontline workers. In order to have a successful collaboration, everyone needs to embrace the idea of changing the status quo and in this case, creating a better workplace in the retail industry from both employee and employer perspectives.

In the Fall of 2017, I was hired to be the central point of contact to coordinate the initiative across the various partners and their direct-service retail projects that were already underway. Serving as an “authorized connector” or facilitator, I lead our collaboration in expanding those programs as well as coordinate communication to employers and create a unifying strategy with which to engage them. My philosophy has always been to build rapport with those on my team—placing emphasis on prioritizing connection when building or leading any type of project. This definitely aids in successful collaboration.

In order for our collaboration or any project to be effective, I believe you need to break down individual silos and come to the table with the following intentions:

  • Brainstorming– Before jumping into solutions for the project, we established a relationship of trust that will allow us to be more comfortable with each other—it’s especially important for everyone to feel they are able to express their opinions and ideas with others on the project. Collaboration allows team members to come together on a common platform and work towards the achievement of a common goal by thinking, brainstorming, and offering various perspectives to provide solutions. For Reimagine Retail, our partners actively participated in several brainstorm sessions to establish our initiative’s mission statement and potential outcomes or goals. The mission of Reimagine Retail is to partner with the retail sector to improve the retention and advancement of frontline workers while changing the perception and future of retail.
  • Adding Value– Working towards a unified strategy or goal inspires team members with a strong sense of purpose. By seeing value in working together as the common goal gives them a meaningful reason to work together. It’s important for each team member to believe that they as individuals and their respective organizations are adding value or have a voice on the project and team. Each of the Reimagine Retail partners is able to provide their expertise or value proposition to employers, job seekers and those already working in retail and together we created a unified “menu of shared services”. This combined value proposition is more compelling than the sum of isolated efforts.
  • Equal Contribution- Collaboration provides every team member with equal opportunities to participate and communicate their ideas. Each of our Reimagine Retail partners provided a team member to participate in one of two taskforces:
    • Communications Taskforce – together we produced a Reimagine Retail brochure and ultimately our website under a unified brand. Each partner developed content for every section of our marketing collateral thus participating equally to the overall project.
    • Employer Engagement Taskforce – we initially established a “code of practice” among our partners as they all are working with employers in some fashion. A targeted list of employers was determined so everyone knew which employers we would try to enlist for the Reimagine Retail initiative. The partner who had the highest level of engagement was the initiator or keeper of the relationship. We did not want to have any duplication in our communication or bombard the employer from several angles – this way communication about Reimage Retail comes from only one source and we’re able to leverage everyone’s engagement with the employers.

Overall, we have learned that when all team members have a vested interest in a project, then communication, creativity and innovation occurs naturally. When we don’t feel the need to put up walls, true collaboration can happen.

Collaboration is truly key to the success of any project – and our Reimagine Retail’s turnover reduction project is a win-win for all involved. We are helping community-based organizations better satisfy their clients and create stronger relationships with employers, engaging workers to contribute their utmost and providing them with well-needed training, and we are building trust with employers to develop retention-based strategies to boost their bottom line.

So is this your idea of a strong collaboration? If so, join us and we will be stronger together.