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Building a Culture of Cooperation:

Key Strategies for German SMEs through Systemic Workshop Facilitation

In an increasingly competitive German business landscape, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing the challenge of not just surviving but thriving. You do not have the luxury of finding and hiring new employees anymore. There is just not enough qualified employees in Baden-Württemberg. In this case, you find and hire new employees. You invest in their development over at least two years so that they can do the work properly. If they leave your company, you will have lost money and time. The remaining employees will get even more disengaged because they end up with an extra workload. You need to foster a culture of cooperation within your existing teams. 

Nevertheless, there are many factors that can push a person to quite a job: bad organization of work, lack of engagement (70% of German employees are highly disengaged), or bad leadership (60% of people quite their job because of their boss).One critical factor that can significantly impact the success of an SME is its internal culture, particularly the culture of cooperation among its members. As an expert in systemic workshop facilitation and SME business transformation, I understand the nuances and intricacies involved in nurturing such a culture. This article delves into the key strategies and approaches essential for fostering a cooperative environment, a fundamental aspect of strategic business workshops.

Understanding the Importance of culture of Cooperation in SMEs

Cooperation within an SME is not just about working together; it’s about creating a synergy that transcends individual efforts. When a team cooperates effectively, it leads to enhanced problem-solving, increased innovation, and improved productivity. Cooperation also fosters a positive work environment, which is crucial for employee satisfaction and retention.

A study from the Gallup Institute has shown that employees are more likely to stay in their job if they have a best friend at work. Furthermore, 60% of employees who have quite a job do it because of their manager. This shows how important relationships are for keeping employees. Building a culture where people want to stay is going to become a key differentiator.

The question is then:. How do we foster collaboration? What are the elements we can act upon?

The Core Elements of a Cooperative Culture

To build a culture of cooperation, certain foundational elements need to be in place:

  1. Trust: Trust is the cornerstone of any cooperative effort. It is the confidence team members have in each other’s abilities and intentions. Trust fosters open communication, reduces conflicts, and creates a safe space for sharing ideas and concerns. You can foster trust by creating internal rules, consequences for misbehavior, and rituals to celebrate success.
  2. Clear Goals: Setting clear, achievable goals is vital for directing team efforts. These goals should be both individual and collective, allowing team members to see how their contributions fit into the larger picture. Here, it is vital to ensure that people understand how their goals are aligned with and completed by others.
  3. Defined Roles: Clarity in roles and responsibilities prevents confusion and overlap, ensuring that each team member knows what is expected of them. This clarity also helps in recognizing and appreciating each member’s unique contributions. Creating role documentation with clear expectations, deadlines, and levels of competence is key to understanding responsibility when changes need to be made.
  4. Effective Decision-Making: A cooperative culture thrives on a decision-making process that is inclusive yet efficient. This process should encourage input from all members while maintaining a focus on reaching timely decisions. As a leader, you need to clarify which decisions are made in a consultative, delegative, democratic, or consensus way. Some decisions may also rely only on you. The clearer you are about who is allowed to decide and what interventions are acceptable, the lower the friction you will have.
  5. Constructive Feedback: Regular and honest feedback is essential for personal and team growth. Constructive feedback helps identify areas for improvement and celebrates successes, fostering a culture of continuous learning. Learning to give feedback, especially when things go wrong, is key. Positive feedback is also key to creating more confidence and motivation, especially if the skills are newly acquired.

Addressing the Challenges to Cooperation

Building a cooperative culture is not without its challenges. Common obstacles include:

  1. Fear of Disconnection or Rejection: Team members might fear being ostracized or criticized for their ideas or opinions, leading them to withhold valuable input. This happens when the person does not experience psychological safety.
  2. Fear of Conflict: Avoiding conflicts can lead to unresolved issues and a lack of genuine consensus. Healthy conflict, when managed well, can be a catalyst for growth and innovation. There are different reactions to conflict, from avoiding conflict to looking for conflicts. If you know the conflict styles of employees, you can create systems to reduce conflict, such as regular one-on-one discussions with guided questions, anonymous surveys, and so on. As the leader, people will either run to you as soon as a conflict starts or keep things away from you.
  3. Misunderstandings: Poor communication can result in misunderstandings, leading to inefficiencies and friction within the team. In order to reduce misunderstandings, one can focus on clarifying words, rephrasing, and talking from the “I” perspective. Remember that we may misunderstand each other.

The Role of Systemic Workshop Facilitation in SMEs

To overcome these challenges and foster a culture of cooperation, systemic workshop facilitation plays a crucial role. This approach involves:

  1. Neutral Facilitation: A facilitator acts as a neutral party, creating a safe space for open dialogue. This neutrality helps in addressing sensitive topics and ensuring that every team member feels heard and valued.
  2. Anonymity in Feedback: Anonymous feedback mechanisms encourage honest and uninhibited sharing of thoughts and ideas. This approach helps surface issues that might otherwise remain hidden due to fear of judgment or reprisal.
  3. Time-Boxed Discussions: Keeping discussions time-boxed ensures that they remain focused and productive. It prevents the team from dwelling excessively on problems and instead encourages them to move towards solutions.
  4. Structured Approach: A structured facilitation method helps in systematically addressing various aspects of cooperation. It ensures that each session builds upon the last, creating a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for fostering cooperation.

Expanding on Systemic Workshop Facilitation

Systemic Workshop Facilitation is not just about guiding a single session; it’s about embedding a culture of cooperation within the DNA of the small and medium enterprise. This involves several key steps:

  1. Assessment: The first step is to assess the current state of cooperation within the organization. This involves understanding the existing dynamics, communication patterns, and any underlying issues that might be impacting cooperation.
  2. Goal Setting: Once the assessment is complete, the next step is to set clear and achievable goals for enhancing cooperation. These goals should be aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the SME.
  3. Action Planning: With the goals in place, the facilitator helps the team develop a concrete action plan. This plan outlines the steps needed to achieve the set goals, including timelines and responsibilities.
  4. Implementation: The action plan is then put into motion. This phase involves regular check-ins and adjustments to ensure that the plan stays on track and is effectively addressing the goals.
  5. Evaluation and Feedback: Finally, the facilitator helps the team evaluate the progress made towards enhancing cooperation. This involves gathering feedback, assessing outcomes, and making any necessary adjustments to the approach.

Another challenge is that individuals may retain their roles regardless of their decision-making track record. This lack of accountability means that there is little repercussion for consistently poor decision-making, and as a result, there may be no improvement in the process.


Building a culture of cooperation in SMEs is a multifaceted and ongoing process. It requires trust, clear goals, defined roles, effective decision-making, and constructive feedback. Systemic Workshop Facilitation offers a structured and inclusive approach to addressing the challenges of cooperation, making it an invaluable tool for SME business transformation.

To learn more about how you can transform your SME through systemic approaches and strategic facilitation, contact me . Let’s collaborate to create a thriving, cooperative environment in your business, paving the way for growth and success.