While you may think that you’re already knocking collaboration out of the park, there are tons of team collaboration best practices that may help you refine what you’re already doing or introduce new concepts into your collaboration strategy.
This blog post introduces the key concepts you’ll need to enhance team collaboration, speaks to why it’s important and identifies some ways your organization might be blocking effective collaboration practices from happening.
Why is collaboration important on a team?
Collaboration is the grease that keeps the wheels of the team rolling smoothly. With disorganized or dysfunctional team collaboration techniques, your team members may do more work than they need to, wasting time and effort on projects that others are already working on or that aren’t maximally impactful. However, there are a few other vital reasons why collaboration is an important, worthwhile focus for your organization.
When you have people with varying perspectives coming together and working on a single issue, you learn and try things you might not otherwise. Without the comfort of being able to communicate openly, bolstered by the efficiency of team collaboration, these types of conversations might not happen.
When team members share core skills amongst themselves, they level up your team as a whole by elevating its parts and creating far more opportunities for cross-education. Get rid of the silos in your team’s training by helping them work more effectively together and improve team collaboration.
The best way to move forward quickly is to point everyone in the same direction. If each of your team members is focused on and prioritizing different things, the team as a whole will be inefficient. Successful team collaboration allows everyone to be on the same page and understand the common end goal that they all share.
One of the best byproducts of collaboration is trust. When your team members know how to work together and understand where everyone is coming from, there is more trust in the work environment. Trust makes it easy to assume positive intent, hear feedback with an open mind, and communicate without fear.
What teams can benefit from better collaboration?
Every team is better off with improved collaboration. Even if your team excels at collaboration, there will always be areas of opportunity. However, some teams will benefit more than others from improvements to their collaboration:
Teams with a lot of internal conflicts
Cross-functional teams or freshly-founded tiger teams
High-impact teams, such as executive or operational teams
Large or complex teams
Any team with additional complexities added to the team structure, such as being bigger or being spread across a few functions, can benefit from extra attention to team collaboration. The more complex the team structure, the more space there is for potential barriers to team collaboration.
What are the barriers to collaboration?
While there are many ways to foster better team collaboration, it’s equally important to pay attention to the barriers to cooperation that your team may face. It is best to identify your team’s barriers, work to improve them first, and then make efforts to enhance collaboration directly.
Here are a few issues you can look for:
Lack of time
When you see struggles with effective team collaboration, one of the first things to check is if your team is strapped for time. If they are burnt out, busy, or struggling with time management, your team is likely not focused on how to be more effective at collaboration.
If your company has a lot of politics in play, it can be difficult for team members to break down barriers for collaboration. Politics add a layer to individual interactions that make them even more challenging to interpret and understand.
Do you have tools that make collaboration easy, or are the products you’re currently using serving as a barrier? Choosing tools for your team that support collaboration is crucial. Talk with your team members and see how they feel about the current tools you are using and if they have any recommendations about ways to make things easier.
A few tools to consider:
Consider your team’s insights on what they need to be most effective when looking into tools. Don’t make assumptions about what does or doesn’t work — always gut check by talking with your team.
Transitioning to a new method of work
If your team has recently transitioned from in-person working to a remote or hybrid work environment, it may be creating barriers to collaboration. All transitions take time and can cause some friction as they become the new normal. If your team is moving to a new working method, it may cause some difficulties in collaboration.
Poor hiring practices
If you are trying to improve collaboration on your team, the best thing you can do is hire people who are also committed to enhancing collaboration. Historically, if you have a fear-driven or risk-averse culture, you may have unconsciously hired people who fit that mold. To transition into a more collaborative culture, you’ll need to make a conscious decision to change.
Build questions into your interview process that will assess people’s collaboration styles and identify if they will help move your team’s goals forward.
Here are some questions to consider using to measure collaborative drive:
Tell me about a time you had to work on a team to accomplish something?
Do you prefer working with a team or working independently?
What role do you usually play on a team?
Tell me about a time you had trouble working with someone and how you resolved it?
What will you contribute to our company culture?
The type of people you bring to your company will be integral in shifting your culture to a more collaborative one.
7 ways to boost team collaboration
Understanding what collaboration can bring to your team and knowing the barriers to moving forward are half the battle to boosting your team’s strategy. Once you’ve shored up what currently exists for your team, you can work to make changes to improve it.
Here are seven things that you can do to boost collaboration on your team:
1. Foster a sense of responsibility
Ownership is so important when it comes to collaboration. When each individual member of the team feels like they have something at stake in the outcome of team-wide initiatives, it makes it much easier for everyone to assume positive intent and move in the same direction.
2. Lead by example
When you’re trying to foster something at a team level that, as the leader, you aren’t currently doing, it may seem untrustworthy to your team. Let your team members see you working collaboratively with other team leads. For instance, as a support leader, you should regularly work with customer success, marketing, and product. If you want them to work collaboratively, step up and do so yourself.
3. Create a judgment-free work environment
Cultivate a workplace where people can feel comfortable trying new things and not having them work as expected. If someone makes a mistake or a project they are working on doesn’t end up as planned, encourage a retrospective attitude. Showing your team that it’s OK to try new things and not have them work out is a great way to cultivate trust and collaboration.
4. Encourage people to get to know each other
While there is nothing worse than a required Zoom social gathering, especially outside of regular work hours, it’s essential that your team members get to know each other. Focus on options that are flexible and don’t require additional time commitments, like icebreakers in team meetings or virtual coffee chats.
5. Have one-on-one coaching
Often when someone is struggling with something, it can feel extra triggering for them to have it addressed in a group setting. While it may be helpful in the long run to have a collaboration meeting as a group, it’s always more effective to start by addressing endemic issues one-on-one. You may even consider hiring a consultant to work with each of your team members.
6. Create a “gift” culture
Contrary to how it may sound, a “gift” culture isn’t a culture where you’re encouraging teammates to buy each other presents. Instead, companies that boast a gift culture encourage their employees to be willing to help out with their time or knowledge when a colleague needs it.
7. Develop focused HR practices
So much of company culture is dictated by what practices your HR team has in place. After all, they are responsible for designing company culture, hiring, and enforcing and championing things like company values.
When HR puts effort into improving team collaboration, they roll those initiatives out at the company level, rather than just to individual team members. When the whole company is focused on collaboration, it is much easier to create change throughout.
Collaboration is helpful for everyone
Whether you feel like your team is already excelling at collaborative work or you’re noticing that you have an opportunity for growth, it never hurts to try to improve. Start by identifying the areas where you may already have blockers for productivity. These blockers could be as small as using the wrong tools or as large as having a fear-driven or risk-averse culture.
Once you figure out where your blockers are, you can start working to enhance things you’re doing well. Most of this work will happen individually, and you can help your people feel more secure and safe in being honest with themselves and coworkers.
Working to improve collaboration is not for the faint of heart, but it will pay back dividends for your business once you nail it.