What Is Workplace Collaboration?
Workplace collaboration involves having your team work together to make decisions and find solutions for a single project or larger processes. Often conducted in group settings, teamwork and collaboration in the workplace support cross-organizational knowledge sharing, efficiency, innovation, and growth.
There are several ways to collaborate, many of which you may already be incorporating into your projects. Here are a few of the most common forms of workplace collaboration:
- Listening actively to the concerns of other team members
- Analyzing problems without assigning blame
- Brainstorming solutions to problems
- Building consensus about goals and processes for group projects
- Compromising when necessary to move the group forward
- Delegating tasks
- Following through with commitments and deadlines
- Forgiving other team members’ mistakes
- Giving credit to other team members for their contributions
- Maintaining a positive attitude and sense of humor
- Being open to new ideas
- Taking responsibility for mistakes
Whether it takes place informally between two or three people or occurs in an official, structured meeting, workplace collaboration is an excellent way to make sure your entire team has the chance to grow and be heard.
Why Is Workplace Collaboration Important?
Workplace collaboration helps foster a positive work culture for every member of a company, from individual employees to upper management. It keeps every team member aligned with their assigned workloads, the end goal of every project, and scheduling needs.
Below are some of the other key benefits of collaboration in the workplace:
- Increased feelings of engagement with tasks
- Stronger interpersonal relationships
- Pooled resources to handle larger tasks and projects
- Improved learning opportunities
- Enhanced understanding of company mission, values, and culture
- Stronger sense of belonging and being valued
- Increased opportunities for innovation
Regardless of the end goal of a collaboration session, the opportunity for cross-team learnings often outweighs any of the lost time.
Keys to Effective Collaboration
Top-performing organizations are 5.5 times more likely to reward and see collaboration efforts from their employees, leading and managing workspace collaboration practices can be difficult for those with limited experience. Luckily, there are multiple ways managers and coworkers can handle the collaboration process quickly and effectively.
- Goal Setting: Understanding the end goal of a collaboration session keeps participants on track, with a clear understanding of what’s needed.
- Communication: Ensure your team is actively in communication with one another in order to keep workflows moving.
- Listening: Active listening means taking the time to truly understand what someone is saying, rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak.
- Problem-solving: Although it may be easy to solve problems on your own, working with team members to brainstorm solutions can lead to more opportunities for growth.
- Time Management: Working together can be productive, but also takes time. Keep a schedule to keep processes from bottlenecking.
- Balanced Participation: When working with large teams, it’s important to make sure everyone has the chance to speak.
- Adaptation: Being open to new situations will allow for more opportunities to solve problems and discover new ideas.
What Are the Five Principles of Effective Collaboration?
Workplace collaboration involves the following five principles: prioritizing efficiency, building trust among your team, encouraging empathy, focusing on clarity, and encouraging accountability. Following these principles will increase the effectiveness of your sessions by ensuring that team members are aligned.
1. Stay Efficient
Although working together can lead to unprecedented innovations, the meetings required for collaboration can take up valuable time. These include both in-person and online meetings, which can go awry if a team is too large.
However, there are some simple tricks to keeping meetings efficient and productive. The first is to ensure that a meeting is truly necessary. This reduces the amount of time that could have been saved by just sending an email. Only include team members who are required to complete the goal of the meeting — doing so gives unnecessary team members time back to focus on value-driving work.
The second is to always include an agenda. These running lists of working items or desired goals and questions provide structure and can help keep conversations focused and intentional.
The third tactic is assigning roles and responsibilities to each team member equally. This ensures that the entire agenda is addressed, and that the team can make the most of their time together.
2. Build Trust Among Your Team
Working with others can be difficult without a work culture that values trust. When coworkers trust each other, they are more likely to be open to honest conversations, constructive feedback, and building on each other’s ideas. Trust is also critical for keeping egos in check and feelings from being hurt.
Although intangible, the effect trust has on relationships between coworkers is critical to foster open, constructive collaboration that leads to results. If your team currently doesn’t trust each other, it may be worth spending time building team bonds and nurturing closer interpersonal relationships first.
3. Encourage Empathy
Just like trust, empathy within your team’s culture is also vital in building collaborative relationships. Work situations can often be tense, and like all areas of life, there’s always the chance that feelings can be hurt.
However, spending time with coworkers can also naturally lead to teammates developing empathy for one another. The more familiar you become with a person, the more likely you are to learn about them and their experiences. In turn, the relationship can lead to more pleasant interactions with each other and more understanding when times are tough.
4. Focus on Clarity
Although it may seem like a given, bringing clarity to every interaction is also key to effectively managing productive workplace collaboration. This can include written or verbal communication, and may require a clear definition before any project begins.
For example, imagine bringing a team of five together to brainstorm how to help an account be more productive. If each team member has a different idea of what “productive” looks like for that account, you may end up with a wide range of answers that do not match. Setting clear standards from the beginning of the interaction allows for increased alignment and effectiveness.
5. Encourage Accountability
Similar to trust and empathy, having a team that values accountability will also make the collaboration process more productive and fruitful. When each team member is held accountable, they understand what’s expected of them to make a project successful.
Accountability also helps team members feel valued and reduces the possibility of feeling overworked. When everyone understands what they’re responsible for, it becomes clear how work is distributed equally.
Examples of Collaboration in the Workplace
Collaboration can take many forms and can vary in method, team size, and even end goal. However, there are some basic practices — group brainstorming, mixed-skill teams, and open discussion— that many teams may follow when they’re ready to work together.
This is an opportunity for all team members to share their ideas and ask questions in an effort so you can make decisions that reflect everyone’s input. This is one of the most elementary forms of collaboration, but is effective in improving communication and building trust within teams.
While it might seem counterintuitive, designing teams with a range of skills and skill levels can actually strengthen your performance. By intentionally selecting workers with varied backgrounds, you invite fresh ideas and also increase the probability of reaching a diverse audience.
As opposed to the traditional “lecture” style, center your in-person meetings on discussion. This helps break down hierarchical boundaries, keeps everyone engaged, and can lead to more productive meetings.
4 Collaboration Tools for Success
While you can implement collaboration with any level of technology, several tools have emerged to increase the success and speed of collaboration. This can include physical collaboration tools (whiteboards, physical mind maps) or web-based tools that make remote collaboration simple.
Here’s a list of the most popular collaboration tools you can use to get started:
- File Sharing: Rather than creating and storing multiple versions of a document, share a single, live file with team members and any external stakeholders so everyone can collaborate in real time.
- Instant Messaging: IM tools make it easier to stay connected, communicate quickly, and log important conversations without the clunkiness of an email inbox.
- Video Conferencing: Particularly beneficial for remote teams, video conferencing allows everyone to stay connected, display work via screen share, or converse on side chats.
- Social Media: Similar to instant messaging, social media platforms can also be used to collaborate organically with teams. However, this tool is less conventional and may come with restrictions.
Technology has had a huge impact on virtual teams, which rely on online collaboration tools more than physically centralized teams. However, as new communication and workplace technology develops, collaborating both in-person and remotely will continue to benefit from the interactiveness, documentation, and flexibility that digital collaboration tools will bring to the table.
Challenges of Collaboration in the Workplace
Despite the many benefits, introducing collaborative practices can be difficult. Below is a list of common challenges that arise when implementing collaborative practices, as well as possible ways to overcome them:
- Current Workplace Practices: Workplace collaboration is often at odds with a more traditional workplace structure, such as one with stricter divisions of work or an authoritative management style. Employees might resist change, so phase in collaborative practices over time for a smoother transition.
- Different Starting Position: Not every employee will be comfortable adopting the new practices, and not every team will be able to incorporate them in the same way. Design a flexible implementation strategy so that collaboration works for everyone.
- More Complex Decision Making: With more people involved, decision making can become more complicated. Maintain strong leadership, and keep clear, coherent direction.
- Slow Cost Savings: Although cost savings are an advertised benefit of workplace collaboration, don’t expect to reap monetary benefits overnight. Be patient and you’ll see results over time.
- Strong Senses of Individuality: If your organization values individuality or if you have many strong personalities on a team, collaboration may be met with some resistance. Create teams with people who complement each other so you can avoid power struggles.
- Measuring Return on Investments (ROI): Collaboration ROI can be difficult to measure empirically, so take time to define the metrics you want to track.
Of course, don’t assume that collaboration itself will solve all of your business problems. You’ll still likely need to institute a project management system to keep your work on track.
Best Practices for a Collaborative Culture
Fostering the right culture in your team starts from the team’s foundation. If you’re strategic in the way you set up and support your team, you will be more likely to experience productive collaboration down the line.
Now that you know the benefits, challenges, and some common approaches and tools for stimulating a workplace collaboration, it’s time to put it into practice. But implementing collaborative practices — especially for organizations that are resistant to change — is difficult. Here is some advice on how to build collaborative teams from the ground up.
- Encourage Executive Support: Collaborative communities are best supported by executive buy-in, which can be demonstrated through collaboration among the executive teams themselves.
- Include HR: Human resources teams can wear a lot of different hats within an organization, including sourcing talent, supporting organization networking, and hosting regular reviews and mentoring opportunities that support connectivity and collaboration.
- Find Effective Team Leaders: Ensuring your team has managers who can effectively float between the six effective management styles is key to ensuring employee engagement and openness to new processes like collaboration.
- Use Existing Foundations: Collaboration often happens authentically when teams are composed of heritage relationships (pre-existing work connections). Take advantage of the natural relationships that form among peers to create groups of employees who will naturally collaborate with each other.
- Allow Autonomy: However, it’s important not to force collaboration. People are most empowered when they have clearly defined and delineated roles, and can maintain some autonomy.
From laying out responsibilities to managing teams or pods, collaboration works best with strategic planning from the beginning.
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