The foundation of every company is its people, and a solid team can make the difference between a successful company and a struggling business. Hiring the right people is a great start, but once you’ve put together a great team, one key factor that determines your success is how well your team collaborates, especially when you are working remotely.
It’s a mistake to assume that you can bring together a bunch of talented individuals and they’ll be able to work together smoothly. Collaboration is a skill and one that every team can continuously improve.
Consider what can happen when there is a lack of teamwork:
To help your business avoid any of these undesirable situations, here are a few tips to help your team develop their collaboration skills.
1. Model collaborative behavior
As a leader, you set the example for the rest of your team. If you emphasize through both your words and actions the importance of collaboration, your team will follow suit.
Encourage other leaders in your organization to do so as well. Once they embody that approach, then they can apply it with their own teams, and the effect will trickle down through the entire company, creating a culture of collaboration.
2. Cultivate connection and trust
People collaborate more quickly when they find similarities and common ground with others.
One way to help build connections amongst team members is to sponsor or suggest group events and activities beyond the immediate work environment. By creating opportunities for your team to get to know each other in different settings, you can strengthen personal connections and pave the way for smoother collaboration.
In addition to social events, occasional company team-building exercises are also useful. These exercises are designed specifically to build trust amongst coworkers and teach collaboration strategies your team can apply to their daily work.
3. Clearly define roles and responsibilities
Though it may seem contradictory, giving people clearly defined roles and responsibilities will help them collaborate. Assigning everyone individual responsibilities lets them take charge of the tasks on their list and seek others to fill in the gaps. It is impossible to work with others if you don’t know their skills and abilities. By defining roles and responsibilities, you provide your team with a map of people with the skills and knowledge needed to complement and complete the work they are doing.
When roles are not clear, the team ends up spending time and energy determining how to divide tasks, often leading to redundant activity and muddled workflows.
4. Practice healthy disagreement
If you want to improve team collaboration, it is necessary to consider different options and come to an agreement. However, you can’t have a productive discussion without some disagreement.
When handled well, disagreement pushes people to expand their view of a situation and leads to more comprehensive conclusions. When handled poorly, disagreement can derail a discussion and hinder collaboration.
Teach your team strategies about how to disagree productively. For example:
- Listening as much as speaking
- Acknowledging other’s arguments
- Being respectful and professional
- Trying not to make things personal
- Picking your battles and having to compromise
5. Create learning opportunities
When you create learning opportunities for your team, you push them out of their comfort zone, forcing them to seek each other out and work together to accomplish the given challenge.
By creating opportunities both to lead and follow, everyone experiences what it means to work in various roles within a group and what it takes to work together.
Another strategy is to organize team brainstorming sessions. The foundation of brainstorming is collaboration: because the team starts with an end goal but is working without the usually defined parameters of their daily tasks, they really have to listen to each other to discuss and work off others’ ideas.
6. Organize mentoring opportunities
Establishing a formal mentoring process sets the expectation that team members make themselves available to help and advise their colleagues.
As part of formalizing the process, you might want to consider creating a mentoring calendar or encouraging each mentor to create their own schedule based on given requirements or recommendations. For example, they might set up weekly meetings with their mentee to see if things are going well and which tasks are causing them problems.
7. Assess your current tools
Collaboration is impossible without communication, and certain tools can help facilitate the mutual understanding necessary for smooth workflows.
One way to improve your team’s collaboration skills is to make it easier for them to communicate. The purpose of any tool is to make things easier for the user, so make sure your communication tools are helping and not hindering your team.
First, take stock of the tools that you are using and identify any pain points in the team communication flow. Once you have a sense of what is working and what is not, you can create strategies to fix the issues (which could be a great team exercise in collaboration, as well).
8. Try new communication tools
Sometimes, the issue with a tool is the result of human error. The tool may be misused or just not used to its full capabilities. Other times, however, the tool is not up to the task that you require. When that happens, it’s time to look into some new tools that will facilitate team communication and make it easier to collaborate.
9. Be transparent
A culture of transparency is crucial for a collaborative environment. Part of collaboration is being able to ask for help when you need it, which requires openly recognizing each person’s abilities, limitations, and needs. A couple of ways to instill a culture of transparency include:
- Communicating changes and decisions early and regularly
- Providing positive and negative feedback to your team in the moment
- Acknowledging your own limitations and ask for your team’s input to address challenges
10. Break down barriers
In any collection of people, groups inevitably form. People will seek out others who have similar interests, who are doing similar work, or who come from similar backgrounds.
These groups are helpful and provide support and camaraderie, which can foster productivity. However, groups can become siloed. A leader needs to be aware of the groups that exist among their team to ensure that they are promoting positive collaboration rather than separating people.
When a subset of your team starts to exclude others, you need to step in and shake things up by mixing up project teams, scheduling team-building activities, or having a conversation with those involved about the effect that their actions are having on the entire team.
The ability to collaborate is a skill that is useful in any environment and requires adjusting to each unique situation. Learning collaboration skills is an ongoing process, and there is always room for improvement. As a team leader, it’s important to take the time to listen to your team as everyone collaborates in different ways. What works for one person might not work for everyone. There will always be room for improvement.
Whether you are putting together a new team, switching to remote collaboration, or just hoping to improve your existing team’s collaboration skills, use these tips to get your team working together like a well-oiled machine.