7 Steps to Improve Collaboration on Your Team
By Amanda Kelly
Effective collaboration achieves what no single team member can on her own. As business magnate Richard Branson said, “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” The best collaborations do this—optimize each person’s skills by utilizing suggestions from around the table, inspiring cooperation and creative buy-in from all involved.
- Aggregate and adapt: Any good project manager will bring ideas and plans to the table. The most collaborative will be highly skilled at weaving in the suggestions, ideas and goals of their team for a best-of fusion. Complex, multidisciplinary projects need to employ agile methodologies, involving innovation from all stakeholders and parties to succeed. The use of real-time data to help participants understand what is and isn’t working allows adjustments to be made on the fly. Successful collaboration is an aggregate of the best ideas while remaining adaptive and flexible.
Listen first: An effective collaborator knows how to bridge differing ideas into workable solutions. Getting to the root of any new concept or suggestion involves active listening, and listening actively to everyone with a stake in the outcome before mapping a course. Active listening includes giving feedback to confirm and clarify the information that was shared, and having a discussion in real time. A great collaborator will be able to respond most effectively once all parties have been heard. Team members want to feel valued, and being heard is where being valued begins.
Energize: The best collaborators assume that others are working smart and working hard. An effective and collaborative leader can bring inspiration and energy into a meeting room or conversation by helping team members feel valued. They sincerely express appreciation for a job well done. When criticism is offered thoughtfully and in the spirit of “your work is important to this project’s success,” effective collaboration becomes second nature. Talking about issues that need to be addressed can be done in a way that gets the team motivated about what’s possible. A motivated, energized team is a project’s strongest asset.
Remain open: Great collaborators always keep an open mind and know that brilliant ideas come from the unexpected. Openness is also crucial in building an atmosphere of trust. Workplace relationships are successful when employees are comfortable enough to voice concerns and make suggestions. Satisfied employees comfortably voice concerns and ask questions, and they know where to find the answers. Remaining open to new ideas, accomplishments and thoughtful critique empowers the entire team. The result: Faster problem-solving, healthier teamwork, greater trust and ultimately improved performance.
Be transparent: The most effective collaborators are less concerned with titles and roles than they are with solutions. If a fantastic suggestion is made they give credit where credit is due, regardless of source. Furthermore, effective collaborators clearly define expectations and share information across the board. Clear and inclusive communication allows team members to know that they matter enough to be told the truth. Sharing details with the team increases a sense of workplace community, and adds to the spirit of collaboration. Teams thrive in environments that encourage trial and error and encourage participation.
Have fun! Plato is credited with saying that you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. An organization or project is more successful when morale, motivation and trust are high. Having fun together—from Tuesday lunches to a bowling night to meetings where humor and optimism have their place—make a positive difference in helping team members from different parts of any project feel connected. Healthy environments incorporate appropriate camaraderie-building events and attitudes, fostering a sense of connectedness and accountability that goes beyond schedules and deadlines.
Transcend insularity: The most effective collaborators will know that the strongest parts make up the strongest whole. Workgroups have a tendency to silo. But the workplace of today is best served by operating without boundaries. So instead, make collaboration the goal and hold each member of the team accountable for their participation.
Sustained dialogue, frequent opportunities to connect through technology and a mutual sense of purpose will help collaboration become second nature. Look for common ground and emerging issues of mutual interest, and encourage team members to connect and discuss.