Collaboration is one of those words that is, well, not exactly scientific. For some, collaboration just means “working together” or simply “getting along.” Some define collaboration as a process by which teams work across disciplines to share knowledge and foster innovation. For others, collaborating means you’re using team collaboration tools that help you communicate or chat virtually or socially, so you can share ideas or work anywhere.
In truth, it’s actually a combination of all three.
According to a recent study, just the perception of working together results in greater performance for teams. The Forbes article about the benefits of team collaboration, noted that companies that “promoted collaborative working were five times as likely to be high performing.” No wonder collaboration is a buzzword! Getting better performance is one idea we can all agree on.
But how do get your team to collaborate in order to reap the benefits of better team unity and performance? The problem is, team collaboration comes naturally to some teams, not so much to others, but thankfully it’s a skill that can be taught. We’ve put together these tips for implementing and promoting collaboration with your teams.
1. Build Trust
Trust is the foundation of collaboration. It’s vital that individual contributors feel free to share ideas and get meaningful, constructive feedback, and it’s equally important that on the team-level, ideas are shared, not fought over.
It can be hard to shift institutional prejudices, especially in a culture where teams are encouraged to compete with one another. That will have to change. While you can’t maybe lead an entire organizational change to foster collaboration, you can start with one team, and demonstrate its success, before rolling it out to other teams.
Begin by seeking team input on ideas for promoting collaborative ways of working, and ask for them to help define the goals and opportunities. You can’t lead this from the top down. You’ll find that their perspective is unique and different than yours, and they can offer solutions that might be beyond your keen. This is how you seed a collaborative culture in your team.
2. Create Partnerships
Collaboration is about creating team unity, and that starts with getting people together. There are many ways you can build teams within your larger team. Partner up people across disciplines. This helps people get out of their comfort zone, and helps bridge communications across departments.
For example, you could partner up a dev lead with a marketing lead and ask them to find a solution to product market fit. Or you could partner several junior devs with several junior customer support members, and ask them to engineer a solution to slow customer response times. Both teams can present their findings in bi-weekly meetings designed to bring forward ideas from every team member.
While not every idea will be implemented, some innovative ideas very well might! The goal of the exercise is to engage the whole team in core ways to solve problems and find solutions to every aspect of the business or project and potentially leverage cost-effective solutions that are more innovative. And in the process, the teams are developing core, trusting relationships with other teams which, in turn, can dramatically improve communication and efficiency across all of their work.
3. Share Knowledge
Timelines and morale both suffer, when team members are blocked from getting the info they need from other team members or departments. Requests for documents become chores for both the requester and the requestee, which can lead to interpersonal conflict and resentments.
Conversely, when knowledge is freely shared, team members have more time to work with that knowledge and are less encumbered by process. Team members can then focus on ways to work together, rather than ways to just answer requests.
One easy way to do this is through a central document repository, where all the online files can be easily retrieved anytime by anyone on the team. While many teams today do share an online dropbox or file storage with the whole team, they still might be shy from sharing works in progress or things at the idea stage. Those people still place those items on their desktop or personal folders, and don’t think of sharing those until “they’re ready.”
The question is, ready for what? Ideas are what foster collaboration and innovation. Share ideas and you can spark new programs or simple fixes from someone you least expect.
Instead of just uploading files and hoping someone comes along to read them. Try a more proactive approach. Ask for feedback! Share on a team bulletin board or wiki and share raw ideas and just invite feedback. Passing around these early ideas often leads to time-saving solutions later.
4. Use Team Collaboration Tools
There are many new collaborative tools and tricks you can explore to find new ways to encourage collaboration. But for starters, you want to make sure your team are all using the same tools so you can leverage the benefits (and reduce unnecessary costs).
There are several types of tools you can use to support team collaboration, but remember, tools alone will not get your team to reap the true, productivity benefits of collaboration. But they do help if you know how to leverage them. Here are the different collaboration software options you can choose from:
- All in one project & team collaboration tool
- Chat apps
- Wikis or team discussion boards
- Online document storage
- Shared documents
Sharing is so embedded in most tools and apps these days, it’s tempting to think of collaboration technology as the ability to simply share something. But that’s not quite it. For a tool to be collaborative, it needs to be able to foster a conversation, either on a task or a document or around a topic.
Chat apps are simple ways to have a conversation, like through text messaging or group chat apps like Twitter, Slack or Skype. And those are great tools to be able to add groups or teams to one single conversation. When you’re looking for feedback or input from an outside group, like stakeholders or end users, using social media tools like Facebook or Twitter are a great way to get buy-in and valuable insights. Internally, you might set up chat groups with teams or partners to create an ongoing dialog.
Shared documents and or wikis offer an excellent way for teams to add value to ongoing projects in the idea or execution phase. You can, in most tools, @someone or invite them to the shared document to inspire commenting or feedback on the page. If you’re an editor like me, it can be uncomfortable to share your work with the larger group when it’s not “polished,” but if you put “Draft” in large letters across the top, it’s pretty clear to collaborators that they’re seeing a doc in progress.
The benefit of an all-in-one project collaboration tool is that you usually get all those features in one tool, and it’s tied to the team’s actual work like tasks. This helps keep task-level collaboration together with the project, as opposed to opening up a new program to chat about it outside of the project space. So much information and knowledge in organizations is lost because teams either have email conversations or chats in programs not connected to the project work. Productivity is greatly improved when you try an all-in-one tool.