To ensure that your teams use collaboration in the most effective way possible, you’re going to have to nurture their collaboration skills.
In an era when remote work is the norm, doing so becomes more challenging than it's ever been. However, the rewards of effectively using collaboration in the workplace make all that hard work worthwhile.
When teams collaborate, they generate better ideas and more innovative solutions because they're harnessing their collective brainpower with a laser-sharp intensity on a common objective.
Here are nine keys to effective team collaboration:
1. Being open-minded
If you’re ever going to become an effective collaborator, you’re going to need to be able to be open-minded enough to embrace startling new ideas.
Anytime you walk into a conference room to collaborate with teammates, you’ll encounter brains chock full of opinions on how the project should proceed. Your brain needs to be receptive enough not to reject the ideas the first time it hears them.
Those who are a little more hesitant about accepting new ways of looking at a problem could set up mental roadblocks that could make it challenging to collaborate.
However, individuals who have an innate curiosity will flourish in this kind of creative chaos. That’s why if you’re a manager, it’s crucial to find ways to cultivate curiosity in your employees.
Start every meeting with a reminder that you want to foster a climate where everyone can fearlessly put forth innovative ideas without being confronted with an avalanche of criticism and ridicule. Ideas in their early stages are fragile and must be given enough time and space to flourish.
Questions can be asked if they arise from a place of intense curiosity and not from any egoic need to make the participant look important at others' expense.
2. Fantastic communication
Another crucial component of effective collaboration is clear communication.
Everybody must be able to express themselves to one another in a completely unambiguous way. Each employee has a different communication style, and all must be honored if collaboration is going to be effective.
Don’t discount a person’s thoughts just because he has difficulty expressing them.
If someone doesn't feel comfortable communicating in a group setting, find a way to accommodate that communication preference, so everyone's voice is heard.
For example, someone who’s painfully shy might prefer written communication over its verbal counterpart. By failing to allow everyone to speak in their preferred communication style, your most outspoken team members will upstage everyone else.
An important voice will be stifled.
Collaboration only works when every single voice is heard. A collaborative workplace is one where everyone throughout the organization has a voice, is on equal footing, and can contribute their abilities and skills to the project at hand.
Another excellent way to give everyone a voice is to find an intranet platform or collaboration tool that everyone at your company can use.
Trello is one such tool.
It’s a way to collaborate by organizing your projects into boards. Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.
3. Create psychological safety
If team members cannot treat each other with respect, there can be no true collaboration.
Respect creates a sense of psychological safety, which is essential when people put their idea on the line.
People don’t want to be afraid to speak up because the response is invariably going to be “God, that was such a stupid idea!” or something like that.
Fostering empathy among all the participants is another way to create that sense of safety. This involves trying to understand your co-workers' narratives about themselves, such as the challenges they face every day and what gets them out of bed every morning.
Feeling that you're the only one on the planet with a demanding job isn't going to help you build rapport with your fellow team members. It's time to step in their shoes and see the world from their eyes.
However, it’s possible to go too far in the other direction. Trying to cram your social calendar with outings done with workplace friends isn’t the best way to accomplish the objective.
Building rapport is best done in the field—which in this case, is at the office. It requires learning to trust your colleagues and lots of practice.
Get that practice in, and collaboration will soon become second nature!
4. Healthy debate
There’s no way you can become an effective collaborator unless you’re able to energetically debate ideas with other team members without becoming angry and overheated.
Good debate is the driver of innovation. Unless you're capable of doing it civilly, you're ignoring one of your best collaboration tools. When you become too emotionally invested in your opinions, effective debate becomes impossible.
If you’re a leader, you need to facilitate a climate where there are ground rules and expectations so that healthy debate doesn’t become impolite.
5. More efficient meetings
Run meetings more efficiently if you want to become a world-class collaborator.
Meetings that don’t have a tight focus are productivity killers and make effective collaboration all but impossible. Write your agenda down and stick to it and start and end your meetings precisely on time.
During the meeting, make it crystal clear how each person will contribute to the project.
That's because, without clearly defined responsibilities, chaos and anarchy will reign. This will undermine your collaborative efforts.
Everyone walks into a meeting with their own priorities and agendas. By identifying those things up front, you'll know where everyone is coming from. This makes it easier to reach a consensus.
Because no project that was ever conceived by a human mind went precisely as planned, you're going to have to be endlessly adaptable to changing circumstances.
While it's a skill that needs to be in the toolbox of all effective collaborators, it's challenging to teach. Supervisors should lead by example by staying calm when the unforeseen raises its ugly head.
Focus on the next steps to show your team what it's like to be a collaborator who isn’t reactive and instead goes with the flow.
7. Long-term thinking
The ability to think long-term is yet another building block of effective collaborators. When collaborating with others, you'll need to be able to clearly envision the result of all your hard work.
To make it meaningful on a personal level, you’ll need to see how your contributions fit into the overall goal. This means being fully aware of the project’s scope and everyone’s role in it.
The more you know about its scope, the better you’ll be able to do your part to bring it to fruition. Managers can help you to do this by explaining in precise detail why the project is being undertaken.
8. Active listening
Suppose you want to understand how everyone's goals are aligned in a collaborative project. In that case, you'll need to brush up on your active listening skills.
That’s the ability to listen without carrying on your own internal dialogue. When you do that, you’re not hearing what the other has to say.
When we’re engaged in conversation with another human being, we’re often just impatiently waiting for them to finish what they’re saying so we can express our opinion. When we're in this frame of mind, we're not really communicating—it’s just two people standing in a room engaged in consecutive monologue.
Be mindful when you're talking to others. Then, you can find out if you're actually hearing the other person or only talking past them.
You want to learn from your teammates, and not just endlessly blab so you can get what you want.
9. One-on-one conversations
We tend to overcomplicate things in the information age by filtering our communications through too many digital channels.
This is a recipe for confusion.
Say you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure where you fit into the collaboration puzzle, and the new-fangled digital channels are failing to clear away the mind-deadening fog. In that case, it’s time to pick up the phone and make a quick call.
Nine times out of ten, this simple action can make things crystal clear again.
- Disagree and Commit
“Disagree and commit” is used when the team has decided to focus on one project, but an individual member of the team thinks it should be doing something else.
The strategy allows an employee to have his objection heard while moving the project forward. This technique is often used by Amazon.
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