A successful workforce needs to be a lot of things — creative, driven, and productive. But there is one vital skill that far too many employers (and employees) forget: collaboration.
People who are good collaborators are the glue that makes work work. When your team collaborates effectively, it not only improves processes and outcomes, but also the work experience itself — for everyone involved.
Learning to collaborate is key if you want your business to be successful. But how do you foster a collaborative atmosphere? Let’s talk about the skills your team needs and how to develop them.
The benefits of team collaboration
Before we can talk about the “how” of collaboration, let’s take a closer look at the “why.” Teams who collaborate effectively reap huge benefits, leading to more significant results for their organization. Here are a few positives you can expect as your team improves its collaboration practices.
The workplace brings together people of various ages, experiences, and walks of life. Each employee brings a diverse perspective to everything they do, so two team members might approach the same problem differently. When your team is practicing collaboration in the workplace, you can harness everyone’s perspectives for practical and creative problem-solving.
More teaching and learning
In the words of John Donne, “no man is an island.” When employees don’t collaborate, everyone misses opportunities for teaching or learning. Remember, today’s workforce spans four generations, and everyone has something to learn from each other.
Higher employee engagement
Think back to your school days and the old “group project.” Too often, one person took charge and did most of the work while everyone else lounged around waiting for their grade. Or, there were opposing viewpoints on how to handle the work, with no concrete steps to get alignment across your team. You probably grew frustrated and resentful if you were the person doing the work. If you were the person waiting, you were simply bored with the project. If alignment was the issue, you may not have known what, exactly, to work on.
You don’t want your employees to feel those emotions, so make sure everyone collaborates to improve engagement throughout your team.
Connection with remote and hybrid workers
Hybrid workers, or employees that have the opportunity to work from home at least once a week, face unique challenges. This flexibility is great for employees’ personal lives, mental health, and more — but can often lead to gaps in communication and project alignment if hybrid collaboration isn’t designed or taken into consideration. Effectively designed team collaboration (coupled with the right tools) makes it possible for remote and hybrid workers to do it from anywhere and should ensure your in-house employees can seamlessly work with anyone across the organization.
Collaboration yields greater efficiency and productivity. A study from Stanford University found that people who work collaboratively are 50% more effective than those who work individually.
7 collaboration skills your team needs to succeed
Regardless of what type of company you work for, your team likely needs to work together to succeed. Here are the specific collaboration skills you’ll need:
We mentioned earlier that the average work environment is quite diverse. This means your colleague might have a vastly different perspective than you on any given problem — and that’s actually a very good thing. Different perspectives yield fresh insights and creative solutions. But your team can only benefit from those perspectives if they keep an open mind.
Anytime your team attacks a problem, remind employees to hear others’ ideas and give constructive feedback, without judgment or dismissal (this is especially important when brainstorming). Remind them that teamwork is about building on everyone’s suggestions and that together they can create the best possible solution. Not only will this approach improve your team’s collaboration efforts, but also it’ll help them learn and grow as teammates.
Communication skills are a must-have in any office, but they become even more critical in a collaborative environment. Team members must be able to explain their ideas to one another (both in-person and remotely) for others to join in and collaborate.
It’s also important for your team to practice active listening during group discussions. This helps your team absorb information and indicates to others that their ideas are valuable and respected, establishing a productive and positive working relationship for everyone.
Related: 5 Tips to Take More Effective Meeting Notes
Even the best-laid plans can go sideways when you least expect it. Priority shifts at the company, unexpected delays, or even team switch-ups can take your well-oiled collaboration machine and knock everything out of sync. But when that happens, a collaborative team will fall back on another soft skill: adaptability.
An adaptable team will take their setbacks straight to the drawing board and build a new path forward with their new circumstances in mind. It’s not easy (and it requires a lot of trust in your teammates), but this skill can spell the difference between a harried work environment and one that runs smoothly.
One of the most extraordinary things about today’s workplace is how people in the office, at home, and even in different countries come together and work toward a common goal. But collaborating with people scattered around the globe requires a long digital-paper trail, making organization essential for good collaboration.
Proper organization in the age of hybrid work requires collaboration tools that allow everyone to communicate, keep track of workflows, and facilitate brainstorming with multiple team members, no matter their location.
5. Time management
Successful collaboration isn’t just about what you do when you’re in a meeting or brainstorming session — it’s also about the steps you take to manage your own time.
Effective time management is about employees understanding what they can reasonably take and communicating that to their team members. There’s a mutual obligation here: Employees need to be transparent and realistic about their availability, and their team needs to respect their honesty and delegate tasks accordingly. If everyone manages their time appropriately, teams can minimize hiccups in their project timeline.
Related: How to Create Effective Meeting Agendas
Creativity is at the heart of any collaborative process. After all, that’s what collaboration is: taking many people’s ideas and points of view and finding a creative way to implement them for a greater purpose. Employees must approach every project with a creative mindset.
A creative mindset uses many of the teamwork skills discussed here, like open-mindedness and adaptability. It also uses the organizational tools at your disposal, finding new ways to present ideas or solve problems. If you put these skills into practice and add a healthy dose of imagination, your team can develop astounding solutions.
Workplace collaboration relies on the ability to build trust. Your team needs to believe that each member can manage the assignments delegated to them — or else you’ll have 10 people trying to tackle a project in 10 different ways.
Trust is a skill that comes with time, but there are ways you can facilitate trust in your colleagues. First, create a supportive working environment where everyone has the opportunity to be heard and express concerns as needed, without fear of retribution for going against the grain. This is commonly known as psychological safety. Second, offer complete transparency when approaching a project, from time constraints to creative blocks. The more your team understands and supports one another, the more trust you can develop.
Related: How to build trust within a team
How to improve your team collaboration skills
If you know collaboration is important but your team still hasn’t quite mastered it, don’t worry — here are some ways to improve those skills.
Approach change (and compromise) positively
Collaboration is an exercise in compromise. In a proper team environment, it’s unlikely that every one of your ideas will be a winning solution. But if you want to work together effectively, it’s critical to accept changes and compromises with a positive attitude. Remember, the team’s success is your success — even if you go with someone else’s idea.
Improve your self-awareness
Understanding your colleagues’ communication style, availability, how they work best, and more are vital to effective collaboration. But before you can realize those traits in others, you must understand them in yourself. Pay attention to how you respond to specific workplace scenarios (like deadlines or brainstorming meetings), or ask others for their feedback. Learning more about yourself can help you leverage your skill set within your team.
Learn to state objectives
This may seem like common sense, but it bears repeating: Tell your colleagues what you’re doing. If you want to reach a particular metric or meet a certain deadline, make sure everyone working with you knows! This will help everyone rally around a common goal, making every collaborative project more successful. And if they can’t contribute to the project, they can leave you to work in peace.
Be selective about where and how you collaborate
When embarking on a collaborative project, it’s important to have a strong sense of where you’ll collaborate (what space or platform you’ll use), and how you’ll work together (how you design your collaboration). While there has been much chatter about the importance of random accidents around the water cooler, collaboration isn’t something that just happens because you have an open floor plan.
By being intentional about both the where and the how, you’ll avoid leaving collaboration to chance. Using the right approaches and tools will make a difference in your collaborative efforts, especially if you have a remote or hybrid workforce. It’s much easier to work with a group when everyone can brainstorm, reference workflows, plan project goals, and everything else that makes your team successful.
With the acquisition of LUMA Institute, MURAL combines the collaboration space — a shared, digital platform where everyone’s voice is heard, allowing for more engaging and effective meetings — with proven, guided methods that have a direct impact on outcomes.
While most collaboration skills develop at the personal or team level, it’s also essential to have a company culture that celebrates this skill. If your project is a success, point out the “team effort” and offer congratulations. Celebrate employee diversity and unique perspectives, and make sure everyone has a seat at the table and a voice. Recognize individual contributions, but focus your kudos on the fact everyone worked together to achieve this milestone.
Examples of collaborative working
Now that we’ve discussed the skills you need for successful collaboration let’s consider how it looks in practice. Here are some examples of collaboration skills in action that you can start implementing with your team today.
- Group brainstorming: Start every project with a brainstorming meeting that allows everyone to voice their ideas. Don’t allow anyone to dismiss any suggestions during this meeting, and allow every team member to speak. Once everyone has had a chance to share, you can work together to find the best solution to meet your goal.
- Document sharing: If your team is creating documents for a project, let everyone review the documents and offer suggestions. This can help set realistic timelines, facilitate discussion or creative development, and keep team expectations properly aligned.
- Peer training: One great way to encourage collaboration is to ask senior employees to train new colleagues. This helps build trust from an employee’s first day and allows more experienced workers to share their unique knowledge and expertise.
The bottom line
The teamwork and collaboration examples above are vital for a productive, efficient, and engaged workforce — but they’ll only work if your team knows how to collaborate. Luckily, it is possible to learn these skills and improve them over time so anyone can become a more collaborative worker.
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