Collaboration has become a critical component of work in recent years. Despite half of people spending over nine hours every week collaborating, 51% believe they aren’t doing it well. Unproductive meetings, misalignment across teams, and unclear priorities are only making things more difficult.
This is where a culture of collaboration can come into play. In this guide, we’ll introduce what a culture of collaboration actually means and give you some tips and frameworks to start building a collaborative work culture of your own.
What is a culture of collaboration?
A culture of collaboration is an environment in which individuals and teams come together to achieve common goals, share ideas, build on each other's strengths, and solve complex problems. A collaborative culture involves communication, trust, respect, and a willingness to work together.
In the right collaborative culture, collaboration is seen as a key driver of success, and team members are empowered to contribute their ideas, skills, and expertise toward achieving team goals.
Characteristics of a collaborative culture
What makes collaboration work is when individuals are encouraged to communicate openly and honestly and are empowered to take ownership of their work while working together towards shared goals. The focus is on building strong relationships, creating a supportive work environment, and fostering a sense of shared purpose among team members.
Overall, a collaborative organization will see increased productivity, fewer information silos, better decision-making, and a more engaged and motivated workforce. With almost half of employees reporting they leave their jobs due to poor collaboration, this affects retention as well.
Successful collaboration can also create a more inclusive workplaces where individuals feel valued, supported, and comfortable contributing their skill sets to the success of the team and the organization as a whole.
Collaboration doesn’t grow in a vacuum, however. Team leads, managers, and leadership teams play an important role in building an environment where team members feel safe, supported, and encouraged by their work and their peers. Here are a few ways you can build a positive culture around team collaboration.
How to build a culture of collaboration
Lead by example
As a team leader, you should model the behaviors you want to see in your team. Make sure you are open to feedback, collaborative in your decision-making, and actively seek out opportunities to work with others. Model the collaborative process in your leadership and in team meetings.
One way you can do this is by building feedback structures into your team’s workflow. I like, I wish, I wonder is a creative way to approach feedback in a constructive and non-defensive way. It focuses on each person’s individual experiences of a collaborative work session and focuses your energy on improving for the future. Try it as a project retrospective or as part of your coaching sessions.
Foster open communication
Individuals collaborate better when they feel safe sharing their ideas. They listen to each other’s contributions when they have built strong team relationships. Encourage open communication channels where team members can share their ideas, feedback, and concerns on a daily basis. This could include regular collaborative team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, or anonymous suggestion boxes.
An approach that can encourage open communication during brainstorming and ideation sessions is using “yes, and…” In improv, actors are taught that they can build a scene together better when they “yes, and” their scene partner’s ideas instead of rejecting them. A “no” doesn’t give a scene anywhere to go, but rolling with what your partner presents and building on it keeps the energy flowing.
The same principle applies to work collaboration. Ask your team to throw out ideas without self-censoring or critiquing each other’s ideas yet. Get everything on the table, building off each other’s ideas with a “yes, and…” You’ll often find that you’ll come up with more innovative ideas and naturally arrive at a mutual conclusion while still giving everyone a chance to express their thoughts positively.
Try building on other's ideas with the How might we brainstorm template
Establish common goals
Establishing common goals can help align everyone towards a shared objective and create a more collaborative environment. Team members and stakeholders will be more invested when they have buy-in and participate in creating the goals they are working towards. Then, make sure those goals are communicated clearly and that everyone understands their role in achieving them.
Try using this team canvas template to help your team set goals together for your next project. This Mural records your shared goals and helps keep strong team alignment through a project.
Use team activities and exercises to practice collaboration
Like a muscle, collaborative skills grow when they are exercised regularly. Team activities build negotiation skills, listening skills, and relationship building that makes everyone enthusiastic about working together.
Team activities can be serious and work-focused. A brainstorming session or visioning activity will help create a collaborative foundation for a project. Try using a mind map to start a project off on the right foot and get folks used to working together.
Silly, lighthearted, and casual team activities also help improve team collaboration too. In fact, sometimes taking the pressure off and having a low-stakes team activity is even better because it helps people participate without the pressure of coming up with a perfect idea or worrying about their contributions being judged.
Provide opportunities for skill development
Provide opportunities for your team to develop new skills or learn from each other. This could include mentoring programs, cross-training opportunities, knowledge sharing, problem-solving exercises, or workshops on effective communication and teamwork.
Learning from each other gets team members familiar with each other’s strengths so they can solicit help or feedback from each other when needed. It also gives everyone practice listening to their teammate’s ideas. A monthly skillshare can be a great way to upskill everyone on a team in a fun and engaging way.
Related: Learn how to leverage Mural + the LUMA System™ to help your teams collaborate with confidence.
Give your team tools to help them collaborate
Effective collaboration, whether in-person or digital, requires that you equip your teams with the right collaboration tools to help them succeed. While communication tools, project management software, instant messaging, and a space to easily share information are all standard practice by now, be sure to include a line for collaborative spaces like Mural in your collaboration stack.
Collaboration tools like Mural actively facilitate the process of working as a team, from the brainstorming and ideation up to reviewing wins and losses after the project is over. Mural provides a visual workspace that helps you share ideas.
With Mural, your team can work on the same project simultaneously, allowing you to brainstorm, plan, and solve problems together as a team. They can co-create timelines, roadmaps, and flowcharts that help to clarify complex ideas. This builds a shared understanding that facilitates better, smoother collaboration.
Related: What is Co-design? A Primer on Participatory Design
Make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute
Collaboration requires that everyone on a team has an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to teamwork. People need to feel that their voice is valued and their work is meaningful. This could look like facilitating meetings carefully so that no one dominates the conversation or sending out agendas ahead of time so more quiet or introverted team members have time to gather their thoughts.
This can be one of the biggest challenges for hybrid or remote teams. Give opportunities for asynchronous collaboration so that team members in different time zones are still included. In a hybrid workplace, use virtual tools to equalize the playing field so in-person and remote participants are using the same tools.
Recognize and reward collaboration efforts. Show appreciation for everyone’s contributions. As a manager or a team lead, your recognition should be concrete and public.
This could include team incentives or individual recognition for collaborative behaviors. You also want to explicitly acknowledge positive collaboration during performance reviews and 1:1s.
However, since collaboration is a team sport, it’s also important to give team members ways of praising each other’s positive contributions. A kudos wall or other public peer acknowledgment and gratitude goes a long way toward fostering a culture of collaboration on a team.
Make collaboration a habit
Once you’ve successfully built a collaborative company culture, the momentum grows. People like to work together. It feels good and helps create high-performing teams that draw on everyone’s greatest strengths.
It takes time and effort to create a culture of collaboration, but the benefits make the work worthwhile. By fostering a collaborative culture, you can improve communication, increase productivity, and create a more engaged and motivated team. Your own team will keep the collaborative spirit growing once they learn how great it feels.
Get started with one of Mural's free templates that drive empathy and understanding, included with any Free Forever account, and invite unlimited members so that everyone on your team can participate.