Meetings are supposed to be where real collaboration happens. You bring team members in, get to work on a problem, share ideas and try different approaches, and then there it is — the aha! moment. The lightning strike of inspiration.
Except it doesn’t usually happen that way. While collaboration is indeed the goal of many meetings, most end up being kind of a slog. Anyone who’s ever sat through a meeting-that-should-have-been-an-email knows that all too well.
One of the biggest reasons for this is disconnection. Despite spending literal hours of their day in meetings, most knowledge workers are feeling more disconnected than ever.
The consequences of disconnection are real: People feel unseen and disengage. Ideas are lost. Everyone gets frustrated. It even puts organizations at risk. Disconnection leads to disengagement, boredom, and eventually, turnover. Currently, half of all knowledge workers are unhappy in their roles and the Great Resignation is still in full swing. To retain top talent, real connection is becoming a necessity rather than a “nice-to-have” for savvy teams.
5 ways to improve collaboration in meetings
It’s time to help meetings live up to their collaborative potential. Collaboration doesn’t just magically happen. If you want your meetings to be as successful as collaboration sessions, you need to design them that way. The new discipline of collaboration design aims to inspire and connect teams by bringing intentionality to the collaboration process. And that starts with building strong connections. Because without connection, teams simply can't exist!
How do you design collaborative experiences that help teams build connection so they can become more collaborative? Here are 5 ways that work whether or not your team is in the same room or scattered across the globe.
1. Establish psychological safety
“Great teams consist of individuals who have learned to trust each other.” – Amy Edmonson, author of Teaming
On teams where psychological safety is a given, employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions, speaking their minds, and trying out new things. There are no negative repercussions for making an honest mistake or suggesting potentially risky ideas. Healthy disagreements are encouraged, but a strong foundation of mutual respect means conflict and challenges are expressed in a productive way.
Teams with psychological safety see improvements in employee wellbeing, team results, and project outcomes. They’re also grounded in trust — a prerequisite for collaboration.
Trust means each individual has freedom to share their thoughts, however it makes the most sense for them to do so (visually, asynchronously, in the moment, etc.). It’s also a critical component of successful hybrid and remote teams, where the trust that the work will get done supercedes the where and when it happens.
While psychological safety is often a slow and tricky thing to build, there are steps you can take to design the process. One we recommend is creating a team charter. This shared resource outlines the “rules of engagement” for the team (“Reserve judgment of others’ ideas and ask for clarification before challenging them,” for instance) and codifies best practices for collaboration. It keeps everyone on the same page and provides transparency around team norms.
Related: How to build trust within a team
2. Make space for interpersonal connection
You might think of team collaboration as a “work thing,” but the interpersonal stuff is what really builds connection between colleagues. And it shouldn’t be an afterthought. While spontaneous Slack chats or watercooler meetings are great, they’re fleeting and rely on chance to build connection. To create lasting camaraderie, these moments of connection need to be regular, thoughtful, and deliberate. They must be an integral part of your team’s collaboration culture.
So, how do you do that? At MURAL, we start just about every meeting with a check-in to set a baseline for how each team member is feeling. We also include imagination- and connection-building activities like warm-ups, energizers, and icebreakers in our meetings — especially the big ones like all-hands and kickoffs. Many of these can even be done asynchronously. Finally, we’ve established dedicated spaces for connection, like affinity-based Slack channels, virtual watercoolers, team bookshelves, and more.
3. Invest in facilitation
A talented facilitator knows how to bring out the best of every meeting participant, from the introvert to the newbie to the executive. The best understand the importance of inclusivity and make inclusive meeting practices part of their facilitation process.
They also provide something else that’s extremely valuable: clarity. Anyone who’s ever been in a meeting where people sat (or Zoomed) around looking unsure of what to do understands that clarity is key for effective collaboration. Facilitators set expectations, define roles, state and record action items, and follow up with relevant resources and information.
Sounds like an important but difficult job, and it is! Luckily, there are a number of helpful facilitation trainings and resources out there (our guide to facilitating remote workshops is one). And don’t ignore your non-professional facilitators — every team member can benefit from basic facilitation training. Most employees will run a meeting at some point or another; some, especially managers, will run quite a few. Training in facilitation can help employees become better meeting participants as well.
4. Create a collaboration stack
A collaboration stack is a group of integrated tools that help your team communicate and innovate. While such tools are necessary for every team, they really shine for remote or hybrid teams who need to communicate both asynchronously and synchronously. Some of these are kind of no-brainers (email, phone, Slack, etc.), but many orgs have “gaps” in their collaboration stack.
In our experience, a healthy collaboration stack includes the following categories of resources:
- Visual collaboration (MURAL, Loom)
- Instant messaging/chat (Slack, Teams)
- Video conferencing (Zoom, Webex)
- Project management (Asana, Trello)
- Word processing (Google Docs, Microsoft Word)
- Corporate wiki (Confluence)
- Digital asset management (Adobe Experience Manager)
5. Leverage collaboration templates
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to promoting effective teamwork. Templates help you replicate success in productive meetings and organize collaboration in a digestible format. We’ve got an extensive library of 300+ handy templates — including brainstorming, planning, prototyping, and reviewing — that can help you get the collaborative juices flowing.
Connection drives collaboration
Your team might be lacking on the “connection” side these days, but there’s no need to panic. The above strategies can help you build strong and meaningful bonds between your team members — and encourage the effective collaboration that comes with real understanding and trust.
Want even more resources for solving the disconnection problem at work? We recently launched collaborative intelligence, a new systematic approach that connects teams to unlock their genius. Learn how it works 🧠💫