People have been collaborating since before they developed language. And the history of humankind proves that those who cooperate succeed. So there are good reasons why people rarely work entirely alone.
Consider for a moment some of the big ideas that have changed the world: The Wright brothers invented the airplane; John Lennon and Paul McCartney changed popular music forever; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented Apple computers; Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the company that would later become Google. All of these ideas were the result of collaboration.
In the workplace, effective collaboration involves teams sharing ideas and skills to achieve a common goal. When employees with different perspectives, ideas, and experiences work together to find innovative solutions, organizations thrive. But what happens when our physical work places get replaced with virtual spaces?
Despite having hundreds of ways to communicate with our teams, studies show that individuals feel more disconnected from their colleagues than ever before. While employee productivity has gone up since the start of the pandemic, team productivity has taken a hit. And contrary to what some think, the solution is not going back to the office.
Why is collaboration important?
Collaboration enables teams to do their best work and is an essential component for problem-solving and decision making. Successful collaboration leverages a team’s unique perspectives, builds trust and empowerment among collaborators, and creates new avenues for communication in real time.
1. People are simply better together
Gone are the days of praising the “lone wolf.” We’ve mostly given up on the myth that innovation happens when the mad scientist sits alone in his lab conjuring up experiments. Even a genius like Thomas Edison had a team of “muckers” bouncing around ideas and tinkering with him. As outlined in the first principle of collaborative intelligence, people are simply greater together and hard problems are best tackled by teams.
Organizations need intentional collaboration as much as they need to hire top talent. Not only will subject matter experts be better at expressing their ideas by working with others, but they will also transfer their knowledge to others in the process.
2. It's a gateway to unique perspectives and experiences
It goes without saying that different people have unique perspectives, first-hand experiences, and different skill sets. When individuals with different backgrounds get together and share their ideas, everyone wins. Contrary to conventional wisdom, “great minds don’t think alike” and this is a really good thing for organizations.
There is a tendency for individuals with similar interests and backgrounds to think in a very uniform fashion. They make similar assumptions and as a result, there’s often no one willing or able to challenge those assumptions. It’s called the affinity bias and it can lead to everything from bad hiring decisions to dismissing innovative ideas. One of the greatest advantages of working collaboratively with others who have different perspectives and experiences is the opportunity to learn from each other.
3. It’s more efficient (usually)
Managers often have to choose between assigning a task to a team or an individual. However, collaborative teams are your best bet for more complicated tasks. Teams work faster, draw from a broader knowledge base, can catch each other’s errors, generate more solutions, and more broadly explore the space of possibilities than individuals.
4. It’s essential for problem-solving
What do you do when you’re stuck on a problem? Suppose you’re working on a sales presentation and you’ve made some progress, but you’ve encountered a roadblock. You’re out of ideas and you don’t know how to move forward. Do you simply give up?
No. You ask a colleague for help. Maybe you schedule a brainstorming session or seek out another perspective. In short, you collaborate with your team to solve the problem. When groups of people share knowledge, skills, and expertise, stalled projects get back on track.
But, collaboration doesn’t have to be an afterthought. Instead, it should inform the entirety of the way your team works. More eyes on a project from the beginning means that many of those problems can be spotted earlier and avoided altogether or solved more quickly.
Related: How to identify the right problems to solve
5. It fuels growth and understanding
If you’ve noticed that certain teams within your organization rarely interact with others, you may have a siloed department on your hands. This can be a growth killer, causing duplicated work, poor communication, and inefficient workflows. The best way to overcome this challenge is with healthy workplace collaboration.
Of course, top-down collaboration projects don’t always generate the best results. But you can put together a mixed-function team to tackle a specific project and watch how things unfold from there. For example, a mixed-function team might include a product designer, a developer, and a content writer. You can set them up with a shared project, bringing together members from three different teams and setting up connections that will serve you well in the future.
When you use collaboration to dissolve some of the walls within your organization, you fuel growth and understanding across functional departments.
6. It creates new avenues for communication
One of the reasons so many workers report feeling disconnected at work is because they feel ill-equipped to communicate skillfully. When teams maintain regular, direct communication, they gain valuable insights into how others think and work. As a result, disputes are more quickly resolved and fewer misunderstandings arise. On top of that, strong communication brings everyone closer and helps them feel part of the mission of the organization.
Unfortunately, too many organizations assume that meetings are the solution to communication breakdowns. But it’s not enough to simply put your brightest minds together in the same room (physical or virtual) and hope new avenues for communication open up. Also, while meetings are a synchronous means of collaboration, there’s a need for teams to master asynchronous forms of collaboration in this new work environment.
Many collaboration tools are designed to make both synchronous and asynchronous communication easier. They open up your business so that all areas can communicate with each other and keep track of what other teams are working on. But while tools are important, it’s really the broader environment that gives rise to effective, innovative communication.
7. It builds trust
As teams and departments make connections, individuals naturally trust each other more. Not only is this good for team and employee productivity, but it boosts morale throughout the organization. Without trust, teams will not work together and if teams can’t collaborate, then innovation simply won’t happen and job satisfaction can decline. Working together with others is one of the most effective ways to build trust.
Also, when teams establish a high level of trust, they feel more inclined to collaborate with one another. One report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit showed that 92% of respondents who had trust in the individuals with whom they collaborated reported success in meeting their goals. So collaboration and trust actually form a virtuous circle. And when you invite others into the circle, you’ll find that top performing candidates are excited to work with you as well.
Related: How to build trust in a team
8. It boosts retention
Workers are increasingly looking for more connected and engaged workplaces. According to one survey, 33% of employees say the ability to collaborate makes them more loyal. Since collaboration is the basis for more open, connected, and engaged teams, it makes sense that collaborative workplaces are more appealing to future employees. But a culture where working together is baked in also keeps your current employees from looking for work elsewhere.
Connection at work matters to people. Everyone wants to work with people who are engaging, trustworthy, understanding, respectful of others’ points of view, and work well with others. In simple terms, collaboration makes this possible.
Related: How to build a culture of collaboration in your workplace
9. It empowers employees to share their ideas
Collaboration is also important because it empowers people to share their ideas. When teams only interact with one another during meetings in front of their managers, it can be hard to muster up the courage to speak up. But when they are used to collaborating and talking to one another, they feel empowered to connect in this way. Collaboration gives team members the confidence to share their ideas.
By sharing ideas, individuals and teams can gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the organization as a whole. This can help break down silos by encouraging cross-functional collaboration, fostering a culture of openness and transparency.
The benefits of collaboration
Not only is collaboration important for the functioning of your organization, but it also carries with it several additional benefits.
Improves employee engagement
When employees feel connected and supported, they are more engaged at work. If the Great Resignation has taught us one thing, it’s that employees want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Nurturing a collaborative environment improves engagement and connection, resulting in better employee retention.
Team collaboration can play an important role in improving employee engagement by providing teams with a sense of purpose, greater autonomy to make decisions, opportunities for skill development, enhanced relationships, and improved recognition and appreciation.
Teams that practice inclusive collaboration align on goals and on the interpersonal norms that ensure success. The more teams are encouraged and rewarded for working together, the more differences are seen as enriching our experiences, rather than dividing us.
Related: Your Guide to Creating a more Inclusive Workplace
Disconnection is affecting remote employees and teams across the globe. In fact, 56% of employees report feeling disconnected from their colleagues because of remote work. But when we take a systematic approach to collaboration, we can help our teams, departments, and executives build a shared sense of purpose, aligning organization and team goals more effectively.
As we’ve seen, innovation comes more often from teams than from a lone wolf waiting for a “lightbulb” moment. The airplane, popular music, the computer, and the internet all were designed by connected teams. But to really harness the power of creative collaboration, organizations need to use a systematic approach.
Applying the lessons learned from design thinking, examining what we know about how physical and virtual spaces encourage collaboration, and measuring the results will improve innovation.
The importance of collaboration cannot be overstated
“If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
Too many organizations still treat collaboration as an afterthought, with individuals deciding when to bring others in on a project — usually as a last resort. But the pandemic has proven just how inefficient this approach is. Collaboration can no longer be left to chance. It’s about more than putting people together in a room or Zoom and hoping magic happens. The pioneers of design thinking, Agile methodologies, and facilitating teamwork have a lot to teach us about how to make successful collaboration an essential part of the new frontier of work.
Are you ready to get to work designing intentional collaborative experiences that empower your teams to do their best work? 👉🏻 Learn how to make collaboration intentional with collaborative intelligence.