How To Create An Environment Of Collaboration

Stop focusing on getting everyone to participate equally, and start recognizing individual contributions.

How To Create An Environment Of Collaboration
[Photo: Startup Stock Photos]

That slacker worker? He or she might be making your other employees less productive, especially if they’re working together on a project. In fact, collaboration can lead to reduced motivation and a loss of productivity if group members don’t contribute equally, according to a recent study published in Translational Issues in Psychological Science.


So how do you create a work environment where teamwork works?

“Focus less on equal participation and more on equitable participation,” suggests Gina DeLapa, author of Stuff You Already Know: And Everybody Should. “Everyone contributes to varying degrees–I think that’s to be expected, given each person’s role and responsibilities.”

The problem comes when individuals aren’t properly chosen or recognized. That can lead to resentment, underlying friction, and no real incentive to excel. Circumvent potential issues by setting up a work environment that fosters successful collaboration.

Here are six things you can do to get your teams working in harmony:

1. Don’t Build All-Star Teams For Key Projects

All-star teams don’t always win athletic competitions, says Michael Roberto, professor of management and director at Bryant University Center for Program Innovation. When there are too many A players on a team, egos can get in the way as each person tries to stand out. The same can happen in business.

“Instead, think carefully about the roles you need filled on the team,” he says. “Select people with complementary skills and capabilities. Establish shared norms and ground rules. And build a climate in the team where people can speak candidly.”


2. Choose A Unifying Problem

Your goal, objective, or strategy should match the “DNA” of the team members, says Iwan Jenkins, president of leadership consultants The Riot Point.

“If your team is passionate about introducing technology quickly, choose problems of that nature,” he says. When all of the team members are invested in the outcome, they’ll be more motivated to work together.

3. Be Specific In Your Instructions

Sometimes collaboration is a struggle because expectations are unclear. Instead, tell your employees how you want them to work together, says Kate Zabriskie, founder of the leadership development firm Business Training Works.

“For example, say, ‘Annette, I would like you to provide Bill with your thoughts on expanding in the Australian market. Bill, once you see what Annette gives you, get with Garrett to evaluate media options. The three of you should then come back to me by the 23rd with some recommendations,’” she says.

4. Make Sure Each Team Member Benefits

Every person should be better as result of working on a project, says Jenkins, who adds that each should achieve at least three of the “four P’s:”

  • Pride: Am I happy to stand by the work I have done in this team?
  • Pay: Do I feel appropriately rewarded and recognized for my contribution?
  • Pleasure: Do I feel that the time invested has given me enjoyment and energy, which in turns allows me to be a better support to others?
  • Problem-solving hero: Have my skills and capabilities been recognized and enhanced as a result of working with this team?

“The climate of the team has been collaborative if a team member can tick three of these four boxes, and this augers well for future collaboration,” he says.


5. Use Techniques That Broaden Participation

Loud voices can dominate meetings and workflow. Leaders should work diligently to solicit ideas from all employees. One way to do that is to employ the ‘warm call,’ says Roberto.

“Rather than simply cold-calling silent folks in meetings, leaders can talk to quieter individuals before meetings to ask them to come prepared to share their ideas,” he says. “That technique can help broaden participation in team meetings.”

6. Don’t Praise Everyone Equally For Vastly Different Amounts Of Effort

It can be painful to watch a well-intentioned boss single-praise an entire team equally, especially when one person shouldered more of the work.

“If you work all night to resolve a client crisis, and I, as your boss, thank the team for their efforts, I’ve just exaggerated the team’s efforts while minimizing yours,” DeLapa says. “It creates a huge disconnect, especially when it happens repeatedly.”

Instead, acknowledge individual effort at the completion of a project. “A better solution, one that enforces the team-building goal and still honors reality, would be to say to the team, ‘Join me in thanking so-and-so for a job well done,'” she says.