Effective collaboration has become something of a business Holy Grail. Everyone knows it encourages creative problem-solving, spawns innovation, and promotes employee engagement. But like the Grail, it can be elusive.
As the founder of a number of startups, I’ve learned that you need to give teams the tools and skills necessary to work together effectively. If you don’t make a conscious effort to foster collaboration, it won’t happen—or at least not to the degree that it should.
Quality collaboration means working toward shared goals and communicating frequently. How do you get there? By shifting your leadership style to emphasize teamwork. Here are some tips for amplifying your team’s everyday collaboration at work.
CHANNEL YOUR COMMUNICATIONS
It’s no secret that communication is the key to collaboration. A five-minute standup or quick phone call can keep everyone in the loop. However, boosting collaboration isn’t just about how you communicate, but how well.
Today’s companies have a never-ending list of potential communication channels. As with any of life’s conveniences, it’s easy to get carried away. Tools like Slack are great for encouraging communication, but you want to make sure you’re optimizing these tools for collaboration.
I’ve seen companies with teams that share memes on Slack all day. While we all love a good laugh, fun shares can get in the way of the important stuff. That’s why leaders should designate an internal communication channel for every purpose. The funny cat videos happen in one place, and the real work happens in another.
Remember that while messaging and email work well for one-off questions, some conversations are best held in person or on Zoom. Supporting productive collaboration is all about making these distinctions.
LEVERAGE YOUR CALENDAR FOR FOCUSED COLLABORATION AND EFFICIENCY
Of course, your team uses a calendar tool—who in business today doesn’t? Your employees are juggling multiple commitments at once, so a calendar that allows you to see everyone’s schedules is essential for keeping track.
Try to be more efficient by using the “speedy meetings” option on Google Calendar. It allows you to cut five minutes off of your scheduled meetings so your team saves time from each 30-minute meeting scheduled. For your team to collaborate well, there needs to be an orderly process that promotes efficiency.
To truly promote collaboration, though, your calendar should do more for you than that. It needs to make you accessible to the right people. Use your calendar to create different time slots so that your closest collaborators have more access to your time, while others see only specific windows.
While all of your team members have valuable contributions to make, you can still decide when those contributions happen. Prioritization is key to effective collaboration; it allows you to focus on the collaboration that matters.
EMBRACE TOOLS THAT ENCOURAGE COLLABORATION
Ok, I’ll admit it. Until April of this year, a digital PR agency I advise was managing hundreds of content creation projects using the mother of all spreadsheets. This approach was getting the job done, but just barely. Only 38% of businesses are currently satisfied with their workflow automation tools, according to Workato. There are a variety of tools in the content management space you can use (listed here) that can help with collaboration.
When using any content management software, all of your team members know which tasks they need to complete by which deadlines. Better yet, the built-in commenting and messaging features mean you don’t need to rely on email or Slack to ask questions and get updates. You can keep the entire project in one tidy location, and everyone who needs to weigh in can do so easily.
Old school corporate structures kept people in silos. The result? Teams communicated ineffectively, overlapped on tasks, and delayed project timelines. Today’s content management software shatters this outdated structure and keeps everyone in alignment.
GET THE IDEAS OUT OF PEOPLE’S HEADS
Have you been struggling to maintain a collaborative environment? Your employees might be hiding their best ideas.
As a leader, it’s your job to tap into the talent you hired. You’ve filled your company with bright and capable minds. I can tell you that those minds are the key to fostering true collaboration.
Employees in collaborative environments share ideas freely and improve on company practices. They communicate with their colleagues about creative solutions to existing problems. You can encourage collaboration by giving employees a platform for innovation.
While this platform looks different for every organization, consider building idea-sharing into everyday communication. Ask for contributions in one-on-one check-ins. Invite employees into decision-making meetings. Follow up with employees who shared their creative insights. This free flow of ideas builds a foundation for lasting collaboration.
ENGAGE IN NON-CHEESY TEAM BUILDING
Sure, “trust falls” may be a bit hokey, and rope courses don’t do it for everyone. Still, people collaborate more effectively when they respect each other. It takes time to create a respectful and communicative office environment, and deliberate team-building efforts can help.
Make time to celebrate victories and milestones together. Team lunches at restaurants, Friday evening happy hours, and summertime cookouts are all fun ways to get people talking. Even a quick coffee break or pizza delivery will help employees loosen up.
The key is to get people mingling without forcing a bond. Your employees certainly don’t have to be best friends, but they can become more than distant colleagues. A leader’s job is to break down barriers and help team members get to know each other on a deeper level.
As your employees build a rapport, you’ll see the results in the office. Teams with mutual respect communicate clearly and accept constructive feedback more readily. These professional connections will also be valuable as employees move forward in their careers.
Throughout my leadership experience, I’ve learned that collaboration is more than a corporate buzzword. It’s essential to a positive, productive, and forward-thinking company. Encouraging collaboration in everyday practice means helping your employees work together effectively. That’s how you’ll move forward as a business.