Collaboration in the workplace is often a metric for office health. In toxic work environments, collaboration is hard to find, and team members fight for resources and credit. Healthy work environments, on the other hand, encourage teams to collaborate. Employees at these companies know that if they give up their time or some of the resources, the whole organization can thrive.
It’s possible to foster a culture of collaboration without making dramatic changes in your office workflow. Keep reading to learn how you can instill this value in your team.
More Managers Are Finding Value in Collaboration
For centuries, employers thought siloed employees performed best. If each team member specialized in their job duties, then the company would function at maximum efficiency. However, the tide is turning as more managers reap the long-term value of collaborative teams.
Elliot Gordon at WeSpire admits that collaboration requires more resources than siloed work. At first, it’s frustrating seeing two or more team members working to solve a problem that one person could take responsibility for. However, the long-term benefits of collaboration outweigh the short-term costs.
“The core benefit of collaboration is the ability to share knowledge and expertise quickly and easily,” Gordon writes. “This sharing leads to better products and innovations, which in turn drives better profitability, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction.”
Another additional benefit of collaboration is speed, Sébastien Boyer reports at Nutcache. Instead of viewing collaboration as a drain on resources because multiple people within a team or company are working on one project, think of it as fast-tracking a project without causing burnout for one team member.
“A problem that may take months to get resolved when handled by a single individual, but may take just a few hours to resolve when several other members employ their unique standpoints and expertise to get things done,” Boyer writes.
Employees Are Calling for Collaboration
As people increasingly collaboration and team up to solve problems, employees are working with their managers to create more collaborative workplaces. Sylvie Woolf at ClearCompany recently curated a list of statistics proving the desire for collaboration in the office. According to the data from multiple sources, most companies (employees and managers alike) want to foster a culture of collaboration but are struggling to make it happen. For example:
75 percent of employees rate teamwork and collaboration as very important.
86 percent of employees cite a lack of collaboration or communication for team failures.
39 percent of employees believe people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.
Better team partnerships is something almost everyone in an organization strives toward, but more than a third of employees aren’t getting the levels of collaboration they need to succeed.
Fortunately, managers are responding in kind. The more they see the success of collaboration, the more they choose to embrace it.
“Workplace collaboration is becoming less of a voluntary choice and more of a necessary step for companies in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, and complex,” Joshua Spears, COO at Traitify writes. “It makes intuitive sense that a multidisciplinary approach to projects and initiatives is becoming the norm, rather than the old silo practice of having one discrete type of expert take on projects alone.”
Spears says he makes assembling diverse teams a priority to foster collaboration and bring in varied skill sets and ideas. In many ways, the American workplace is just starting to embrace team working environments. As offices become more connected and transparent, collaboration will become an increasingly important tool to succeed.
10 Tips to Increase Collaboration In Your Workplace
Depending on your role within the company, you may or may not have the ability to improve collaboration through all of these efforts. Some tips are more geared to higher-level managers and CEOs, while other apply to employees at all levels of the organization.
Encourage Communication Between Departments
One of the fastest ways to destroy a collaborative environment is to blame other departments for your struggles. When other teams are viewed as barriers toward reaching your goals, collaboration becomes competition.
“Even in the world of SMBs, companies inadvertently create competition in the name of specialization,” Elsbeth McSorley writes at the Predictive Index. “Instead of creating this contentious environment, you can foster collaboration by implementing two-way communication systems with less of a formal hierarchy.”
McSorley uses sales and marketing as a common example of this. Instead of the sales department blaming marketing efforts for low sales, the teams can work together to meet common goals. The marketing side can learn what the sales team needs in order to create targeted materials, while sales can provide information on what quality leads look like, giving the marketing side better information from which to work.
Walk a Mile in a Department’s Shoes
Empathy is an important trait for collaborative teams. Everyone has a full plate of work and everyone has their own system for organization. When employees, teams, and departments understand what the other deals with, they can be empathetic and find ways to involve them that meet their needs.
“Establish a rotation system where employees can work in another area to develop empathy and gain a big picture perspective,” consultants Kevin and Jackie Freiberg write.
Not only will this make employees more empathetic, it will also help them come up with solutions that benefit the whole company.
Set Up Regular Town Hall Meetings
The team at Optimum Employer Solutions encourages companies to have quarterly (or even monthly for flexible SMBs) all-hands-on-deck meetings to review performance, objectives, and issues within each department.
While each department head reports on their team, the whole company is able to offer solutions for problems or suggest ideas for improvement. The goals of Town Hall meetings are increased information sharing and transparency. After all, how can a team collaborate if they don’t know what problems other departments face?
These meetings thrive when leaders create a judgment-free work environment. By listening to and caring about what everyone has to say, introverted or insecure employees can test their wings and see what happens when they raise their voice in a group setting.
“Intimidation can be a frustrating barrier that gets in the way of the best ideas bubbling to the surface,” Phuong Kieu writes at Idea Drop. “Overcome this impediment by establishing a creative and judgment-free workplace culture where new ideas and discussions are consistently welcome, whether they are small and strange or ambitious and dramatic.”
Remember, the loudest plans aren’t always the best. Teams that make room for everyone in the discussion have the greatest chance of mining the most diverse ideas.
Listen to Ideas on All Levels of the Organization
Along with creating judgment-free zones, Town Hall meetings can prove that management is listening to ideas across the company.
“Collaborative leaders don’t just say they want everyone’s input, they send nonverbal signals of inclusion -- giving people their full attention, listening carefully, and making positive eye contact,” consultant Carol Kinsey Goman writes at Forbes.
Lower-level employees and interns often feel nervous when approaching management, but if they feel like they will be heard, you can foster leaders at all levels of your company.
Ask Management Teams to Bridge Gaps Across Departments
The team at Capsim Management Simulations believes leaders can make or break a culture of collaboration within an organization. While lower-level employees are able to reach across teams and departments, leaders are able to bridge the gaps and bring people together.
For example, a vice president of one team might reach out to a peer to introduce lower-level employees who are trying to collaborate, or the two VPs can lead an initiative together and merge their departments until a project gets done.
Either way, encouraging collaboration from the top-down helps the idea permeate throughout the company.
Explain the Reasons Why Certain Tasks Are Important
This tip follows the same thread as increasing transparency and information. Your peers are more likely to help you if they understand the impact of their roles.
“One of the most difficult and frustrating things for an employee to swallow is a task that makes little sense and that goes unexplained,” Sarah Landrum at Training Industry writes. “Employees often want to know why they are doing what they are doing. Answering this question for them can help eliminate idle talk and promote authentic work relations.
If a team is working on a plan that could have a significant impact on the company, it’s more likely to attract other team members and departments who want to help or see them succeed.
Learn to Step Back From a Project
Collaboration isn’t just about agreeing to join every event, project, or task. Beth Kanter created a guide for avoiding collaborative burnout, where too many varied projects prevent you from actually doing your job. She encourages people to learn how to say no or decline an offer to join a team. This might be because your skill set is too far out of the project scope or because you have too many projects already.
“You can’t always say no to your boss or board,” Kanter writes. “But you can draw some clear lines to know when your workload is going overboard, and you need to bring it up to your superiors to make some reasonable adjustments.”
Establish Clear Roles and Specialties Within a Team Environment
This advice follows the same thread as learning when to step away from a project. Pulling team members to collaborate can fall flat if there aren’t clear roles or reasons for them joining the team.
“When people understand what is expected of them and how their role relates to others in the team then this fosters a collaborative environment,” business coach Cynthia Stuckey tells the Telegraph. “When a team has shared objectives and each person can articulate how their actions support these objectives, you create a higher level of accountability.”
Make sure each team member you choose to collaborate with is the best fit for the task at hand, otherwise you’re pulling people in who might not need to be there.
Find Opportunities to Form Social Bonds
Encouraging employees to socialize and creating opportunities for relationship building can naturally encourage collaboration across all levels, consultant Shaun Beck says. What starts as small talk during an after-work meetup can turn into team collaboration a few weeks later.
“People are far more likely to collaborate and provide each other with open and honest feedback if they have a high level of rapport with their fellow workers,” he says.
Again, this responsibility falls on management. If leaders can create social opportunities then employees have a chance to mingle and form strong social bonds.
Create Collaboration Corners in Your Office
Interestingly, improving collaboration doesn’t always mean training your employees to work together or improve their teamwork. The team at Bloomfire took a page from fast food companies that build their franchise layouts with customer psychology in mind. With just a few changes, you can create “collaboration zones,” across the office:
Set up multiple coffee or snack zones around the office. If a Keurig is the new water cooler, then you want to make sure employees are meeting and chatting around it.
Consider removing the large conference room desk and replacing it with a few smaller tables, this way multiple teams can meet in small groups at once.
Set up casual seating areas around the office where a few people can review projects or have quick meetings.
Not only do these collaboration zones provide areas to meeting and work quietly, they’re also visible so everyone in the company can see teamwork in action.
Transitioning from a siloed to a collaborative work environment isn’t something that can be completed overnight. However, companies committed to growing team participation can take steps immediately to help employees step out of their shells and work together.