Workplace teams are tasked to produce more with fewer team members and in less time. Productivity tools, machine learning software and communication platforms can certainly streamline teamwork, but successful collaboration is ultimately the result of the individuals in those teams rather than the tools themselves.
Those who form strong collaborations can watch the business grow, while those who remain siloed will have a harder time achieving their objectives.
Workplace facilitators can make all the difference between a group of disparate employees and a homogeneous team with a common outlook. Here’s how you can become a workplace facilitator — regardless of your current position — and help your colleagues collaborate more effectively in order to reach their goals.
What is Workplace Facilitation?
Facilitation requires confidence, patience and knowledge about the people you work with. Some of the best facilitators come from low-level employees who quickly set out to learn how the office works.
“[Facilitation] is a process for getting groups of people together to solve any problem,” Brandon Klein, Collaboration.Ai partner writes. “And you don’t need a specific job title or a certain amount of experience to become an effective facilitator–you just have to develop a set of skills that gives structure and purpose to the otherwise unruly art of collaboration.”
Teamwork is a group of people working together to achieve the same goal: throwing a company Christmas party, for example.
Collaboration is when a group of people develop goals and take steps together to reach them: improving employee morale throughout the year, for example.
Collaboration doesn’t necessarily need a leader, like a team does. Furthermore, collaborative groups might form partnerships that last years, with people from separate groups supporting each other to achieve their goals.
While the people are an essential element of collaboration, there’s one more factor that’s necessary: a purpose. This is the holy grail that brings people together and keeps them working to achieve their goals.
“To create a cohesion, team members must be provided with a convincing reason to be a part of the company mission,” psychologist Sherrie Campbell writes. “The more compelling and exciting the mission, the easier it is to inspire team members to want to be a part of what the company aspires to accomplish.”
When one of these elements are missing, teams are likely to return to their siloes. When you’ve got the right people working together toward a shared purpose, they’ll be able to keep going even when there is team conflict or increased workloads.
How Can Collaboration and Facilitation Improve Your Workplace?
It’s generally accepted that collaboration is good for the workplace, and statistics provs just how effective it can be.
Innovation consultant and author of The 8 Step Guide To Building a Social Workplace, Adi Gaskell points to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity which found that companies promoting a collaborative work environment were five times more likely to be high performing than those that did not.
The study analyzed 1,100 companies and found that many businesses aspire to be collaborative, but relatively few set goals or made collaboration an essential part of the workday.
Sébastien Boyer, CTO at Nutcache, highlights additional benefits of workplace collaboration. Simply bringing a few people together can result in exponential improvements to your business and daily operations. A few include:
Improved brainstorming from pulling in different points of view.
Greater understanding of other departments, team pain points, and project goals.
Faster solutions to problems as multiple teams come up with more ideas and different teams provide tools to execute them.
Increased job satisfaction as employees support each other and form partnerships to solve problems.
Collaborative employees are happy employees. Marketing strategist and Inc. columnist Sonia Thompson examined the results of Dapulse user survey, which asked 10,000 people what makes them happy at work. Salary came dead last behind seven other factors, with company culture at the top.
While employees certainly need a living wage, they also need to enjoy working with the people around them and to feel as though their company offers support and growth opportunities.
How Can Facilitators Deal With Uncooperative Employees?
Unfortunately, not everyone you work with is likely to appreciate your facilitation efforts. Many workplace facilitators face slammed doors (even metaphorical ones) by employees too busy or too defensive to collaborate.
“This ‘collabohater’ type will be very upfront about their resistance, and lay out in no uncertain terms what their boundaries for collaboration will be,” Jason Compton writes at iMeet Central, a company that provides online collaboration software and project management solutions. “The trick...begins with recognizing that every stone wall protects a weakness. That weakness is typically one driven by fear—the fear of losing status, authority, and position.”
It’s in your best interest to prevent territorial marking and wall-building behaviors in the workplace. Markus Baer, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School, Washington University, co-authored a study highlighting the dangers of territorial marking in the workplace. When someone claims an idea as their own, they can quickly stifle creativity. Claiming idea ownership, Baer explains, “discourages creative, constructive feedback,” and removes any sense of responsibility for that idea by coworkers.
People are less likely to present ideas or opportunities for improvement on marked ideas, because the idea or project has already been spoken for. Additionally, territorial employees may be more likely to shoot down suggestions because they feel threatened.
Listen to Why Employees Don’t Want to Collaborate
There are a few steps workplace facilitators can take when faced with territorial employees. Listening can help break down barriers whether you are a senior manager trying to increase collaboration in the workplace or a new employee trying to build a team to help you with a project.
The team at ProofHub says listening can alert you to any barriers to collaboration, such as unbalanced workloads, employee disagreements and skill set deficits. Facilitators who try to force collaboration without explaining the benefits or soliciting the input of team members can actually create a more toxic workplace as employees begrudgingly work together.
Question Whether Collaboration is Necessary
Executive coach Deborah Grayson Riegel suggests that collaboration isn’t always needed. Too often, managers who want teams to collaborate bring people into a project who don’t need to be there. This can slow down the project as multiple team members take time to complete their tasks, and leads to team members wondering why they are in irrelevant meetings, emails or text threads.
Smart facilitators will ask if collaboration is necessary, and then set goals to bring the best people in. Sometime, if an employee shuts down your collaboration efforts, it may be for a good reason.
How Can You Improve Workplace Collaboration?
Even the best employees can have a hard time collaborating without the right guidance. Collaboration on its own can’t happen unless there is a dedicated purpose. As a workplace facilitator, there are steps you can take to increase collaboration opportunities.
Create Workplace Exchange Opportunities
Collaboration doesn’t have to occur between two teams or employees working on the same project. Ben Fanning, Inc. Magazine leadership columnist and author of The Quit Alternative, proposes starting a “workplace exchange” within the company. During this process, team members offer to exchange skills.
Fanning shares his own story where he struggled to get his expense reports in on time, while an administrative assistant was having a hard time creating a PowerPoint presentation. They exchanged skills, so she helped him with expense reports and he helped her with PowerPoint. The two were collaborating, even though the tasks were unrelated, and both improved their productivity levels and skill sets.
Build On What Already Works
Collaboration is likely already happening at the company, you’re just not aware of it. Harvard Law School lecturer and Distinguished Fellow Heidi Gardner, Ph.D., says you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to collaboration.
Start with what is already working and highlight those achievements. Promote the benefits of collaboration, Gardner adds. “From financial profits to strategic company advantage, growth and reputation, organizational leaders must demonstrate how colleague-to-colleague collaboration strengthens the core business.”
Create Employee Overlap Zones
Workplace facilitators can physically move teams around to start conversations. Marcus Johnson at advertising optimization platform Instapage looks as the concept of “overlap zones,” where work spaces and common areas encourage unplanned interactions between employees.
Instead of sending emails or holding meetings, team members can walk a few feet to casually ask something or even ask a question across the room. Other employees can join in the conversation, offering input and solutions. Some companies even go so far as to place certain departments next to each other so the different skill sets can blend with “overlap” collaboration.
Focus on Collaboration Structures
Collaboration isn’t just about the people, it’s also about how the project is managed. Even the most collaborative employees will refuse to work together if a project is mishandled.
Technology Advice writer Tamara Scott suggests implementing a “No Agenda, No Meeting” policy. When teams meet to review their work, an agenda must outline the topics to be covered and how much time is to be allotted to each topic. They should end with set deliverables for most people involved, setting up the team for the next meeting.
Foster Informal Employee Gatherings
Employees will likely be more willing to collaborate if they actually like each other. Setting up informal gatherings where employees can each lunch together or meet up after work creates opportunities for people to break down barriers and socialize, the Time Doctor team writes.
Additionally, this creates opportunities for informal work talk and problem solving. When one person starts talking about a workplace problem, others can jump in and casually offer solutions. What starts as chit-chat at an after-work event becomes an in-office partnership.
If there’s one main takeaway for workplace facilitators, it’s to not force workplace collaboration. Successful teams work together because they want to, not because they have been assigned to. Creating opportunities for collaboration will always be more effective than mandating it.