Think Different, Work Together is a fun slogan for diverse teams that understand effective collaboration.
The Harvard Business Review finds that teams solve problems faster when they are more cognitively diverse. That is just a fancy way of saying that teams are more efficient when they have diverse perspectives and know how to collaborate effectively.
Team collaboration is when two or more people, with different expertise, perspectives, and ideas, work together towards a common goal to solve a common problem. Collaboration is what makes team performance successful. It combines teamwork, innovative thinking, and creativity, which leads to completing projects quickly and easily.
How to Build Collaboration
You must create a clear and compelling cause that the entire team can rally behind and feel personal ownership towards. Everyone must be on the same page and be able to visualize the same end result. You can’t steer a boat when everyone is rowing a different direction. As the leader it is your responsibility to communicate the vision in a way that connects to and resonates with each individual team member.
The more interesting and exciting the mission, the easier it is to inspire team members to want to be a part of the team. You want your team to be as passionate about the goals and objectives as you are. If team members do not care or are unclear about the goals and objectives presented to them, they will find all kinds of reasons not to work together. For collaboration to work, the vision and purpose must be clear.
You must provide each team member with defined individual and collective roles and responsibilities. Everyone needs to know what they have to do and when they have to do it by. They should also know how their work contributes to the team’s goals and who they can count on for support and resources. When team members have a clear understanding of their position, and the position of everyone else, each of them will work more effectively. This also lessens the potential for accidentally stepping on another person’s toes which can create tension and conflict.
It’s important to align the individual expectations with the shared expectations of the team. You need to establish team metrics and timelines and share progress updates so that people know when things are accomplished and can see where they are in the big picture. You want each team member to experience what it means to take part in the shared responsibility of results. Changing the experience of success from an individual achievement into a bonded group experience builds comradery and morale.
Yes, every team needs a large goal that they are all working towards. But it is important to have lots of mini goals along the way. Whether you call them goals, objectives, tasks, strategies, or benchmarks all depend on how you want to structure the work. The intent is to create a system where you can cite achievements and celebrate lots of little wins along the way. These little successes are great motivators to continue with the work. When teams can see the progress they are making and are continuously reminded of how their work is contributing to the team, they will develop more ownership for getting to that final completion indicator.
At the same time, having these small spots to celebrate also provides established spots to re-evaluate the larger goals and the steps being taken to get there. Even the best laid plans can need tweaking as things progress. Having planned pause points allow both celebration as to what has been done, and a chance to reflect and forecast on what’s ahead. Reclarifying all the goals and each person’s roles and responsibilities throughout the project decreases confusion, finger-pointing, and the disintegration of team cohesion.
You need to create an established workflow to make work and progress easy to track. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but clearly defined workflow provides a simplified system of assigning specific tasks, adding deadlines, and having clear communication channels.
- Keeps everyone on the same page
- Prevents miscommunication
- Increases accountability
- Prevents information overload
- Allows everyone to focus on their specific role
- Streamlines regular assignments
Building a productive digital workspace is one of the most practical things you can do for collaboration. Cloud-based collaboration technology allows teams to access data from any location and allows people to collaborate on a common platform. The right tools mean teams can tag specific members, send files, share files simultaneously, communicate in real-time, and have an interactive collaboration. All of this simplifies collaboration and opens the door for more creativity and efficiency.
The most important aspect of using organizational tools, is to make sure you are using the right tools for the work of your team. You need to identify all the communication and organizational needs the team will have and then determine which tools will best serve those needs. Too often, people simply use what they are already familiar with rather than investigate what will work best. Using the wrong tools will decrease efficiency and team harmony, so be sure to select appropriately.
Effective Team Meetings
Before you start a meeting, have a reason for it. Then, tell each individual team member what they need to bring to each meeting and set an agenda. Ensuring that each agenda has a purpose lets you measure the success of a meeting. The length of the meeting should be based on the agenda. Remember, the more time people spend in meetings, the less time they have to do work.
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford
How to Lead Diverse Perspectives in Collaboration
Now that we’ve gotten through all the strategies for the process for collaboration, let’s address how you achieve that while working with people who have different ways of thinking and working. Utilizing diverse perspectives can make collaboration more challenging, but the results far outweigh these challenges. Here is a quick summary for facilitating unique viewpoints.
People love transparency because it makes them feel like they are part of the team. Being open and honest about situations that effect the team gets everyone on the same page.
Make sure you build on everyone’s strengths. If you’re growing your collaborative team, it is important to focus on the specific strengths of each person and how it fits in the required role and responsibilities. Start with building teams around individuals who complement one another. Focusing on strengths is one way leaders show they value each team member.
For teams to innovate they must be encouraged to brainstorm and question the status quo in an open and non-judgmental environment. The more connected and understood you make them feel, the more motivated they will be to perform, impress, be creative and to exceed expectations.
Whether shared through video, newsletter, podcast, annual report or seminar, stories of great collaboration break down the walls of individualism and honor the collective accomplishment. Attaching performance rewards and bonuses to collaborative efforts sends the right message to team members about the values that are important to leadership.
Putting It All Together
A new research report by ESI International shows that less than one third of teams effectively drive project success. 66 percent of workers believe that their organization’s project performance would improve if their teams worked more collaboratively. Furthermore, 81 percent need help with communication skills, 50 percent need help with leadership skills and 47 percent need help with critical thinking skills. Most companies do not provide employee training in these interpersonal skills. That means it is up to you to develop these skills on your own.
Leaders must be self-motivated and take their own initiative to develop their leadership skills. Like any skill, leadership must be developed over time and each skill must be continually practiced to stay sharp. The ability to foster collaboration is a challenging skill because it requires you to bring together multiple personalities into a cohesive unit. Improving collaboration, like leadership, is a continuous process. It takes effort and persistence, but the synergy created from collaboration could be the secret to your success.
Revised Septemebr 2022. Originally published under The OD Pro in April 2020.