Collaborations can be incredibly valuable. Different experiences and expertise can bring diverse perspectives and out-of-the-box ideas for your project. A study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross (Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College), revealed that collaborative working environments were 5 times as likely to be high-performing.
However, a collaboration can also involve a variety of personalities, beliefs, backgrounds, views, and methods that can potentially clash with each other. Team collaborations can be a challenge, but with a strong foundation you can encourage mutual respect and build connections. Here are 5 ways to lay solid groundwork for a successful team collaboration.
1. Establish a strong line of communication
Make sure that everyone understands the point of the project and the strategy to get there. With many different voices and personalities involved, it’s necessary to have definite, clear-cut roles and responsibilities, including your own work. Be direct about expectations. For team members who require more clarification, you can have face-to-face meetings in addition to regular staff meetings. “Collaboration is a key part of the success of any organization,” says Dinesh Paliwal, (CEO, Harman International Industries), “executed through a clearly defined vision and mission and based on transparency and constant communication.”
Good communication employs active listening and keeping an open dialogue. This will build trust with your managers and teams, while developing skills and growth. “New technologies help companies extend participation on a project to an even greater number of people allowing firms to tap into a wide body of knowledge and expertise,” say Lynda Gratton and Tamara Erickson (Harvard Business Review). These technological tools can allow easy access to information and encourage a dialogue about the project:
Team chat rooms/discussion boards provide a platform for team members to discuss ideas, give feedback, and exchange knowledge with other team members who are experts in certain areas.
Online storage/file sharing services supply team members with access to files they need so they have more time to work with the information, giving them the opportunity to produce high-quality work.
Shared calendar/event reminders will ensure that everyone is on the same page for scheduled events.
2. Make sure you assign specific roles, but not specific goals
Some schools of thought feel that forcing people into a defined role can stifle creativity and block them from doing their best work. However, many organizations have found this practice prevents team members from wasting their time defending their ‘territory’ to others. The focus stays on the project. Brainstorming sessions provide enough opportunities for team members to voice their ideas which may land outside of their scope of duties. Make sure the team understands that while they work independently to get the job done, the team relies on each individual assignment to complete the project.
While having specified roles is beneficial, it’s not so useful when defining the goals of the project. Some leeway can encourage team members to think creatively and innovatively. Plus, members are more likely to invest in the collaboration if there is some ambiguity.
“Ensure that every member knows their purpose and that their contribution toward the project is valued,” says Dinnie Muslihat of Zenkit (an online project management toolkit), “…an engaged team is also a happy and focused one.”
3. Build trust
Right from the beginning, you need to establish a sense of comradery among team members and emphasize the importance of working together. But sometimes these are just words. Start with a few team-building exercises to break the ice and establish connections. Perhaps schedule a get-together such as a lunch or online quiz game so people on the team can get to know one another. You can also build trust by promoting a ‘gift culture’, which is executive coaching or mentoring individuals with constructive feedback that builds skills and promotes learning.
Reliability goes a long way with team dynamics, be sure to keep on top of individual responsibilities so that members aren’t resentful waiting for work from someone who is lagging. The team dynamic is tough because you’re dealing with many moving parts and personalities. It’s a fine line to celebrate this diversity of personalities, while also fostering group harmony.
While many team collaborations are virtual due to the nature of technology and the rise of off-site/remote workers, try to encourage face-to-face communications as much as possible. Interacting with a co-worker in person instead of as an unattached voice or email can change the team dynamic. It can build trust and relationships. Skype, facetime, web dialogues can all be a vehicle to promote these direct in-person cyber interactions.
4. Select the best team leaders for the job
The right leaders know how to keep the harmony of the team together, meet their deadlines and project goals, and handle different personality types. These leaders manage conflicts and find resolutions to problems that arise with the help of the team.
There are 2 types of team leadership styles, task-focused and relationship-focused. Many arguments have arisen around which is best for team collaboration. It may depend on the project, what stage the project is in, or the preference/motivational strategies of the individual team members. Each has its benefits:
Task-focused leaders keep the project objectives clear. They provide feedback, monitor progress, and keep the team updated on the project and tasks involved. The project is the focus, there is little room for conflicts between personalities.
Relationship-focused leaders understand that a team consists of individuals with very different personalities, beliefs, backgrounds, education, political views, etc. Because of this, sometimes there will be conflicts. This style of leadership focuses on building the trust among the individuals on the team to work together. There is an emphasis on sharing knowledge, exchanging ideas, and working in harmony. Mentorship across expertise may be encouraged. The thinking is that if everyone works together, the project will succeed.
A third school of thought believes that a combination of the styles works best. The executive or team leader may start with task-focused leadership – clarifying the project goals, assigning roles, and setting task completion deadlines. Then, once the team is situated in what their responsibilities are, some leaders switch to a relationship-focused style – fostering partnerships, encouraging feedback and idea sharing, building trust with team-building exercises.
5. Offer rewards
Providing a reward is a nice gesture to recognize a team for a job well-done. A reward also can encourage the team to strive toward their collective goal. “Rewarding a team dramatically improves not only the team performance but also the individual’s experience,” states Michael Mankins (Bain & Company, co-author Decide and Deliver: Five Steps to Breakthrough Performance in your Organization).
Sadly, many corporations don’t think to offer a reward. Their philosophy is that working in a collaborative team is part of the job and these employees are already being compensated through their paycheck. “The lack of incentives and rewards is the most common and powerful barrier to effective collaboration,” comments Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer, i4cp. “Finding ways to recognize and reward individuals, leaders, and teams who engage in productive collaborative behaviors can pay off in a big way.”
The reward should have some thought put into it, not just a quickie gift card to the local coffee shop. In fact, the further away from monetary rewards the better. Make the reward unique, thoughtful, and something that offers recognition to the team publicly. A thank you in the company newsletter or staff meeting is a nice touch.
Other rewards could include:
A catered lunch
Tickets for the entire team to an athletic event or show
Complimentary attendance to a career-building workshop or event
Their favorite coffee drink delivered to them every morning for a week
A lunch date with the company’s top executives (3M did this for their team employees)
Building the right foundation for team collaboration can achieve impressive results. Your HR Executives can help you find the right way to establish positive harmony for a team while keeping sights set on project goals.
I care deeply about helping leaders and advancing the human resources profession. I have authored two books, The Art of Executive Coaching and Stress-less Leadership, and maintain a regular blog. I am also a leading contributor for The Society For Human Resources Management, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Association of Talent Development.
As an active animal advocate, I donate 100% of all book proceeds to animal welfare.
The opinions in this article are my own, and do not reflect those of my publishers or employers.