In most organizations, collaboration is a vital part of the success or failure of any initiative. Rarely does a project take place entirely within one department or team; there is almost always a need to gather input from multiple stakeholders.
Yet, the process of collaboration isn’t always as easy as Team A asking Team B for their help, and the two teams working together toward the common goal. There are often barriers to effective collaboration, which can come from the teams themselves, management, even the environment itself. As a result, collaborative efforts are often marked by frustration and discontent, or met with dread when employees learn that they must work together.
If you’re finding that collaborative efforts in your organization aren’t working the way you hope they will, or that your team is reluctant to work with others, consider whether these barriers are part of the problem.
1. Physical Barriers
Look around your office. Is it designed for collaboration? Or is everyone contained in their silos, with literal physical barriers — walls, doors, etc. — blocking them from each other? In the traditional office environment, workers were kept separate from each other, with each department sequestered in its own area for practicality’s sake. And while keeping your departments together makes the most logistical sense, if you want a collaborative environment, you need to design the workspace to encourage it. Studies show that open workspaces improve collaboration, but also tend to impede productivity. The noise and activity of co-workers can be distracting to even the most conscientious workers. So what is the solution, then?
Ideally, the most collaborative workspace is one that provides multiple different areas for both individual work and for team activities. Easily accessible conference rooms, shared workspaces, and informal meeting areas like kitchens and libraries can encourage for the formal and informal exchanges that real collaboration requires, while still maintaining productivity. Of course, if you can’t make office changes, you can hire a corporate event planner to get everyone in the same room and talking too.
2. Over-reliance on Technology
Undoubtedly, technology has made collaboration easier. However, hitting “reply all” to a group email and posting meeting notes on a shared drive isn’t collaboration. True collaboration is more than just keeping people “in the loop” though. It’s sharing ideas and working together, and sometimes, an email or an instant message isn’t enough to do that. To foster true collaboration, technological tools need to be viewed as tools — not the foundation of the collaboration. In other words, before you unveil the latest and greatest collaboration tool, have a plan and a strategy for how it will improve workflow.
3. Cultural Issues
Sometimes, it’s the very culture of the organization that impedes collaboration. For example, companies that struggle with collaboration often:
- Reward or value individual accomplishments above team performance.
- Treat collaboration as an “add-on,” rather than an integral part of workflow.
- Focus on measurements that don’t really matter; the emphasis is on quantity of work, not always quality.
- Don’t explain the benefits of collaboration to all stakeholders, including employees and customers, but merely expect it to take place.
These are just some of the cultural issues that prevent real collaborative efforts to take place. Often, these issues are deeply ingrained into the company, and require a full-scale culture change to disappear. In fact, many companies work with business solutions companies and spend years modeling the collaborative process via culture change initiatives to improve collaboration in the organization.
Leadership — or a lack thereof — can often be the determining factor in the success of any collaborative effort. Without strong leadership, collaboration can quickly turn to competition, with everyone intent on proving why their ideas are the best and the others aren’t worth pursuing. Strong leadership helps keep the focus on the overall goal, and ensures that the teams stay on track.
Leadership doesn’t always have to come from management, either. Leadership within the collaborative team, both in the form of official and unofficial leaders, is just as important as having an executive champion. This can ensure that not only is everyone’s voice being heard, but that the decisions being made are the right ones for the project, not the teammate’s egos or individual goals.
Finally, while strong leadership is important for successful collaboration, micromanagement can set it off course just as easily as no leadership at all. Let employees do their jobs and trust that they will do what needs to be done, without enforcing or policing their activities to ensure that they are collaborating the way you want them to.
So Instead …
Okay, so you know what hurts team collaboration and prevents it from working, but that does not mean you know how to effectively collaborate or enable and encourage team collaboration. So, here is a tip for the best way to collaborate with a team.
Be Open About Absolutely Everything
It is so important to remember this when working with a team. Communicated any difficulties you have or shortcuts your create to streamline things can help everyone involved. By constantly communicating whatever is going on and opening discussing problem areas, you will be able to address them immediately and keep the collaboration going. Team collaboration is difficult, and so is being open with everyone about areas needing improving. However in the end, as long as these things are communicated effectively, your team collaboration will result in the absolute best end product and may even help to foster workplace camaraderie. Remember to be open and communicative throughout collaboration with a team. It will help get the project done well and on-time.
Effective collaboration requires integrating the expectation of collaborative efforts into the fabric of the organization, creating a culture in which it is the norm rather than a one-time or “special” project. It may require some hard work to create the necessary shifts in mindset, but the result will be a more effective, productive organization.