Everyone wants to work for a team that communicates well and collaborates effectively. Unfortunately, whilst almost 100% of employees express a desire to work with a collaborative team, only 50% say that their team is actually good at instilling collaborative practices.
These statistics arise during a time when collaboration should be more accessible than ever before. The pandemic, mixed with a general push for remote work, has led to significant advances in email, texting, social media and video conferencing that should allow for remote team members to collaborate in near real-time.
So why do teams still struggle with collaboration? And, more importantly, how can you increase employee collaboration among teams?
In the following, we'll walk you through five of the most effective ways to increase employee collaboration among teams. Read on to build a more cohesive, productive team.
Why is collaboration important in the workplace?
Why should you worry about employee collaboration in the first place? Technically, your team doesn't need to be friends in order to get their work done. However, research has shown that teams who collaborate effectively are more productive and have better morale.
In the past, companies have placed a lot of emphasis on individual achievement. The thinking was that if you rewarded employees for working independently, they would be more productive. However, we now know that this isn't true. In fact, when employees are rewarded for working together, they're more likely to be productive.
There are several reasons for this, as follows:
The nature of work is more cross-functional
In the past, most jobs could be divided into specific tasks that were completed by a single individual. However, in today's workplace, the nature of work is more cross-functional. Tasks are no longer siloed; instead, they overlap and intersect. This means that employees need to collaborate with each other in order to get the job done.
It also means that teams are rapidly growing in size. According to the Harvard Business Review, teams look vastly different in 2022 to how they did ten years ago. Where effective teams were once ten or twenty members maximum, the same tasks now require teams of hundreds.
With team growth comes significant change – not just in the team’s size, but also in the way it needs to be managed.
Take Facebook, for example. Their Head of Design, Julie Zhuo, recently shared her experience with team expansion in an HBR article. She explained that, when her team doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in size, she needed to take a different approach to management.
"As teams grow, managers spend less time on the specific craft of their discipline. What matters more is that they can get the best out of a group of people."
In order to manage such large and varied teams, employee collaboration is more important than ever to the managers of 2022.
As collaboration increases, so does performance
You'd be forgiven for disregarding the term "employee collaboration" as just another corporate buzz phrase. In this case, though, the buzz is warranted; according to research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), collaborative teams are five times more productive and high-performing than those who work in isolation.
This makes sense when you think about it. When team members are able to share their ideas and work together, they're able to come up with better solutions and produce higher-quality work.
Lack of collaboration contributes to most project failures
Employee collaboration is not a take-it-or-leave it proposition. It is essential to the success of most projects. In fact, a study by Salesforce found that 86% of surveyed employees and execs cited collaboration as a make or break factor in the success (or failure) of their projects.
Even without the evidence offered by studies, it's easy to see how a team with poor collaboration could see more project failures. Tasks aren't streamlined, mixed messages are sent, and confusion and frustration run rampant. In the worst case, some team members may even start working independently in an attempt to salvage something from the project.
Barriers to employee collaboration
If collaboration were simple, every business would be doing it effectively – but studies show that there are a number of barriers to effective collaboration.
The HBR notes four particular characteristics that can either help or hinder the effectiveness of employee collaboration: team size, whether they work virtually, how diverse they are, and the prevalence of experts on the team.
1. Team size
As aforementioned, the size of teams is rapidly increasing – and as teams get larger, communication and collaboration become more difficult. Some teams are able to scale effectively and remain cohesive as they grow, but for teams who have not developed the necessary collaborative tools and processes, growth can be a major challenge.
2. Virtual teams
With more and more employees working remotely, the challenge of collaboration has only increased. The generally observed trend is that, as teams become more virtual, their collaboration suffers. Teams need to develop clear communication protocols and ways of working that are specific to virtual teaming in order to combat this.
3. The team's diversity
"The differences that inhibit collaboration include not only nationality but also age, educational level, and even tenure." (HBR) While many people are resistant to difference and change, diversity is one of the most important factors in driving innovation.
In order to successfully house a diverse team, however, employees need to be trained in how to collaborate with those who may not think or work the same way that they do.
4. Expert presence
The prevalence of experts on teams can be both a help and a hindrance to collaboration. On one hand, their deep knowledge and skillsets can be invaluable in driving innovation; on the other hand, their expertise can cause them to be more averse to change and collaboration.
Teams need to find a way to manage the tension between the need for experts and the need for collaborative decision-making.
Suggested Read: The Best Remote Collaboration Tools for Small Businesses
5 ways to build a collaborative team environment
Building a team environment that is conducive to collaboration can be a challenge. It's an ongoing process that requires effort and commitment from everyone on the team. That being said, there are a few things you can do to help get things started.
1. Support mentoring relationships among team members
Mentoring is a business strategy that often goes overlooked, but it's one of the most effective ways to develop employee skills and encourage collaboration.
Pairing up more experienced employees with those who are new to the company or just starting out can help everyone learn from each other. Mentoring relationships also help break down barriers among team members and create a more collaborative environment.
- When building your team, encourage members to take on mentoring roles and look for employees who have a natural inclination to help others learn. Promote an environment where it's okay to ask for help, and make sure everyone has access to the resources they need to be successful.
- Another great strategy is to start a mentoring program, as this allows you to structure your program around themes of company culture, communication, or anything that applies to your team’s specific needs.
- If your team is particularly large, or the task of pairing mentors and mentees simply feels overwhelming, you can always enlist the help of mentoring software. These tools make it easy to connect employees with others who can help them grow professionally.
2. Support a sense of community
Collaboration is all about community. After all, you are essentially creating a micro-community of people who are working together to achieve a common goal.
The best way to support this sense of community is by creating an environment that is open and welcoming. This means encouraging people to communicate openly and honestly, sharing feedback, and being cooperative and supportive.
3. Coach leaders on how to promote team collaboration
As the directors and overseers of your team, it's important that leaders understand the value of collaboration and know how to encourage it. Train your leaders in the most effective styles and techniques for promoting team collaboration:
- Directive leadership – in which the leader provides clear instructions and relays knowledge to the team
- Non-directive leadership – in which the leader prompts team members to share their ideas and collaborates with them to come up with a solution
- Situational leadership – in which the leader adapts their style to fit the needs of the team and situation
The best approach is to use a mix of directive and non-directive leadership, as this allows team members to feel empowered while still being guided.
4. Have the right collaboration tools in place
We happen to live in an era that is more conducive to collaboration than ever before. Technology has made it easier for people to connect with each other, share information, and work together on projects.
Did you know:
- 80% of businesses use collaborative software tools in order to increase productivity.
- Executives that use such tools report experiencing significant benefits, stating that new collaborative tools are likely to replace email as the primary means of communication
- Studies show that collaborative tools greatly assist in workplace collaboration, and 49% of millennials back the transition to more collaborative platforms
The right tools can make all the difference in terms of how easily and effectively team members can collaborate. You can use tools like Fyle to manage expenses and approvals, or Slack to communicate and collaborate on projects.
If you're not sure which tools will work best for your team, do some research and ask team members for their input. Once you have the right tools in place, make sure everyone knows how to use them and is comfortable using them.
5. Define roles clearly
“Cooperation increases when the roles of individual team members are sharply defined" -Harvard Business Review
While leaders should never run a dictatorship, it's important to define each team member's role in order to establish expectations. This includes what is expected of them and what they can expect from others. When everyone knows their place, it becomes easier for them to work together towards a common goal.
In terms of collaboration, defining your roles can
- Help prevent overlap and confusion
- Encourage team members to take on specific tasks that they are good at or interested in
- Clarify who is responsible for what
By taking the time to define everyone's roles, you are setting the stage for better communication and cooperation.
Wrap-up: what would your team look like if collaboration increased?
Taking on the challenge of improving employee collaboration can seem daunting. It’s not something that can be done overnight, but with a few tweaks and strategies in place, you can start to see an increase in teamwork among your employees.
Don't be intimidated by the steps listed in this article; instead, think of them as opportunities for your team to get to know each other better. Any step forward is an achievement, and with perseverance, you can create a more collaborative environment for your team.
A great way to motivate your team toward better collaboration is to think about the possibilities that could come of such a shift. What would your team look like if collaboration increased?
- You'd see a decrease in silos, isolation, and territorialism.
- Employees would feel more connected to one another, fostering a greater sense of community and teamwork.
- There would be less need for micromanagement, as employees would be taking on more responsibility for their own work.
- The team's overall productivity would increase as employees learned to work together more efficiently.
- Cross-departmental collaboration would improve, leading to new and innovative ideas.
The potential for growth and productivity here is truly limitless, so the sooner you can get your team onboard with better collaboration, the sooner you'll see positive changes.