How Leaders Can Harness Workplace Collaboration in A Fast-Paced Environment

Angela Kambouris

Have you ever experienced firsthand the challenge in getting in a group of people to collaborate and how difficult it can be – like herding cats. The project moves ahead, ideas are nurtured only to be discarded, and work festers awaiting review. Initial approvals are granted then denied, and revisions are endlessly resulting in deadlines missed. Budgets are exceeded, and team members are confused. It’s one hot mess.

In the 21st century, collaboration is the new king. Disruptors like Uber and Airbnb have led the marketplace from a small team of diverse and inclusive thinkers to deliver services that have changed the world. Today, workplace collaboration is the secret sauce of innovation and the platform for business success.

Slack’s 2018 International Work Perceptions Report gathered data from nearly 7,000 knowledge workers in 17 countries concerning what makes for good collaboration. This study highlighted that irrespective of age or country, agreement on what made for good team collaboration was consistent – effortless communication, mutual trust, and clear responsibilities. They all craved the right tools to do their job and the power to make decisions. Giving workers more autonomy and more opportunities for collaboration drives innovation while improving morale.

Here are 13 best practices to guide successful collaboration in the workplace:

1. Leaders Are Powerful Instruments of Change

Leaders must share with their people the “why” before the “how” to ensure the success of any collaborative initiative. Identify your strategy, then decide what technology or tools align with where you are headed.

When leaders support collaboration, and foster environments where asking questions are part of the company culture, people aren’t afraid to share, challenge, and disrupt ideas. People will admit when they don’t know and make themselves vulnerable.

2. Trust Is Like A Flower. Easy To Crush, Difficult To Revive.

Building collaboration means building trust. PWC’s Global CEO Survey identified that 50% of CEO’s worldwide consider a lack of trust to be a significant disruptor to organizational growth. Trust is at the heart of every great collaboration. It starts at the top and permeates throughout.

When trust is the foundation, people depend on each other to follow through with what they say, share the risks and rewards, celebrate milestones and achievements. They compromise when needed, share vulnerability, empathize and uplift each other and share opinions without fear of ridicule, or shaming.

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Neuroscience of Trust, Paul J. Zak reported that people working in trust-based cultures are 60% more likely to enjoy their jobs and 70% more aligned with their companies’ purpose. The perfect partnership for collaboration and innovation.

3. Cooperative Spirit

Successful workplace collaboration requires a cooperative spirit and mutual respect. Clear definitions and agreements on roles of partners in the collaborative process, keeping communication open within teams, reaching consensus about methods and goals to move forward and recognition for the contributions of all collaborators. One of the critical elements of successful collaborations ensures that group goals are placed above personal satisfaction. The desired project results are the centerpiece and when mistakes are made, and there will be, acknowledge the error, and embrace the learning.

4. Not A One-Time Event

Collaboration is not a unique event, nor is it easy to implement without practice, mistakes, and feedback. Workplace collaboration is a process that becomes better over time as people invest in sharing ideas, generating conversations to disrupt the status quo and challenge group think to tap into new ideas and more successful results.

5. Every Voice Matters

Listening to the voice of the employee as a part of the decision-making process creates an inclusive environment. Being open to ideas, the needs of the people, and obtaining feedback must be integrated into the strategy. Celebrating individual performance is critical however, not to the expense of rewarding teamwork. Collaborative workplace environments must have both.

6. Breaking Down The Silos

Different departments often adopt their tools and processes, so being able to be on the same page in a digital sense can be challenging. When a central platform is adapted for communication, cooperation, and coordination, this can be the first step to breaking down the silos and bridging information gaps. Leaders must bring teams together regularly to establish complementary agendas, share challenges, and celebrate the benefits.

7. Intentional Workplace Collaboration

How often do you hear people espousing that there is so much work and their time is too precious to collaborate? Intentional collaboration replaces the ad-hoc or let’s see what happens approach to identify dates and times where people consciously plan to be in the office for a brainstorming session. Atlassian runs ShipIt Days, where teams stop what they are doing and collaborate in the workplace to develop something extraordinary.

8. Design A Collaborative Workspace

Have you ever seen a company that has designed its physical spaces that encourage people to work together? Cisco redesigned its office to make their space highly collaborative and connected through shared workspaces. Their spaces supported planned and spontaneous meetings to accommodate a range of working styles. The capitalized on an individual workstation equipped with desktop accessories so the employee could work anywhere. As a result, Cisco measured the impact of their collaborative office design to have led to higher employee satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency.

You don’t have to spend millions on new office design. Another idea is to adopt a space within the building for regular breakfast or afternoon happy hour to create some interactions where people get to know others and share ideas.

9. Build The Right Team

Not all workplace collaboration emerges from casual conversations over muffins and tea. Often team members are assigned to specific roles within a project. Bring people together with expertise from diverse areas and skills to provide a platform of progress. Every team member need not only to understand their position and the position and responsibilities of those around them and how they form part of the greater whole.

10. Establishing Ground Rules

Giving teams autonomy can create paralysis. People wait for someone else to take charge. Creating a manifesto that defines the team’s goals, values, and responsibilities establishes an environment for more proactive behavior to move them towards the vision.

11. Embed Social Activities

When you provide a space for regular social activities, you allow your team to build deeper professional relationships. The better they get to know each other, the more opportunities to draw on one another’s skill set to create new ideas, translate them into a reality, and complete projects more effectively and more efficiently.

12. Idea-sharing Culture

Being open about the challenges within the organization and presenting incentives for employees to offer solutions is under-utilized by many companies. Leaders do not need to divulge confidential information, however keeping people in the loop is essential to inspire loyalty, respect, and trust.

13. Open Minded, Not Problem-Saturated

Some of the most successful companies in the world are renowned for their original structures and processes. Google cultivated a casual atmosphere engineered to maximize “casual collisions of the workforce”, Zappos purposefully planned to build a smaller office to increase what they call “collisionable hours” which would increase the number of probable interactions per hour per acre to create more opportunity for team members  to regularly brainstorm develop new strategies and solutions rather than being problem saturated.

Workplace Collaboration Binds People Together

Collaboration in the workplace is not unique to part of the organization. It must be adopted by every member of staff irrespective of level or role. Visibility is the key, and when employees see their leaders effectively collaborating, an inspired workforce replicates this behavior and the ripples begin. Everyone has a voice that matters, and when possibilities are spoken and acted upon, successful business outcomes are endless.

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