In the modern business world, the capacity for project teams to interact seamlessly and produce results can have a huge impact on a company’s output. Indeed, whether it’s a small and simple departmental task or a full-scale, gargantuan cross-team effort, project success ultimately rests on one key factor: the team’s ability to collaborate. Yet many managers and stakeholders often overlook, or simply misjudge, the necessary ingredients to make this recipe work.
For teams to operate effectively, it’s important to develop the right environment in which to function, as well as provide the right tools and resources. To help clarify and define what kind of environment this should be, we’ve compiled some of the most essential points to consider when trying to foster team collaboration, including tips on leadership, culture and engagement.
So, the next time you need to bring people together and get them to provide results, this is what you should bear in mind.
1. Utilise Technology
In a fast-evolving workplace, technology capabilities are increasingly challenging traditional office norms; one such instance is in how team members can keep each other abreast of where they currently are on the project timeline.
Previously, this might have required a team meeting, but as project teams become physically dispersed, this isn’t as practical anymore; it’s unrealistic, for example, to expect Jane the graphic designer to fly to the New York City office every Friday morning for the next two months just to demonstrate her latest designs.
Therefore, it’s important to invest in effective collaboration tools. Through proper use of an online workspace, such as a suitable cloud platform or app, Jane can instead upload a document in real time to a central site or location and get feedback quickly, enabling a more fluent and efficient way of working. It also negates wasted hours in a stuffy meeting room that could be better spent in front of a computer screen.
Of course, this isn’t a be-all solution; sometimes it is preferable to brainstorm in person, and it is also pertinent to consider security issues such as file permissions and data transfers. But in the grand scheme of things, the correct use of technology tools can have a monumental impact on collaboration, creating simple and effective ways for everyone to be continually in sync.
2. Ensure Communication is Universal
Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork, and without it, any project is doomed to fail. This doesn’t just mean sending lots of emails or insisting on daily conference calls, though; communication is just as much about who says what than how often it is said.
For instance, if one voice is constantly being heard above others, or certain members are not pulling their weight in terms of ideas and contributions, then it’s unlikely that your team is maximising its full potential. This is why it’s important that every team member is a part of the conversation and that, regardless of their role or their ‘rank’ within the hierarchy, they are listened to. After all, one of the greatest benefits of collaborative work is that there’s a range of expertise and viewpoints immediately available, so why waste them?
Constantly encourage people to speak up and foster an environment where they feel comfortable to do so; otherwise, it is not a collaboration, but simply a small percentage of the group telling everybody else what to do.
3. Create Accountability
With that in mind, it’s still important that everybody in the team knows where they stand; in any environment, collaboration is only effective when each member knows their role. Assigning certain tasks to certain individuals means that work is not being repeated, time is not being wasted and there is accountability for each part of the project – and this should be a priority for project managers.
In a similar vein, it’s also necessary to set goals; to achieve progress, the progress has to be measurable, after all. This also aids collaboration because once everybody knows what direction they need to be pulling in, there’s no lack of clarity or procrastination; there’s a clear purpose to what needs to be done.
Remember: although it can sound counter-productive to innovation, keeping a close eye on what your team is doing and assigning tasks accordingly can actually have the opposite effect. When people know what the end goal is, it’s easier to work together to achieve it.
4. Engage Your Employees
Collaboration works best when team members are passionate about the project and keen to commit their creative energy. After all, disengaged employees who lack any kind of enthusiasm or drive are unlikely to contribute much.
This is why employee engagement is so important. Although it’s generally perceived as being part of a wider management and HR strategy, its effect within the context of a project team is more immediate; in many cases, it can make or break the success of the project.
Of course, if you’re working with an interesting client, then harmony is easier to achieve. But if it’s a hard sell in terms of the scope, the timeline or any other detrimental factor, then you might need to get creative. This is where your leadership skills are most needed; keeping people motivated is often what separates a good project manager from a mediocre one.
5. Ensure the Ship Is Being Steered
Exchanging information, ideas and opinions is indeed the sign of healthy team collaboration. But in terms of a project that has set goals and targets, there also needs to be a figure at the helm who makes decisions when opinions clash or ideas compete; otherwise, people will simply step on each other’s toes.
This can be a tricky task, as not only do you have to choose the best course of action, but also balance the human element. If Member X backs his own idea, but you decide to go with Member Y’s suggestion, then how will that affect relationships going forward? While this should not be an issue in a professional team, people will always respond differently to certain scenarios, after all.
The important thing to remember, though, is that collaboration is pointless if it doesn’t move something forward. Debating the best way to proceed, for instance, can become a quagmire if there isn’t someone there to draw a line. As long as you explain to people why their idea isn’t feasible, and you remain open and encouraging, then it shouldn’t cause a problem, and it shouldn’t stifle the collaborative spirit, either.
6. Be Diverse
Getting six people in a room who think in exactly the same way and asking them to come up with a solution to a problem might yield a quick and efficient response – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it might be the best. This is why, when selecting a team, you should try to tap into as many different areas of expertise and knowledge as possible.
The more perspectives you can draw from, the more innovative and insightful the solutions are going to be. Simply creating an echo chamber for the same ideas and way of thinking is the antithesis of creativity. So, draw from people who have different mindsets, backgrounds and experiences, and give them a platform where everybody can apply their thoughts equally and effectively.
Team collaboration is vitally important. It fosters innovation, increases efficiency and promotes accountability, which are all key drivers of a successful organisation. Creating the environment in which it can thrive, however, requires planning, awareness and strong leadership.
Hopefully, this article demonstrates where you should focus your attention and energy, allowing your team to subsequently reap the benefits.
Do you have any other tips on how to improve team collaboration? Let us know in the comments section below!