Collaboration in the workplace — benefits, tips, and tools
If team members don’t trust each other, they won’t work together. And if teams can’t collaborate, companies won’t be able to innovate. Collaboration builds trust, but getting teams to trust each other is easier said than done. While more than 50% of workers say their jobs rely on teamwork, 86% of leaders blame a lack of collaboration for project failures.
With more hybrid and remote team configurations and the need for better collaboration — focusing on efficiency and productivity — more companies are turning to applications for answers. Nearly 80% of workers used digital collaboration tools in 2021, with figures continuing to rise. However, managers and leaders cannot rely on technology alone to solve the issue of teamwork.
Teamwork and collaboration are key. Applications can create inroads to communication, but the interactions themselves are what build vital trust over time. Companies can learn to cultivate more effective collaboration by helping teams trust one another to spur innovation, efficiency, and success.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how leaders can improve cooperation among their team members to address a lack of collaboration that could be holding back progress. To do this, we’ll discuss:
- What collaboration in the workplace is
- Benefits of workplace collaboration
- Core principles of workplace collaboration
- What effective collaboration in the workplace looks like
- Tips to improve collaboration in the workplace
- Challenges with workplace collaboration
- Tools to help with workplace collaboration
What is collaboration in the workplace?
Workplace collaboration is achieved when two or more people working for an organization come together to produce a defined outcome, solve a problem, or share their perspectives to advance a business goal.
When the right teams are assembled, representing different skillsets and viewpoints, improved results are produced compared to individuals approaching the project on their own. The idea is that working together can bring out the best in each contributor and advance initiatives well beyond what a single person could accomplish with a limited perspective or knowledgebase.
While every company will operate differently and have distinct personalities to manage, the most successful work environments share key characteristics that cultivate workplace collaboration:
- They are places where employees feel seen, heard, and safe to share their thoughts.
- They run efficient meetings and purposeful work sessions.
- They have standardized systems and collaboration processes in place.
- Their teams understand the importance of healthy communication.
Collaboration standards can apply within teams representing the same department or area of emphasis or in cross-functional team environments where contributors represent different business interests.
Benefits of workplace collaboration
Collaboration is an essential part of efficient, effective teamwork, and it can help teams and companies achieve productivity goals or solve problems in creative ways. By encouraging people to work together toward a common objective, companies can also cultivate a culture of innovation and inclusivity where everyone is encouraged to contribute.
Healthy and productive workplace cultures are becoming even more important as remote and hybrid settings make it more challenging for people to naturally collaborate with one another as they would in a physical office setting. Those teams that accomplish effective workplace collaboration experience a number of benefits, including:
- Increased innovation. When looking for new ways to approach projects or problems, teams that collaborate are more likely to brainstorm ideas to take the team and the business forward.
- Happier teams. By having people to work alongside, share ideas, and create relationships with, collaborative teams are more likely to be happier at the workplace, which can trickle down into a better quality of work as time goes on.
- Alignment across distributed teams. Bringing people together is not just a social event. It’s a chance to ensure everyone on a team understands tasks, assignments, and objectives and how they can help one another, even if they aren’t in an office.
- Shared knowledge among team members. Leaders can create visibility by highlighting team members’ hard work, celebrating successes no matter how small, and cultivating collaboration. Leading in this way can create a greater sense of synergy in each team member and in the broader group.
- Improved customer experience. Increasing collaboration in customer-facing teams can enhance processes and attitudes that impact the customer experience, helping to better engage customers, solve problems, and improve retention and loyalty.
- Optimized workflows. Collaboration can be haphazard if there aren’t clear processes and tasks to indicate who needs to perform which duties, so optimizing workflows can help keep everyone on the same page moving forward for increased productivity.
Core principles of workplace collaboration
One of the struggles many leaders face when implementing teamwork-based processes is the reluctance of contributors to adhere to those guidelines. After all, not everyone is a natural team player. It’s important to cultivate an environment for success by bringing together people who represent different skillsets and backgrounds — but who may share values in terms of their work ethic and attitudes.
When every team member embraces the values listed below, workplace collaboration can be successful and productive for everyone involved.
- Clarity. Individuals need to understand exactly what is expected from them as contributors and team members. By making objectives clear, managers can help avoid miscommunication or conflict along the course of a project.
- Efficiency. Output and input do not need a one-to-one relationship when it comes to how teams spend their time. Teams with great communication and clear goals can often take the reins and produce as needed while using their time wisely.
- Positivity. Keeping a positive attitude, even when faced with obstacles, can help hearten a team as they work through challenges. Look for people who are naturally positive while cultivating an environment of togetherness that can rise above issues.
- Trust. Perhaps the most important of principles, trust is essential for encouraging team contributors that what they provide matters. Individual team members need to believe their voices are heard and respected, even if some ideas are passed over for others.
- Accountability. While a project might be trusted to a team for completion, everyone should be clear on their individual roles, contributions, and expectations for their performance. Leaders need to make sure no one hides behind the veil of group work.
- Empathy. Leaders should also be sure to keep tasks and expectations evenly distributed and understand the specific challenges that affect each individual. Collaboration without empathy can cause breakdowns in communication and morale.
What does effective collaboration look like?
Collaboration will take different forms depending on the industry, line of business, or team makeup, but it often resembles an effort for everyone to provide each other with the resources and knowledge necessary to move a project forward. To do this, companies often invest in different workflows and tools to encourage sharing and ideation between team members.
Holding meetings to bring everyone together, in person or virtually, can help teams make connections and encourage brainstorming on new initiatives or around challenges. Leaders should ensure that every voice is heard to encourage contributions and underscore the importance of having diverse teams with different perspectives. While the meetings should not be longer than necessary, they should foster open communication and discussion among all contributors.
In addition to meeting, contributors can connect with each other throughout the day using various software tools for messaging, emailing, and video conferencing. Encourage everyone to use the channels they are most comfortable with and to engage with each other as resources rather than as a form of competition.
Other approaches, which we’ll touch on in more detail below, include incorporating tools for task and asset management. When team members can access the same files anytime and collaborate on projects with transparency, the workflow is smooth and clear.
Tips to improve collaboration in the workplace
Team members are individuals with different backgrounds, personalities, and goals for themselves who come together in the workplace to achieve a greater objective. This meshing together can come with some challenges.
While working as part of a group may not always be easy, here are some ways to help teams synergize more effectively. (For even more advice, explore our article with 40 collaboration tips.)
1. Set goals collaboratively
While the business objectives might be nonnegotiable, how to get to the desired outcome could be up for grabs. Include team members in goal setting and task breakdowns to ensure that the objectives are clear and leaders are not missing anything that a team contributor would notice.
2. Promote open communication
Publish tasks, reference materials, schedules, and other key assets publicly where every team member can have access. Leaders should also encourage feedback during meetings or brainstorming sessions as well as one-on-one as the need arises. Clarify what kinds of communication are appropriate for the different channels — messages, video, email — available to the team.
3. Invite co-creation
Schedule meetings to encourage team members to participate in discussions, whether they agree with what is being said or not. Brainstorming can also happen in collaborative workspaces like project plans, tracking software, and shared documents. Ask team members what tools would enhance their ability to work together more effectively.
4. Solve problems as a group
Every project has its challenges along the way. Just as successes are shared, so too should problems. Encourage everyone to come together without placing any blame for issues or outcomes. Instead, cultivate a creative space where everyone can speak up about novel ways to navigate the present roadblock.
5. Be flexible
Tasks, deliverables, and deadlines can drive team performance, but it also helps if managers are flexible when possible. For example, in more iterative environments, team members may realize that they have a unique take on a task that could have an impact on other planned initiatives. Be open to hearing feedback and make appropriate adjustments in the context of broader business goals.
6. Take advantage of channels
There are several ways managers can take advantage of a tech stack without getting too buried in tools. Centralizing assets and creating a single dashboard or platform for project management can create transparency and trust. Messaging can also take place on many of these software solutions, consolidating conversations and encouraging relevant communications throughout the day.
7. Maintain structure
Teams might be great at following assigned tasks, but they should not run on auto-pilot. Consider scheduling brief daily meetings, either to kick off the day or to wrap up and summarize progress before everyone checks out. These can help everyone share their updates with the most exposure for the team. Then, anyone who needs extra guidance can schedule individual check-ins as needed.
8. Encourage accountability
Hiding behind other team members can happen in a group setting, and managers need to be sure that while the group’s output is priority, everyone is doing their fair share of the heavy lifting. Leaders can encourage accountability through the transparency of scheduling and task management software as well as through individual meetings that make it clear progress is being monitored across the board.
9. Lead by example
With so much talk about collaboration, managers and leaders often forget to include themselves in the conversation. Emphasize that your door is open, literally or figuratively, for people to ask questions, look for guidance, or collaborate in different ways.
10. Highlight successful teamwork
Rather than calling out individual contributors, which can be done in one-on-one meetings or performance reviews, managers can congratulate the team for progress made, objectives completed, and challenges overcome. Make sure to take the time to focus on successes. After all, achieving those goals is the point of effective workplace collaboration and is worth celebrating along the way.
11. Offer mentorship opportunities
Teams offer places for individuals to hone their existing skills while learning from their peers. Managers can also offer advice and mentoring to help their employees on their chosen career paths.
12. Build time for team bonding
With the focus on work, it can be a challenge to find the time for team building. But managers often learn that investing in team bonding exercises can be an investment in achieving their long-term business goals. Getting to know one another on a team can increase camaraderie and help with better communication and willingness to work together.
Challenges with workplace collaboration
Workplace collaboration done right is like a well-oiled machine and can feel effortless as everyone works together as planned. But there are some pitfalls for managers to watch out for when implementing their collaboration strategies.
In some instances, teamwork might be slow to produce results. Rather than panicking over slow adoption, start small and work with everyone to iron out the details of each process one at a time. Bombarding team members with too much information, notifications, or tools designed to make them more productive can overwhelm them instead. Managers can consolidate much of this information into just a few centralized places, like shared files or a project management tool, and take their time to acclimate their teams accordingly.
Larger teams can also present opportunities for friction, making it important for managers to consider bringing together diverse individuals with complementary personalities. Creating a team that is smaller to start with and then grows based on demand can also make it easier for managers to attend to the needs of the group when it is new.
Communication is the foundation of all great teamwork, so managers need to be sure they clarify the roles and responsibilities of each individual contributor. Define communication methods and provide resources for people to collaborate, but be wary of micromanaging the team as a whole. This can have a reverse effect and impede their ability to feel autonomous and productive. Instead, managers can cultivate an environment of trust while also making sure that deliverables and expectations are clearly defined and transparent.
Tools to help with workplace collaboration
As we have noted along the way, there are a number of different tools available to enhance and support workplace collaboration. Here are some of the most popular tools that leaders use to streamline communications and enhance productivity:
- File-sharing tools. Applications like Google Workspace or Dropbox are designed to make it easy to share content across the web without worrying about overwriting or duplicating work. This makes it easy for teams to brainstorm, comment, and access one another’s work.
- Communication tools. Platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams make it easier for people to chat with one another throughout the day without disrupting the workflow. Many of these also integrate with file-sharing tools to make it easy to reference projects in process.
- Video communication tools. For more face-to-face collaboration, video tools like Zoom help encourage conversation with a more personal twist. These are great for one-on-one discussions as well as virtual meetings that bring the entire team together for a brainstorming session.
- Project management tools. Centralizing project management can bring transparency and accountability to a team. Apps like Trello help managers track the deliverables and deadlines in line with business goals while breaking them down into manageable tasks for individual and team contributors to work through. Adobe Workfront is a solid option for teams looking to streamline their project management. The enterprise platform drives collaboration by integrating people and processes within and across teams for complete lifecycle management. Watch this overview video to learn more.
The right project management tool for more effective workplace collaboration
Cultivating more effective workplace collaboration can result in improved innovation, efficient processes, increased success, and enhanced communication for organizations of all shapes and sizes. The goal is to consider the makeup and goals of your particular teams and then create an environment of transparency and trust where everyone feels welcome to share their ideas and bring their experience to the table.
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Discover how Workfront can help your team collaborate and create from anywhere with the ability for everyone to plan, execute, and monitor projects in real time. Take the product tour to see Adobe Workfront in action today.