The modern workforce has adapted to several changes that have impacted the way we perform our work. One of the most obvious has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in many companies moving to completely remote or hybrid workplaces. These changes have also presented an excellent opportunity to find ways to improve collaboration.
Many businesses are supported by distributed teams spread across different states or even around the world. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College, “high-performance organizations are up to 5.5x more likely than lower-performers to incentivize individual, team, and leader effectiveness in collaboration.” The study found that the core differentiator between productive and unproductive collaboration comes down to purpose, with the purposeful pursuit of collaboration enabling organizations to more effectively leverage collaboration to achieve business objectives. Effective collaboration results from an effective company culture that is supported by management and embraces the entire organization.
In this post, we’ve compiled 25 expert tips that can help you develop a more collaborative workplace. As employees seek out meaningful work and a more clear approach to work-life balance, there are many steps that a company can take to develop an inclusive people strategy.
- Leveraging Meetings Strategically to Improve Effective Collaboration
- Leadership Tips for More Effective Collaboration
- Communication Tips for Effective Collaboration
- Creating an Environment That Supports Effective Collaboration
Leveraging Meetings Strategically to Improve Effective Collaboration
1. Prepare formal meeting agendas. With proper preparation, meetings are much more likely to be effective and more collaborative. Defining a clear agenda for each meeting and considering the role of each person who is attending will help everyone involved understand how they can participate and what their individual expectations should be.
2. Use ice-breaker questions. A meeting or discussion that starts out in an uncomfortable way is unlikely to recover. Instead of starting with the formal agenda topics, it may make sense to ask the group an ice-breaker question such as what everyone in attendance did this past weekend. One of the best ways to improve teamwork is to give employees plenty of opportunities to learn more about each other.
3. Host a kickoff meeting. Whenever a new team is established to work on a shared goal, it’s a good idea to hold a formal kick-off event. This not only gives team members a chance to ask questions and learn about the project but also helps create a shared sense of ownership. These meetings don’t need to be complicated or even lengthy, depending on the complexity of the project. It’s always a good idea to solicit feedback about the agenda from team members.
Leadership Tips for More Effective Collaboration
4. Set clear goals. Employees are more likely to collaborate with each other when they clearly understand their individual roles and the team goals that everyone is working toward. Well-defined goals give the entire team a sense of shared purpose and can help foster innovation and problem-solving. One clear sign of an effective team is one that can self-assess and identify issues that lead to meaningful improvements over time.
5. Encourage leaders to demonstrate collaborative behaviors. One of the worst things that you can do when improving collaboration is to have a leadership team that does not embody the behaviors and values you’re promoting. If a manager says one thing and does another, it risks ruining any sense of authenticity. Employees at all levels should strive to work closely together and utilize the tools and practices that are available.
6. Communicate expectations for collaboration. It’s easy to be a cheerleader for collaboration, but without clear direction, it can be challenging for employees to understand what to do. Instead of generic statements about working more closely together, aim to provide clear expectations to everyone. The guidelines should align well with the company’s values and describe specific behaviors and best practices.
7. Define the company culture. If a company culture is well-designed and supported, it should truly represent the behaviors and actions of employees throughout the organization. Create a slide deck and supporting materials that define the mission, vision, and core values of the company. These points should act as a guiding resource for employees and can be especially powerful when managing customer communications and challenges.
8. Prepare for unexpected changes. The emergence of COVID-19 reminded us all that there can be drastic and unexpected changes at any time. Companies that are able to develop and improve their communication platforms and workplace environments will be better positioned to adapt to future changes. It’s important to create a stable system that employees can access, but it’s also a good idea to ensure that it can be changed when needed.
9. Celebrate wins often. Especially when dealing with long-term and complex projects, it’s not always easy for employees to appreciate the achievements they are making along the way. Teams can benefit from taking time to celebrate wins and milestones together in a formal or informal setting. These celebrations can be small and don’t need to be large events as any chance to be recognized and appreciated is valuable.
Communication Tips for Effective Collaboration
10. Encourage active listening. Part of the challenge in facilitating effective workplace communication is balancing discussions among different team members. This can be particularly difficult when dealing with different cultures, personalities, and challenging topics. Helping employees, and especially managers, develop their active listening skills can help everyone feel heard and more involved.
11. Segment messages based on employee roles and locations. This has become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as different countries have unique guidelines when it comes to social distancing and health protocols. Clear communication during these times is a necessity, and even emails can play an integral role in keeping everyone informed. Defining clear segments and working groups for communication allows you to quickly send a message to the right individuals at any time.
12. Use different formats for different messages. When the need to communicate some information arises, think carefully about the format you use to share it. Some communications may work best as text messages, while others are more suitable for an email or phone call. Particularly important or sensitive information may also require a meeting to allow for questions and discussion to clear up any confusion and ensure everyone is on the same page.
13. Don’t neglect asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication involves information that is shared at different times. One example would be a post made on a company message board that others can respond to at any time. Many collaboration platforms include features that enable this form of communication. Asynchronous communication can be particularly effective for remote teams and those working across multiple time zones.
14. Adopt hybrid communication models. One of the best ways to foster communication and enhance collaboration is to give employees a number of different ways to communicate with each other. Utilizing several tools such as email, instant messaging, and a company intranet will allow employees to communicate information in a way that is effective for them. This makes it easier for everyone to share insights at any time and contribute to an individual, team, or corporate discussion.
15. Take advantage of informal collaboration. You can certainly accomplish a lot in meetings and formally organized work activities, but most of the real work gets done between employees themselves. Making it easy for staff to get together and communicate not only helps improve collaboration but also will allow many of them to forge long-term or even lifelong relationships. Keep external social media tools such as LinkedIn in mind when developing corporate communication strategies to support informal collaboration.
16. Understand employee communication pain points. With the large number of remote meetings taking place these days, “Zoom fatigue” has become a real thing. Many employees stare at their screens for several hours a day to perform their work functions. Using computers for meetings is necessary but should be well understood. Taking time to listen to employee feedback and suggestions can help improve productivity and communication at the same time.
17. Organize notes and feedback. When employees collaborate to develop a new strategy or review an important document, they can share ideas in a number of different ways. After the work of brainstorming and sharing is done, setting clear expectations for processing notes and feedback helps to avoid creating a backlog of partially developed ideas. Asynchronous collaboration tools are an essential asset but need to be well-managed to get the most value out of the communications.
Creating an Environment That Supports Effective Collaboration
18. Prioritize employee experience. Seeing things from employees’ perspectives can help you learn a lot about work culture and some of the communication challenges that your company may be facing. Dedicating some time to employee experience and finding ways to improve both digital and physical work environments can go a long way towards making employees feel more satisfied and comfortable at work.
19. Improve the office experience. Since employees have gotten used to a completely remote work environment in many cases, this may present a challenge for those transitioning back to a physical office location. One way that companies can prepare for this shift and foster employee interaction is to make the office areas as inviting as possible. This can include improving connectivity, ergonomics, amenities, and any other areas that your employees value.
20. Follow streams of actions. Especially for remote or hybrid teams, it can be difficult for employees to follow and understand what their coworkers are doing. This can make it difficult for workers to forge bonds and improve the way they communicate with each other. Using a shared digital platform that fosters teamwork can help improve visibility and alignment among everyone involved.
21. Adopt necessary security measures. The use of remote work technologies and collaboration tools requires a close look at security practices. Maintaining the security of a dispersed network is a challenge for even the savviest organizations. It’s important to ensure that digital and physical communication platforms of all types are secure and properly maintained at all times.
22. Create technology-driven collaboration spaces. Internet speeds and improvements in technology have made audio and video conferencing remarkably convenient these days. To foster more communication among employees, consider creating a number of different workspaces that are connected to technology systems. Making it easy for employees to gather and share materials goes a long way toward developing a strong collaborative work culture.
23. Create a positive work environment. With all the discussion about efficiency and technology tools, it can be easy to forget that your ultimate goal is to improve the experience of employees. Each person is unique and can appreciate a work environment that is convenient, positive, and inviting. A modern workplace should look great, support work processes, and provide employees with a number of spaces to gather.
24. Provide consistent tools. No employee wants to search through several systems to find a message or learn a new tool every couple of months. Consistency is a top priority when selecting and rolling out communication tools that support your workplace. Also, try to carefully test systems before formally releasing them to staff and take time to integrate and simplify communication workflows as much as possible.
25. Promote learning and development. Many employees desire career advancement for the chance to apply their skills to new projects and learning opportunities. Companies that encourage mindful risk-taking and learning from mistakes often realize greater innovation and workplace effectiveness. A strong learning and development program is a valuable resource to open communication and develop future leaders.
Effective collaboration is one of the biggest drivers of success in modern organizations. Following these 25 expert tips will help you join the ranks of today’s high-performing organizations by implementing the right processes and technologies to enhance collaboration and incentivize effective collaboration among individuals, teams, and leaders.