In recent years, the benefits of employee collaboration and teamwork have been proven again and again. Companies of every size, from Google all the way down to bootstrapped startups, have found that allowing employees work closely together increases productivity, lowers frustration and stress, and increases employee satisfaction.
There’s both art and science to effective employee collaboration, however. Although the instinct of many managers is to simply seat their highest performers next to each other and see what happens, it’s just not that simple.
Fostering the right environment for collaboration, as well as knowing how to effectively build teams and work units, is crucial. Here are 7 ways to help make sure your company and your employees get the most out of this new way to work.
7 – Set Clear Goals
Unless a team is meant to only come together for a single project and then disperse, it should have a clear, concrete, overarching goal. The members of the team should have a clear understanding of why they work together on project after project, rather than going their own way and using their own resources. Without that, engagement with the team will be limited. People have to want to work together, or they’ll end up just working near each other.
It can be tempting to make this goal something particularly inspiring, like “disrupt the industry”, but a measurable and manageable goal is more effective. Improving customer retention by a specific percentage over a specific period of time, for example, or reaching a new market.
6 – Don’t Forget to do the Work
There can often be a tendency to overplan. This is particularly true in small teams, where valuable time and energy can be taken up trying to account for every possible situation, interpersonal problem, and challenge that comes with working closely together. Should meeting notes be posted to a Google Doc? What happens if someone consistently can’t make it to a scheduled call? What happens if, theoretically, there’s a deadlock on a group decision?
“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” —Peter Drucker
At some point, it’s important to just get down to work. Set up a few rules to resolve the most obvious situations, and take the rest as they come. Allow team members to focus their mental efforts on actually collaborating, and not the processes that surrounds it.
5 – Assess and Reevaluate as Needed
There is a logical error known as outcome bias that often plagues employee collaboration. Simply put, outcome bias means that success overshadows problems. When a team finds success, they will tend to ignore issues with their process and workflow, because it ultimately led to the completion of a project. They’ll travel along a bumpy road to their destination, but never go back to repave the road for the next trip.
This is a fallacy that not only reduces efficiency, but can also ultimately lead to employee frustration and disengagement. Schedule frequent status checks and meetings during a project so that team members can voice any issues or concerns. This should be a place for open and honest communication, with the goal being to improve the process for everyone.
4 – Build the Right Team
Google undertook a two-year internal study to evaluate their collaboration and teamwork. Google was one of the earliest adopters of modern collaboration techniques, and they credit that fact with a large portion of their success. The purpose of the study was to figure out just what makes up an effective team, and the results were somewhat surprising.
To quote Google, “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.”
In other words, how good employees are at working together is more important than the individual skills of the employees. When building your work units, select people who are “team players”, even if it means passing over a genius specialist because they’re more of a lone wolf. The resulting team will likely be more effective than that genius could ever be on his or her own.
3 – Use the Right Technology
The rise of the collaborative workplace, along with geographically disparate workers, has meant a boom in collaboration software. Choosing the right software, configuring it properly for your team’s work style, and training employees in its use will make an enormous difference in workflow efficiency and overall productivity.
Secure file sharing, collaborative document editing, and easy text and video chats are wonderful tools to foster effective employee collaboration. The best tools become invisible to the user, and the best collaboration software is so easy to use that team members will rely on it without thinking.
2 – Everyone in Their Place
A good team will naturally include people from several different disciplines, depending on the projects it undertakes. Although the whole point of a collaborative unit is for the members to, well, collaborate, it’s vital that everyone knows their role. As people continue to work closely together, they will inevitably pick up pieces of each other’s trades.
It’s beneficial to have a basic understanding of what teammates are doing, of course, but it can also sometimes lead to a tendency to tell people how to do their job. This can quickly turn into an interpersonal conflict and damage the effectiveness of the work unit. It’s important for team members to understand the role each person plays, and the processes for providing feedback without stepping on toes.
1 – Inspire
Collaboration only works when everyone is on board with the concept. Individual team members need to see and understand the power of the team, or that power will fall flat. Implementing all the tips above will ensure that employees engage with each other in a constructive manner, and that’s the real key to effective employee collaboration.
Simply placing employees together and telling them to work together isn’t enough. They need to be shown how, they need to be shown why, and they need to be given the tools to succeed.