At this point, just about every business recognizes the importance of effective collaboration. Companies spend time & money implementing tools that are designed to make this easier - think Slack, Trello etc. The part that sometimes gets overlooked, and is usually harder to quantify, is the importance of creating a culture around collaboration.
Unlike some stuff we’ve posted to this blog in the past, this post isn’t about specific tools or metrics to use in your quest to get people to work together effectively at your company. It’s about approach. There are plenty of companies out there (ours included) that can give you stats on how their products help drive collaboration. I’ll let you in on a secret though - you’re not maximizing the potential of any tools you adopt unless you lay the proper groundwork.
Personally, I think creating a collaborative culture starts with one thing: empowering your people.
A little cliche? Sure. Something we should all practice more? Absolutely.
I wanted to share some quick thoughts on how I think about promoting effective collaboration at work - hopefully you find some of them useful enough to try out yourself.
Think of your team as a puzzle
Everyone has a resume, and most people are pretty good at making theirs look appealing. Ask anyone who’s hired people, and most will tell you the same thing: the best candidates “on paper” don’t consistently translate to the highest-performing employees.
When hiring, I think it’s critical to think about (and test) a candidate’s ability to share their ideas. In the past, I’ve done things like asking potential employees what they wanted to talk about that didn’t involve work. There are no right or wrong answers - just the ability to have a free-flowing, engaging conversation.
Active communication and the ability to think about problems on the fly are keys to effective collaboration, but we often end up focusing on things we can quantify instead. I’m not saying that hard skills aren’t important - just that team skills are too.
Promoting the sharing of ideas and active conversation is only half the battle. It’s one thing to encourage employees to speak up - it’s completely another to actively listen to what they have to say. It’s a bad enough thing to feel like your opinions & contributions don’t matter - what’s worse is feeling that way when the people who ask you to contribute are the ones not listening.
Don’t assume that your employees feel heard just because you’re asking them to speak. Take the time to engage in some constructive back and forth when someone brings you an idea - it’ll encourage them to bring more of them to the table, and there’s a good chance it’ll help you advance your business too.
Get everyone involved
Companies are broken up by job function for a reason, but at the end of the day, everyone is working toward the same overarching goal. It’s important to recognize that good ideas come from everywhere, and that cross-departmental collaboration is a MUST if you’re truly looking for the most thorough ideas.
At the end of the day, marketing, sales, engineering, and customer-service teams all bring their own unique perspectives to the challenges your company faces (for example, engineers that design products without consulting sales or marketing have no way of knowing what existing and potential customers are looking for). When tackling problems, go out of your way to seek feedback from all corners of your business - you might be surprised what you find.
To Wrap Up
Effective collaboration is about more than providing your teams with the right tools and technology. It’s about creating an open culture that encourages employees to share ideas and feedback. If you work at that, you might be surprised just how engaged your employees seem, and how much that helps drive your business forward.