Collaboration is a teachable skill. The most successful teams work by harnessing their different strengths to reach a common goal. Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” The following tips will take your team to new heights of collaborative excellence.
1. Communicate clearly on what success looks like. The benefits of clear communication in the workplace include increased productivity, higher morale and improved retention. People thrive on transparency and information. The ability to calmly, coherently and efficiently share thoughts or concerns is paramount to success. Be sure you communicate in a way that’s both specific and unambiguous. For example, avoid acronyms unless you’re sure that the whole team understands them, and always ask for clarifying questions. Other effective collaborative communication skills include:
- Gain buy-in for common objectives.
- Give each team member a chance to express commitment.
- Be clear about what the team’s short- and long-term goals are.
- Define how success will be measured and celebrated.
2. Clarify roles and expectations. This reinforces a sense of purpose, and creates a more engaged and collaborative (and happy) team. A clear summary of roles and expectations helps everyone feel part of something important, and leaves no one uncertain as to what is expected of them or their colleagues. Discussion and consensus on roles and expectations makes the team’s layout clear to participants and helps focus energy toward getting the work done. Provide team members with freedom to work as they work best, and empower decision making.
3. Establish ground rules. Ground rules set up team norms that let everyone know how to interact and conduct themselves, and what’s expected of them. Ground rules also let team members express what’s important to them and learn what matters to their teammates. If you look at a project as a giant board game, then, like any game, you need to know the rules before starting. Having ground rules also provides context for discussing any frustrating interactions, and creates a protocol for grievances if and when the situation arises. Projects are often hectic and stressful. Clear ground rules can diffuse some of this stress and keep the teamwork confined to a professional playfield, rather than a personal one.
4. Set agenda-driven, efficient meetings. Productive meetings need preparation, facilitation, participation, and an evaluation process. Simple details can make a world of difference, such as:
- Have a purpose for meeting.
- Start and end on time.
- Distribute an agenda with the meeting invitation.
- Make sure any technology you’re using works properly before start time.
- Allow each team member check-in time.
- Summarize decisions and assign action items.
5. Build trust and relationships. Trust grows when team members feel valued and heard. You probably know the saying, “There is no i in team.” The most collaborative teams trust each other enough to take purposeful risks, communicate effectively on important issues, and feel accountable and reliable. Every team member should be encouraged to contribute to the group conversation. Social interactions, ice-breaking exercises and celebrations of successes can all help cement the framework of team collaboration.
6. See conflict as an opportunity. Conflict is a normal part of doing business. Emotions and words can get heated when you’re in the thick of an important project. A consistent, rational approach to managing conflict, based on established ground rules, will keep frustrations at bay—or dealt with in the most effective way possible. Disagreements aired in a respectful, open-minded way allow for a more successful and collaborative resolution. All parties should be free to articulate the causes of the conflict, openly acknowledging that there will be differing perceptions of the problem(s) and make a clear statement of how they would best like the conflict resolved. Collaboration and compromise are the most productive forms of addressing conflict, leaving neither winner nor loser, but rather everyone working together for the best possible solution.
7. Reflect and review. Truly collaborative teams, and individuals will practice what they learned in their next go-round. Ask questions like:
- What did you learn?
- How did you function as a team?
- What gaps were there—individually and collectively?
- How do you improve the quality of your work and your collaboration next time?
Reflection and continuous process improvement are a fundamental aspect of agile software development. The practice of reflection is immensely valuable when beginning a new project, and contributes to continuous improvement on existing work. Reflection is a proven way to improve your team’s effectiveness and team satisfaction in a real-world setting. And the truth is: When your team members feel appreciated and happy, they’ll do their best work—individually and collaboratively.
How do you build powerful collaborations within your team?