Team Collaboration at Work: How to Unlock Innovative Practices

Posted in Organizational Development

As the world of work rapidly evolves, human connections have become one of the most important keys to fostering a more productive and positive workplace. That’s because when people are connected on an emotional level it forms a sort of virtuous circle – better relationships create better collaboration, and vice versa.

When teams connect and collaborate well, they not only increase their affinity for one another and the workplace, but they also see improved efficiency, creativity, and profitability. Our work-lives get better, and the quality of our work gets better. In fact, according to a recent Asana study, 55% of workers at more collaborative organizations report revenue growth over the past three years -almost double that of the companies who were weak on collaboration.

When we nurture human collaboration all along the employee lifecycle – from onboarding to offboarding – we build a more connected culture, and positively impact retention, engagement, and organizational culture.

What Is Team Collaboration?

Team collaboration is the process where various team members work together towards a common goal. It’s more than just working together; it’s about brainstorming, sharing ideas, and leveraging each other’s strengths. This synergistic approach emphasizes open communication, trust, and respect, aligning individual efforts toward collective success.

Collaboration within teams and cross-team collaboration allow for mentoring, team learning, and even the blossoming of genuine friendships within the workplace. These human connections are integral to not only the success of projects but the overall morale and happiness of employees.

Why Is Collaboration So Important?

No employee is an island. In an increasingly competitive environment, collaboration within teams is critical. Studies show that sharing skills and knowledge contributes to faster problem-solving, more creative ideas, and the human connections that keep employees engaged and loyal to the organization.

Moreover, group collaboration connects us to essential institutional and informational supports, ensuring we are aligned with the organization’s values, culture, and objectives. It builds a sense of community and shared purpose, vital for long-term retention and success.

But collaboration won’t happen simply by throwing people into the same company and hoping for the best. It must be cultivated by connecting people in a thoughtful way. And that starts with understanding and addressing the obstacles to great collaboration.

team collaboration

What’s Blocking Great Collaboration?

Distributed Workplaces

Technology has made it possible for workplaces to be spread over multiple locations – whether via hybrid work or as teams work together from locations across different parts of the world.

  • Managing Different Time Zones: Synchronized working becomes challenging when team members are spread across various geographical locations.
  • Technical Difficulties: Different levels of tech-savviness or technical glitches can hinder smooth collaboration.
  • Building Team Cohesion: Ensuring that both remote and onsite team members feel equally involved and valued.
  • Unequal Access to Information: It requires strategic effort to make sure that everyone has access to the information they need, regardless of their location.
  • Language Barriers: Miscommunication can happen easily when working across different languages.
  • Cultural Differences: Varied customs and work styles may cause confusion or conflict.
  • Different Work Styles: Aligning various approaches to work requires understanding and compromise.

Remote and Flexible Working

Since the rise of remote work, collaboration has been on the rise. In fact, according to Gartner, nearly 80% of workers used group collaboration tools for work in 2021, up from just over half of workers in 2019 – and that number has risen since. But remote working is not without a few new hurdles:

  • Communication Challenges: Lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Deskless Workers: People who are working outside of the office or who don’t work at a desk may feel less connected to the group.
  • Technology Dependency: Collaboration tools become a lifeline but can also be a barrier if not chosen wisely.
  • Lack of Personal Interaction: Building relationships and tracking progress becomes challenging without personal interactions.

Stress and Overwhelm

When people get overwhelmed and stressed they should reach out for help – but if they don’t have the right connections in place they might instead shut down.

  • Decreased Communication: Stress can lead to withdrawal and less communication among team members. The fear of adding to the workload or appearing less competent may prevent individuals from seeking help or sharing ideas, leading to a breakdown in open and honest communication.
  • Lack of Focus, Creativity, and Motivation: Stressful environments can sap motivation and engagement. Likewise, an overwhelmed mind often struggles with focus and creativity. The synergy that arises from collaborative brainstorming is lost if individuals are too stressed to think creatively and contribute innovative ideas.
  • Impact on Health and Well-being: Chronic stress and overwhelm can lead to burnout, affecting both physical and mental health. This has direct consequences on productivity and participation in collaborative activities. A burned-out employee is less likely to contribute positively to teamwork.
  • Barrier to Building Relationships: Team collaboration thrives on human connections and relationships. When we are stressed, our focus shifts from building relationships to simply surviving the workload, which hurts the camaraderie and friendships that can flourish in a more relaxed environment. Overwhelm and stress can lead to irritability and a shorter temper. Small disagreements – such as over unequal work distribution – may escalate into significant conflicts more quickly, undermining the trust and empathy that are essential for collaboration.
  • Difficulty in Adapting to Changes: Stressed individuals are generally less flexible and have a harder time adapting to changes. In a collaborative environment, adaptability is key, and resistance to change can create roadblocks to progress.
  • Impact on Mentoring and Support Systems: In a stressful environment, senior team members may not have the time or mental bandwidth to mentor and support others – especially if there are no technology or process supports for mentoring. This can hinder the growth of newer team members and create a gap in the shared knowledge and support system that fosters collaboration.
  • Ignoring Long-term Goals for Short-term Tasks: Being overwhelmed might lead to a focus on immediate tasks at the expense of long-term goals. This myopic view can affect strategic collaboration, where alignment with long-term objectives is crucial.

How to Cultivate Stronger Team Collaboration

Looking for some pointers on creating better collaboration across your teams? What is team collaboration looking like, when it’s working best?

Establish a Clear Channel For Communication

Clear communication is key to successful collaboration. This means establishing a consistent communications platform that helps people to prioritize the messages they receive – reducing noise, and ensuring important information doesn’t get lost. Read more about communications best practices here.

Clearly Define Roles

Well-defined roles provide clarity and prevent conflicts. Make sure people understand what they are meant to accomplish and with whom.

Promote a Friendly Culture

Fostering a culture that values collaboration and genuine friendships can have a profound impact on engagement and satisfaction. That means connecting people on a personal as well as a professional level.

Use Collaborative Tools and Technology

Choosing the right tools that fit the team’s needs can enhance collaboration efficiency. Ensure that your team has reliable tools that meet them in their flow of work.

Share Conflict Resolution Strategies

Conflict is natural in teamwork. Sharing effective resolution strategies keeps minor disagreements from escalating. Make sure people have the reserves of human connection that can increase their resilience and facilitate resolution if conflict does arise.

Team Building Activities

Regular team-building activities encourage friendship and trust, critical components for collaboration. Games, activities, story sharing, and “wow” moments can help employees feel valued as people as well as workers.

Training and Development

Investing in training ensures that team members have the skills needed to collaborate effectively. Training might begin with onboarding, but should not end there. Building and sharing skills should be a persistent part of the entire employee journey

Foster Trust and Empathy

Trust and empathy are at the core of human connections. They must be nurtured for collaboration to flourish. That means connecting people on a personal level.

Measure and Monitor Performance Metrics

Regular feedback and transparent performance metrics keep the team aligned and motivated.

Build collaboration and connection across the employee journey

From onboarding to ongoing development, collaboration plays a critical role in every phase of the employee journey. It’s essential to recognize that the need for collaboration doesn’t end with a project’s completion. It’s a continuous process that nourishes the human connections that make workplaces vibrant, innovative, and rewarding.

Through mentoring, collaboration connects new employees to seasoned veterans, facilitating a smooth transition and immediate engagement with the company culture. Encouraging friendships and connections beyond work tasks creates a more humane and engaged environment.

And remember, team collaboration is not merely a method to achieve productivity goals; it’s also a catalyst for human connections, fostering a culture where employees feel valued and engaged. Investing in collaboration strategies ensures not just the success of projects, but also the long-term success and vitality of the organization as a whole. It’s a dynamic, multifaceted approach that evolves with the organization, always keeping human connections at its core.

Looking for ideas on how to create and support better team collaboration in your organization? Learn more about how to spark meaningful moments of connection in our recent research.

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