You have a project with a tight deadline, which is enough to stress over. But then you also have a cross-functional team of people from various departments who've never worked together before, and suddenly it's up to you to get them thinking and working together as an integrated unit.
So how do you get them to coordinate their efforts and work as a team?
We turned to the experts for tried-and-true advice — their collaboration hacks, if you will — and this is what they had to share.
Collaboration Hacks for Better Communication
1. Speak Directly
Laura MacLeod, HR consultant, social worker, and proponent of From The Inside Out Project®, says the best hack is to speak plainly and clearly when issues arise. No special treatment or sugar coating: "You can't go anywhere without being honest and authentic — this means recognizing and acknowledging there is a problem and stating it. 'Joe, looks like you're not on board with this. Your project isn't on schedule, let's talk about what's going on.'"
2. Don't Just Talk, Start Drawing!
William Gadea, Founder and Creative Director of IdeaRocket, which makes animated videos for businesses, has this hack to share: every modern video conferencing tool has a built-in whiteboard tool. Use it! "Considering how much everybody loves their whiteboards in meetings, I think the draw functions in teleconference applications are under-used. Pretty much all the apps have some form of this function: WebEx, Gotomeeting, Skype, Hangouts. You can draw on your desktop art or a blank screen. It's also useful for describing workflows with diagrams. For us, it's a godsend because we're frequently passing on art direction to people overseas."
3. Open Door Policy
Evan Harris, Co-founder and CEO of SD Equity Partners, places a major focus on building a collaborative culture. His best tip? An open door policy. He says: "Even if your employees don't have a physical door to their office, it's important to create an environment where your staff can communicate openly and ask questions or bring up concerns at any time, not just in a meeting. This is a way of demonstrating that everyone's thoughts and opinions are valued and should be expressed at any time."
Collaboration Hacks for Team Building
4. Swap Desks
Sam Shank, CEO and Co-founder of HotelTonight, recently wrote about his favorite collaboration hack: the desk swap. Basically, it takes getting people to physically move around and work in different areas within the office to actually build relationships with people they don't ordinarily bump into. End result: stronger working relationships. Shank writes, "Personally, I had a blast sitting with the finance team, talking about what they were working on, sharing what I was spending time on and building relationships with them."
5. Give Them a Vacation!
Simon Slade, CEO and Co-founder of SaleHoo, has found the perfect way to unite his remote team: give them a lavish perk. He shares, "With 24 of my 29 employees working remotely, it's difficult to build team camaraderie and promote company pride. More than half of my remote employees work out of the Philippines. I decided to fly to the Philippines once a year and take my employees and their families on an all-expenses-paid vacation! Not only do my employees enjoy an incredible company perk, but they also have remarkable teamwork, not typical of many telecommuters."
6. Find Each Other's Strengths
David Finkelstein, Procurement Manager of Bedgear.com, reminds us that everyone has a different skill set and you need to understand people's strengths in order to maximize your team's capacity. "Very early on in my career I read the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and it was very eye opening. I also had my team read it and then we did role play exercises to understand how to use each person's individual strengths towards projects."
7. Let Them Present
Bill Winn, Digital PR and Display Media Manager at Inseev Interactive, a San Diego marketing agency, has a unique hack for quickly building camaraderie in any team: place them under the stress of public speaking. He says: "Have a team develop and deliver a presentation to a larger group. Have them pick a topic related to a new process, tool, best practice or development in your industry, or a customer case study. Let the team determine who will lead and how to organize itself. Make sure each team member has ownership of one aspect of the presentation so that everyone is accountable and must stand in front of the audience and deliver their piece. Given many people's fear of public speaking and the need to research and produce a winning presentation, this will be enough of a test to promote collaboration and teamwork with benefits that last long after the presentation is over.."
8. Pump Up That Hump Day Playlist
Jordan Wan, Founder and CEO of CloserIQ, promotes teamwork by building a fun atmosphere in his organization — and one way is through music. "Music is a great way to build culture and make the workplace a fun environment. Try Monday morning pump-up jams and encourage folks to showcase their own musical tastes."
Collaboration Hacks for Better Execution
9. Argue at the Start
Airto Zamorano, Managing Director for Becker Ears, Nose, and Throat Center, challenges his team to negotiate responsibilities with him at the kickoff: "At the planning stage, people are encouraged to challenge any aspect of the plan with the goal of trying to eliminate any unnecessary work, or adjust the plan as needed. I joke with them, 'Argue with me as much as you like on day one, but after that I expect we all stick to the plan!' This approach gets people's buy in. When they are part of the planning, and feel they have control over their work, people truly demonstrate a stronger sense of responsibility."
10. Hold Concept Reviews Early On
Brad Palmer, CEO and Co-founder of Jostle Corporation, suggests a way to get buy in from project stakeholders even before a minimum viable product is made: "Implement informal “concept reviews” that get stakeholders together early in a project. This clarifies requirements, finds pitfalls, and broadens thinking right out of the gate. Sharing things as outlines or sketches invites much more constructive and creative input. People are hesitant to criticize things once they become complete and polished."
11. Let Them Self-Manage
Tyler Benedict, Founder and Editor of BikeRumor.com, has a unique hack for dealing with the constant flood of daily product releases and clamor of writers (both in-house and freelance) for new assignments. Instead of having one person hand out jobs, he set up a general "To Do" email inbox and gave everyone access. He says: "This way, multiple editors can simply forward news to it, and all of the writers have first-come, first-served access to new story ideas. They simply forward it to themselves when they’re ready to start on it and delete from the shared inbox."
12. Build Playbooks
Steven Benson, Founder and CEO of Badger Maps, believes that the key to fostering collaboration is to provide your people with a platform for teaching one another. "This strategy works especially well when there are many people on a team who are doing similar jobs and performing similar tasks — for example, a sales team. We have shared Google Presentations that we can all edit and are organized by topic. When someone runs into a question, or figures out how to do something, they can create a slide on the topic, and then anyone can benefit from it. Because we organize them by job role, these resources have proven to be extremely effective for quickly onboarding new employees to the teams as well."
But Wait! 18 More Tips from Collaboration Experts
Looking for more concrete tips on turning your ragtag team into an efficient elite unit? Read this blog post: 18 Expert Tips to Get Your Team to Collaborate Effectively.