V. Collaboration Tips
Collaboration, when boiled down to its very essence, is a team engaging in tasks in order to reach a shared target. So whether you’re two people or two hundred, your team will need to cooperate and work together in an orderly fashion to get things done. This is why it’s crucial to have both the proper infrastructure and the proper work culture in place for collaboration to happen efficiently.
Below, we’ve compiled a large collection of strategies and tips for collaborating with your team. These tips range from the mundane to the strategic. And we’ve included links for more in-depth reading.
1. Why is Collaboration Important?
Without collaboration, your company will stagnate. It takes a team’s combined ideas and work to pull off a complex project, to innovate, and to come up with the product that beats the competition.
Collaboration is important for two main reasons:
A. Collaborating with your internal team increases productivity
When internal teams use tools and work processes that make communication more efficient, goals can be met faster and better quality work can be produced. Internal productivity increases with smoother collaboration.
Some proof: a study by McKinsey & Company shows that implementing collaborative processes and networking tools improved productivity by 20-30% in global software development teams. And California chipmaker Xilinx reported a 25% increase in engineer productivity by using tools that encouraged peer-to-peer collaboration.
B. Collaborating with external stakeholders increases innovation
When you seek feedback from your customers, partners, and vendors — a.k.a. your external stakeholders — and are able to use their feedback to improve your product or service, there will be better alignment between the customer’s actual wants and needs and your product’s features.
Check out this Slideshare for more information and advice on external collaboration:
- Why Every Company Needs a Culture of Collaboration
- Why Managers Need to Break Up with Email and Spreadsheets (ebook)
2. Collaboration Tips and Techniques
A. Make meetings more efficient
It’s not surprising that meetings are probably the primary means of collaborating among team members. So why not take the time to make them more efficient and productive? Here are a few actionable tips:
- Forget status update meetings. Use a software tool instead.
- Only involve the necessary people in a meeting. Don’t waste other people’s time.
- Create a goal-oriented agenda and stick to it.
- End your meeting by clarifying everyone’s next steps.
B. Try a more effective brainstorming technique
Brainstorming meetings can help spark collaborative thinking and great new ideas. But too often it’s done in a way that discourages everyone from contributing. You might need to try a one of these different techniques to make your brainstorming sessions more effective:
- Brain Writing: The team leader shares the topic with the team, and the team members individually write down their ideas. This motivates everyone to come up with ideas individually before any discussion begins.
- Figuring Storming: Think about how a person such as your boss, a famous celebrity, or even the President of the United States might handle the situation. It’s like role playing, but done to solve a creative problem.
- Brain-Netting: Create an ideas folder in your project management system where all your team members (especially remote workers) can jot down ideas and share them with the entire team.
- Rapid Ideation: Have the team leader clarify what kind of ideas you’re supposed to be generating. Then, within a set time limit, come up with as many ideas as possible using whiteboards, post-its, or plain pen and paper.
- Round Robin Brainstorming: Gather in a circle. Have each person offer an idea in turn, and a facilitator records each idea. Discussion starts only after everyone’s had a chance to share.
- Starbursting: Challenge the team to come up with as many questions as they can about your topic. Start with the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, and why.
- Stepladder Technique: Once the topic is shared, everyone leaves the room except two members of the team. These two discuss the topic and their ideas. Then, one new member is added and will contribute his/her idea BEFORE the original two share theirs. Repeat the process until everyone from the original group is back in the room.
- 7 Techniques for More Effective Brainstorming
- Communicate Better, Be More Persuasive with Visuals: Interview with Dan Roam (Video)
- The 3 Most Effective Principles To Encourage Your Team’s Creativity
- How to Better Foster Creativity on Teams
C. Resolve conflict quickly
Conflicts are inevitable. They appear when there is a perceived threat and they don’t go away unless faced head-on. Conflicts are emotional, sometimes dramatic, and often exhausting, and they squash productivity and harm team morale. But conflicts do have a silver lining: when resolved, they lead to stronger relationships within the team. So look at them as opportunities for growth.
Some pointers for resolving conflict quickly:
- Keep calm.
- Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Communicate without threatening.
- Keep your language and your tone neutral.
- Humor may help defuse the situation, but choose your words very carefully.
- Be generous. Keep in mind that resolving the conflict is more important for the working relationship — and your team’s ultimate success — than “winning” the fight. Persuade those in the conflict to let go of grudges and forgive and forget.
- Team Conflict & Conflict Resolution: The 2-Minute Guide
- 4 Skills Managers Will Need to Learn in the Next Decade
- 6 Strategies for Dealing with a Toxic Work Environment
D. General tips for collaborating with your team
In order to make collaboration a reality, you have to prepare the team both physically and mentally. Some tips:
Organize an open work area away from your cubicles (if you have them) where team members can meet and work together for the duration of the project. Or have an always-on video conference system in place so that remote team members can be reached any time while they work.
Effective remote collaboration requires the right tools and technology. At the bare minimum you will need a real-time chat tool, a project management/task management tool, a knowledge base tool, and a file sharing tool. Better yet if you have one tool that can do all of the above.
Stand during meetings: participants will be more alert and less prone to daydream. Line the hallway whiteboards with plans and ideas and ask colleagues to contribute their ideas. Make your wikis public and reward anyone who contributes something new.
- 3 Collaboration Tips for Enhancing Teamwork
- 5 Mistakes Marketing Teams Make with Collaboration
- Why Every Company Needs a Culture of Collaboration
- 7 Teamwork Terrors and How to Conquer Them
- Company Culture: Why it Matters and How to Get it Right
3. Tips for Remote Collaboration and Virtual Meetings
Remote collaboration is a very real situation in modern workplaces that needs specialized skills not always available in local settings. But it comes with its own share of challenges. Here are some tips on optimizing your processes for more efficient remote collaboration:
A. Tips on Using a Collaboration Software Tool
Your collaboration software (or project management tool) is the primary means for work to be organized and processed in your team. But if you want it to achieve truly effective teamwork then follow these five tips:
- Share proactively
Put every project into your collaboration tool/project management tool. This way all discussions around work happen in one place. All attachments are there as well. Then get everyone into the habit of sharing what they’re working on.
- Create water cooler channels
Have a section of your tool devoted to non-work-related fun. Whether it’s a folder for animated gifs of kittens, a fantasy football folder, or simply people discussing the latest episode of a TV show – this helps connect people.
- Bring people into discussions
In most collaboration tools, there is a way to @mention colleagues and ask for their feedback. This allows even non-team members to lend their expertise to a team in need.
- Share small wins
Communicate stories of success no matter how small. If it’s a sale that a rep made, or a new product feature developed, tell the entire team and even the company about it.
- Balance the load
You can’t collaborate well if you’re overloaded with work. Use the collaboration tool’s visibility features to ensure the weight of tasks is balanced among your team members.
- 5 Tips for Using A Remote Collaboration Tool
- Everything You Need to Successfully Run a Virtual Team (Checklist)
- The Past, Present and Future of Remote Collaboration: Where Does Your Team Stand?
B. Tips for Better Virtual Meeting Communication
Yes, it’s more difficult to communicate with people when you’re not face-to-face, but we now have easy access to technology that makes virtual meetings doable. Just make sure you keep up good virtual communication habits:
- Don’t repeat yourself over and over again
This happens when people who aren’t listening ask you to repeat the question. To avoid this, make sure you say a person’s name before asking something.
- Always introduce yourself
Never assume everyone knows what you sound like or look like. Always tell people who you are. Hopefully others follow suit.
- Have a backup technology to count on
Skype might go down. Or Google Hangouts may decide not to work properly. Have a contingency to fall back on.
- Set proper etiquette in place
Ask people to mute themselves when not speaking. Have guidelines for your calls or video meetings.
- 4 Problems with Virtual Meetings that You Can Fix
- The 5 Ws of Virtual Communication
- The Art of Staying Productive Even Across Distance (ebook)
C. Set Communication Guidelines
The only way a team with remote workers can succeed at its project is to have a system in place that ensures communication. Create guidelines around this system so that new hires hit the ground running and have a reference on how the team does things.
- Create 3-5 simple principles around team communication. Make these easy to remember and implement. These principles should be the basis of all your team communication.
- Include rules on data sharing as well as reporting.
- List several contact persons (specially for large teams) for further questions about the guidelines.
- Put it all together in a manual or guidebook that the team can reference.
- Teamwork Across Borders: The secrets of efficient remote collaboration (PDF)
- 5 Sentences to Ruin a Remote Worker’s Day
- Easy and Effective Remote Collaboration (Slideshare)
Without a doubt, collaboration is important — not just for the success of your projects, but for the continued growth of your organization. It’s an essential ingredient for day-to-day project work, but more importantly, it’s the X factor that defines your organization’s culture and attracts the top performers to your company.
Up next: we will give you practical and tactical pointers for managing projects, including such topics as project risk, scope creep, and stakeholder management. Read on.