Effective project collaboration tips for teams
You’ve analyzed the various methodologies, chosen the frameworks most suited to your project, your team, and your objectives, and found a project management tool that fits your needs. Throughout the entire project life cycle, working together with each team member will ensure you all function as a cohesive unit.
But just because you’ve selected the right people to accomplish the work doesn’t mean they will always collaborate in the best way. Different work habits, communication styles, and short-term and long-term goals can throw your entire team (and the project) off track.
Clarifying the behaviors you want your team to practice and establishing key values from the beginning starts everyone on the right foot.
We’ve assembled several best practices for setting up and managing your project team to encourage collaboration for optimal performance.
The importance of collaboration in project management
Before we get into building a collaborative team environment, let’s discuss why collaboration is 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 products that beat the competition.
Collaboration is important for two main reasons:
Internal team collaboration increases productivity
When internal teams use tools and work processes that make communication and collaboration more efficient, they can meet goals faster and produce better quality work. Internal productivity increases with smoother collaboration.
A study of 1,100 companies carried out by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Professor Rob Cross of Babson College in Massachusetts found companies that promoted collaborative working were five times more likely to be high-performing.
Using Wrike’s collaborative tools, California technology innovation company Tactus was able to centralize its product information and shorten Scrum periods by 80%.
Collaborating with external stakeholders increases innovation
When you seek feedback from your customers, partners, and vendors — aka your external stakeholders — and are able to use their feedback to improve your product or service, the customer’s actual wants and needs will better align with your product’s features.
Today, companies who try to do everything in-house are limited — it’s impossible to be good at everything all the time. They need outside ideas and feedback to grow. The same goes for your project team. When teams work together, they achieve amazing things.
How to set up a project team
Now that we’re on the same page about the value of collaboration, let’s take a step back and discuss what makes a project team. Merely assigning tasks is not the same as building a strong and collaborative team.
A project team is a group of people who are all working towards a common goal by bringing valuable and unique skills to the table. Identifying your project team members, defining your team’s identity, and standardizing its operating practices are all critical to a successful project.
So what should you consider when assembling your project team?
- Project needs - Understanding the scope of the project first allows you to strategically choose who needs to be on the team.
- Skill set - Choosing team members who can offer a diverse set of skills is crucial. If your team lacks a certain skill set, a task may not be completed correctly. Too many people with the same skills can cause confusion over ownership.
- Capacity - Even if you find the perfect person for a part of your project, if they’re overloaded with work, they can become a roadblock. Find team members who have availability in their upcoming project schedules.
- Work styles - Different people have different work styles and personalities. It’s important to understand how these differences may affect your team dynamic and embrace them once the project has started.
What makes a successful project team
Your project team can vary depending on the project scope and skills needed, but the elements of a successful project team are more or less consistent across the board.
- Strong team leadership - Every team needs a leader who can bring out the best in their teammates. Understanding each of your team members’ individual strengths and knowing how to bring them out is vital to the success of the team as a whole.
- Clear goals and purpose - When the roadmap and goals are clear, it’s much easier for a team to see where they’re going and how their contribution will matter down the road. Encourage them to rally around your cause with a clear vision.
- Standardized operating procedures - When conflicts arise or a task needs to be assigned, teams need to know how to take action. Creating standard processes and workflows, along with clear roles, eliminates confusion and empowers your team to blow past roadblocks.
- Diversity - Time and time again, studies have shown that diversity improves performance. A strong project team will include a variety of skill sets and experience and a diversity of race, gender, and cultural backgrounds.
- Bonding time - Finding time for project team members to get to know each other and build a rapport grows trust, breaks down barriers, and opens communication lanes. Finding time for team-building exercises and celebrating victories, no matter how big or small, can go a long way.
How to make the project kickoff meeting a success
Before project work formally begins, hold a project kickoff meeting to get everyone on the same page. This is a crucial first step that sets the tone for the work that follows. It’s typically the main chance to share the project’s objectives and overall plan with every stakeholder.
Successful kickoff meetings require preparation. Here are eight steps to make your kickoff meeting a success:
1. Establish vision and deliverables: Set a common goal for everyone. Lay out what needs to be done and when.
2. Identify team and set roles: Create a list detailing who’s responsible for which task and include contact info for easy communication.
3. Develop initial project plan: Present your initial project plan, but understand that details may shift during discussions with your team at the kickoff. Know how you want to approach the project, but be flexible.
4. Define metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations and goals early.
5. Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prepare the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place to handle them quickly should they arise.
6. Establish logistics for team communication: What is the best way to provide status updates? Establish a consistent process (such as weekly meetings) and determine the technology needed to facilitate it.
7. Choose work process or project management methodology: Establish which methodologies and frameworks the team will follow to align work styles and expectations.
8. Decide which tools to use: Ensure everyone has the tools they need to accomplish their tasks.
Tips for effective team management
Now that the project is underway, it’s your job to keep everyone motivated, on track, and working together. Motivational speaker Brian Tracy said it best: successful people are simply those with successful habits. Your team’s productivity habits are the magic ingredients to your project’s success. If you have the right team habits in place, your team will complete the project on time and collaborate without much friction.
Even if your team doesn’t have the right work habits now, you can help them build new, more productive behaviors. Just remember that it takes anywhere from 66 days to eight months to cement a new habit. Be sure to proceed with sensitivity — after all, we humans are quite resistant to change.
Here are five ways you can help your team build new habits:
- Lead by example - Define the habit you want the team to practice, then do it yourself. Be the role model. Your team will follow your lead when they see the benefits of this new habit in your daily work.
- Find your early adopters - Get assistance from enthusiastic team members who can quickly adopt new tools or new behaviors and spread them to the rest of the team.
- Use small wins to gain big victories - Small wins can motivate the team to keep going, even though it may seem difficult at first. Celebrate progress — no matter how small — and encourage team members to keep up the good work.
- Motivate your team - Intellectual reasoning won’t work without some emotional heft behind it. Give your team incentives to practice this new habit. Make it fun. Turn it into a game. Be creative.
- Blend new habits with old - It’s always easier to transition to new habits when you piggyback on older, existing behaviors. It makes the new habit feel more familiar and ensures a more natural transition. Identify behavior your team is already doing well, and help them take it to the next level.
Learn more about these tactics to increase team effectiveness in our free eBook: 5 Strategies for Forming Team Productivity Habits.
Proceed with sensitivity
A word of caution — when people are faced with change, their reaction pattern mimics that of grief. Your team will spiral from denial to anger, confusion, depression, and crisis, before finally settling into acceptance, and new confidence. If you’re going to build new team habits, the new behavior will take time to develop roots, so reactions will be varied. Proceed with sensitivity and empathy for your team's concerns while still motivating the team to forge better, more productive behavioral patterns. For more on this topic, read our free eBook: Accelerating Change Management: Getting 7 Personalities On Board.
How to create a collaborative work environment
A collaborative work environment isn’t just about having collaborative tools, processes, and workflows in place. It’s also about striving for common goals, despite differences in work styles, personal priorities, or cultural backgrounds. A collaborative work environment should be a safe space where everyone feels supported and able to voice their opinions.
As organizations grow and become increasingly dispersed, more workers are collaborating across great distances. As a result, cultural intelligence — the ability to embrace different mindsets in challenging situations — is becoming more and more important.
In order to lead a multi-cultural (and increasingly multi-regional) team to success, you must be able to bridge cultural differences with sensitivity and sincerity. Here are some best practices:
- Learn about one another: Find time to talk about things that are not work or project-related. Ask your teammates about their hobbies, holidays, weather, entertainment, and so on. Just show an interest — and remember what they share with you!
- Embrace different learning and communication styles: Some cultures can be more direct, while others prefer to stay in the background until asked for their opinion. Get to know each team member’s preferences, so you can engage with them as effectively as possible.
- Always recap the main points of the meeting: And always make responsibilities and next steps are crystal clear for each team member. Besides providing clarity on action items, this also ensures team members feel included and invested.
- Get everyone involved: Different people have different communication styles. Just because someone doesn’t speak up doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas. Find ways to get feedback from everyone, even those who may appear more introverted.
- Incorporate humor (where appropriate): This doesn’t mean you should joke about everything all the time, but lightening the mood can help people to open up and improve work relationships. Make sure to read your team on this one. Not everyone responds to humor in the same way.
The common themes for working with different cultures are respect and knowledge. Respect the different cultures and backgrounds on your team. If you don’t know something, ask a question to better understand where your team member is coming from.
Project management collaboration tips and techniques
It can be easy to lose sight of collaboration best practices with deadlines looming overhead, but implementing them throughout the entire project will help optimize team performance.
Make meetings more efficient
While meetings can be a valuable time for collaboration, unnecessarily long meetings can be a productivity killer. With the global rise of remote working, organizing efficient and effective virtual meetings can be especially difficult. When scheduling a meeting, remember these tips:
- Lose status update meetings and use a software tool instead
- Only invite people who are absolutely necessary; 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
Try a more effective brainstorming technique
Brainstorming meetings can help spark collaborative thinking and great new ideas. But when brainstorming goes wrong, it can discourage team members from contributing — or even worse, make them feel like their opinions aren’t valued.
When embarking on a brainstorming session, try these techniques to make it more effective and empowering:
- Brainwriting: The team leader shares the topic with the team, and the team members individually write down their ideas. This creates a safe space for 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 a successful CEO might handle the situation. It’s like role-playing, but with a creative problem in mind.
- Brain-netting: Create a communal folder in your project management platform where your team members (especially remote workers) can jot down ideas and share them with the entire team.
- Rapid ideation: Clarify the ideas and solutions you want your team to brainstorm. Set a time limit and have your team come up with as many ideas as possible using whiteboards, sticky notes, or plain pen and paper.
- Round robin brainstorming: Organise your team members in alphabetical order, and have each person offer an idea in turn, while 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.
Resolve conflict quickly
Conflicts are inevitable when collaborating on group projects. They’re emotional, sometimes dramatic, and often exhausting. But when conflicts get resolved, they lead to stronger relationships within the team, a better understanding of how to collaborate, and opportunities for growth.
Here are some pointers for resolving conflict quickly:
- Keep calm - It’s not always easy to keep your emotions out of a conflict, but approaching a conflict rationally will help in the long run.
- Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication - What you say matters just as much as what you don’t say. They say more than half of perceived communication is done nonverbally through body language.
- Keep your language and your tone neutral - The intonation of your voice can be just as important as the words you’re speaking. Remaining neutral can help you get your point across without ruffling more feathers.
- Avoid threats and accusations - Accusations and threats typically take situations in the opposite direction you want to head. Rather than escalating the conflict, take a breath and listen to what the other person has to say. Understanding their side of the story will help you see things from their perspective.
- 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.
How to improve collaboration in the workplace
While effective collaboration will ultimately stem from the willingness of your project team, there are several tips and techniques you can use to encourage them:
Build a collaborative work environment. Organize an open work area away from personal workspaces where team members can meet and work together for the project’s duration.
Encourage effective remote collaboration. Have an always-on video conference system in place so that remote team members can be reached any time while they work.
Use tools for sharing. Effective 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. One tool that can do all of the above is even better.
Encourage engagement everywhere. Line the hallway and meeting rooms with whiteboards and encourage team members to draft plans and brainstorm ideas on them. Reward those who contribute.
Tips for remote collaboration and virtual meetings
Remote collaboration is becoming more and more common, and is now seen as the norm in thousands of businesses worldwide. Modern workers and workplaces need to adapt to accommodate remote working and encourage collaboration, no matter where they are or what time zone they’re in.
Tips for using a collaboration software tool
When project managing a distributed team in a variety of locations, a collaboration software (or project management) tool is an effective way to keep everyone on the same page and all of your project information in one place. However, using a great tool doesn’t magically make collaboration happen. Here are 10 best practices when using a collaboration software tool:
- Share proactively - Assign team members to the tasks they need to be aware of and @mention them in the comments, so they receive alerts when the ball is in their court.
- Put every project into your collaboration project management tool - Use your tool as a single source of all project-related materials and notes. This will make the material easy to find for everyone, no matter when they joined the project.
- Create water cooler channels - Creating channels in your communication tools where team members can discuss non-work related topics allows them to get to know each other and be social even from afar.
- Celebrate small wins - Collaboration tools are a great place to share victories, no matter how big or small. Even a short message can go a long way.
- Balance the load - You can’t collaborate well if you’re overloaded with work. Use your tool’s visibility and resource management features to ensure project tasks are balanced among your team members.
Tips for better virtual meeting communication
Communicating with team members is always a bit more challenging when you’re not face-to-face, but new technologies are helping to make virtual meetings easier. At your next remote meeting, keep these best practices in mind:
- Always introduce yourself - Never assume everyone knows what you sound like or look like. Always tell people who you are and hopefully others follow suit.
- Have a backup technology to count on - The last thing you want to do is scramble for another conference call line or make everyone download a new video software. Have a contingency to fall back on in case your first choice isn’t working.
- Be clear who you’re speaking to - Avoid repeating yourself by saying a person’s name before asking something.
- Establish proper etiquette - Guidelines for your calls or video meetings will make virtual meetings more efficient. You could ask people to mute themselves when not speaking, or have their camera turned on while presenting.
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.
Read our eBook about achieving operational excellence based on insights from 15,000 of the world’s leading companies.