By Tricia Whenham
Collaboration isn’t new – in fact, recent research has revealed that the ability to share goals and work together might just have been a turning point in human development. But if you’re feeling like the word collaboration is everywhere these days, you’re not alone. Organizations are realizing that in this competitive landscape, a strong team can make the difference between a good idea and a great one.
The prospect of becoming more collaborative can seem abstract and daunting, but small actions add up. Here are some practical steps you can take to move in the right direction.
1. DON’T PRESS SEND
A recent study found that each day knowledge workers send or receive an average of 86 work-related emails at work – and 25 at home! Our obsession with email drains productivity and wreaks havoc on work-life balance, but there’s also a hidden cost to collaboration. Email keeps people trapped in linear, back-and-forth conversations that solidify silos. Try looking for alternatives – an online messaging tool or just a simple conversation.
2. THINK COLLABORATIVELY
Could strengthening collaboration be mind over matter? A 2013 Harvard study found that simply imagining positive team interactions sparked better team relationships, reduced anxiety and increased empathy. If you devote just a couple of minutes a day to picturing how you want to interact with your team and the positive results you’ll experience, soon your real interactions could match the imagined ones.
3. ASK TWO SIMPLE QUESTIONS
When it comes to collaboration, the language you use can actually drive new behavior and build a collaborative mindset. Try asking these two questions more often: “What do you think?” and “How can I help?” This simple act can shift your focus from yourself and onto what other people need, broadening your perspective and bringing your team together.
4. KEEP REMOTE TEAM MEMBERS TOP OF MIND
In many offices, the people you work with are as likely to be around the world as they are to be at your side. But without a physical presence, it’s still easy for them to be sidelined and forgotten. Find ways to keep them top of mind, like turning on video during conference calls, choosing an audio solution that makes it easy for them to participate or keeping a clock displaying their time zone.
5. VISUALIZE YOUR THINKING
So many collaborative efforts are burdened by unspoken assumptions and misconceptions, making it tough to get on the same page. Visualizing your thinking can help. Try sketching out any ideas on a collaborative platform to make your perspective clear, and encourage others to do the same. Then use those same tools to watch your ideas evolve together.
6. JUST SAY HI
When working with remote teammates, sometimes we forget the small things – like asking about the weekend or seeing a pic of the new puppy. I’ve caught myself launching into an online conversation with my colleague in Europe without even saying hi. Strong teams take the time to connect outside of the tasks and to-dos, whether they’re in the same office or not. Try setting aside online “coffee breaks” devoted to catching up and sharing.
7. DO MEETINGS DIFFERENTLY
Teamwork should, by definition, be collaborative. So it’s disappointing how a small handful of voices sometimes dominate. Commit to doing things differently. Next time you have a meeting, keep track of who speaks and who doesn’t – and then hold yourself accountable to ensuring that everyone feels encouraged to share their perspectives.
8. AVOID GROUPTHINK
During brainstorming sessions, does everyone on your team converge on the same ideas? That’s groupthink, and it makes it incredibly hard to innovate. Instead, try brainwriting. By building in time for individual thought and contemplation before everyone gets together, collaborative work becomes more original, interesting and likely to produce results.
9. DON’T DO ALL THE HOMEWORK
Being prepared is an important quality of collaborative work – being overprepared is not. If you work out every tiny detail before anyone else can have input, you’re like a horse with blinders on – you only see one direction to run. While you’re planning a project or kicking off a new initiative, make sure to leave room for amazing ideas you never would have considered.
10. FOLLOW THROUGH
We’ve all worked with people who fight collaboration and think it’s easier just to get it done themselves. And they’re right – if they’ve been stuck with teammates who don’t follow through. For highly effective collaborators, dreaming big dreams together is always followed by executing their part well. Make sure you’re holding up your end when people are counting on you.
11. STAY CURIOUS
When someone has a vastly different perspective and is arguing for something that just seems wrong, highly effective collaborators don’t argue back – they simply ask why. And then they listen. By staying curious about what other people think, you’ll always be learning, a key quality of innovative people. Plus by focusing on the idea, not the ego, more gets done faster, and everyone feels open to share and discover.