Collaboration is an important success factor for any organization. In fact, according to Yuval Noah Harari (author of the bestseller Sapiens), the capacity to cooperate in large numbers is the main reason why the human species has become so successful! Still, smooth collaboration between colleagues isn’t necessarily a given.
Problems and challenges facing teams
Team collaboration can be quite a challenge. Especially when an assignment or project hasn’t been going the way you’d like it to. Meetings and meetups bear little fruit to the point where you get stuck. The result: irritation, frustration and demotivation.
In order to eliminate the problems above, it is important that team members are aware of the problems and challenges associated with collaboration.
- Lack of a clear dot on the horizon. This tends to cause confusion about the task distribution and time schedule.
- For good collaboration to be established, it is important that everyone considers themselves a worthy group or team member. Compare it to someone who just joined a sports team: this person wants to prove themselves and gain popularity among their team members as quickly as possible. The same applies to professional collaboration: each team member must be open to the strengths of their colleagues and promote mutual acceptance. In practice, this tends to be a challenging process.
- An unclear distribution of tasks and roles, giving rise to misunderstandings about who is supposed to do what.
- Sloppy communication. This problem is often the result of poor listening or an imbalance between introverted and dominant characters who like to take the spotlight.
- The absence of or failure to adhere to sound and clear agreements. It is important that each team member musters the discipline to honor agreements and execute their portion of the work carefully and competently.
- A leader whose leadership style does not match the team. The result is that you lose control of the collaboration process and risk the resistance of unhappy employees.
How to shape good collaboration? Improving and streamlining collaboration usually holds the key to success. But it is easier said than done. Raising your collaboration game takes more than scribbling down a plan.
Many companies (or specific departments) have a culture that makes it difficult to collaborate smoothly, implement change or absorb new people into the team quickly. Such cultures were shaped over many years and are deeply rooted.
On top of that, organizations and teams tend to be organized according to a certain role distribution or hierarchy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can potentially get in the way of smooth collaboration, especially when some stakeholders have a particularly dominant presence.
Finally, teams tend to consist of several different types of people’. Examples include extroverts versus introverts and people from varying ethnic backgrounds. In such a situation, the ‘one size fits all’ principle won’t get you very far. That is why flexibility and thoughtfulness when it comes to dealing with people and organizational cultures, are at the foundation of any successful collaboration.
Collaboration improvement tips
Thankfully, there are tried and tested ways of improving collaboration within any team. Not everything will work in every situation, so it is up to you to figure out which of the following tips apply.
1. Set a clear common goal
Without a clearly defined goal, you run the risk of team members going about their work haphazardly without understanding the purpose of their efforts. Set and formulate clear goals that apply to all team members. Examples include establishing a certain profit target or detailing the exact product that has to be ready for use by the end of a project.
2. Select the right leader
Many team conflicts are the consequence of a mismatch between a group and its leader. Is your team still in its exploration phase? You will need strong leadership rather than a delegating leadership style. In contrast, a highly autonomous group isn’t as likely to flourish under directive leadership. Team members will only go the extra mile for a leader who does the same for them.
3. Proper distribution of tasks and roles
With a clear task distribution, each team member’s responsibilities become transparent. This helps prevent tasks from being left untouched or performed poorly due to misunderstandings about the distribution of tasks. A project plan will prove useful. It acts as a blueprint, establishing a task distribution based on the strengths of individual team members and the input required to achieve your goals. In addition, task and role distribution become a lot easier with specialized project management tools such as Trello and Monday.
4. Make strengths transparent
Proper distribution of roles and tasks can only be established once you understand the strengths of all team members. Agreement on the distribution of tasks tends to follow naturally as soon as each team member’s strengths and limitations are clear.
The skills matrix is a useful tool for creating such clarity. It offers the following benefits:
- A skills matrix depicts all the competencies, skills and qualifications of an employee in a single transparent format.
- Planning becomes a lot easier. In the event of an absentee or an approaching period of peak traffic, you already know who to deploy in advance.
- A skills matrix maps the progress of employees.
- The matrices are flexible and versatile. They can be used by managers, administrators and employees, for matters ranging from general to highly specific.
5. Explore the group feeling
Inclusivity is an important focal point. A team functions at its best when everyone appreciates each other and every team member feels like they are part of the group. Such team cohesion is created by being open to the strengths of other team members and accepting each other regardless of differences in character.
6. Keeping to agreements
Are people failing to honor their agreements? Without any consequences? Given enough time, this will give rise to a work climate where everything and anything goes. These situations do not end well.
Successful team collaboration is predicated on shared responsibility. Have you noticed that some agreements aren’t working? Discuss the purpose and necessity of those specific rules openly and adjust them if necessary.
Another important element to keep in mind when setting agreements is that of personal circumstances. Everyone is balancing multiple priorities and responsibilities, both at work and in their private lives. Make sure that assignments, projects, agreements and work progress are all discussed with empathy and in a practical way.
7. Celebrate success
Fun activities, shared memories and joint celebration of success strengthen team cohesion. That doesn’t mean you should be scheduling one teambuilding event after the other. Strengthening the mutual bond is often a matter of small acts and gestures. Keep the team talking about each other’s experiences over lunch or at the coffee machine, and use positive feedback as input for scheduled discussions about what is going well.
8. Allow opposing views to be voiced
A team is not a sect where going against the leader is a mortal sin. Good results can be achieved without complete agreement on everything. But when team members are afraid to confront each other or their manager with (potential) mistakes, the best possible results are rarely achieved. ‘Agree to disagree’ shouldn’t be a problem, as long as all team members respect their colleague’s (deviating) opinion.
9. Ensure appreciation from the organization
Every team is part of a larger whole. Make sure your team is noticed and appreciated by the rest of the organization. A sense of ‘us against them’ is a feeding ground for dissatisfaction, irritation and problems.
The organization can help its teams in several ways. Examples include setting clear goals and facilitating streamlined collaboration within individual teams. Another great way of providing practical support is offering high-quality meeting rooms or digital tools for remote conferencing and collaboration. Give team members enough time and space to do a good job.
Turn collaboration into a success!
Team collaboration can pose quite a challenge, especially when dealing with varying personalities. But a clear goal, the right type of leadership and sound agreements and tools will turn your team collaboration into a success. A skills matrix will prove a useful support tool as it allows you to clarify the strengths of individual team members.