Collaboration is one of the most critical elements of an organization’s productivity. A survey from Salesforce found 86% of executives name unproductive collaboration as a major contributor to failure in business. Further, one study on completing assignments revealed people who worked with others on random tasks were able to persist for 48%–64%% longer, felt increased intrinsic motivation, and experienced reduced fatigue. In short, improving how people collaborate in organizations can directly improve productivity.
Although collaboration tools like email, calls, and chat enable basic communication, they don’t contribute to fruitful cooperation; ironically, they can impede work if you have too many of them. Organizations need to focus on developing a healthy company culture and nurturing teams that can work together effectively. These are the ingredients for productive collaboration, and you need the right tools to manage and build relationships and culture in a structured way.
Team and relationship management
Good team-building starts with grouping together the right people, ensuring every member can contribute and work together in a meaningful way. That involves matching not only personalities and work methods but leadership styles as well (or people willing to learn and adapt to new methodology). To create the best fit, follow these tips when assembling your teams:
- Have a team strategy. Learn what people need to succeed in their group by looking into personality types (using DISC assessments), communication styles, and work preferences. Often, that means matching work methodology to work completed; for example, the pace your team has to work at, the amount of communication required, their necessary degree of trust, etc.
- Prioritize what success looks like for each team. Limit this definition to three objectives. They should also look different for each team to match their unique responsibilities and goals (e.g., customer service teams aiming to increase consumer satisfaction while IT security teams focus on preventing phishing schemes).
- Implement a strategy that fosters mutual respect, trust, and cooperation to integrate people into teams from day one. Give teams time to get to know new hires, mentor and coach them in their workflows, and mingle socially. During this time, the new person should also have the freedom to display their expertise and skill.
- Check in on people. Does each member contribute to the team’s priorities? If not, how and why? What steps are necessary for them to catch up?
- Match leaders to teams. If your members need direction and input from others, find a leader who can deliver that. Conversely, if they’re mostly creatives who want freedom to solve problems their own way and use management as support, give them that room.
Productive team collaboration relies on trust, mutual respect, psychological safety, and complementary work styles and methods. Of these, the last is the easiest to change, but, if someone adopts a new work style, they’ll need support and training for a smooth shift.
Tools to improve interpersonal relationships at work
Managing relationships at work requires you to track interactions. Often, the only effective way to do this is to implement open feedback, such as 360-degree feedback, and pay attention to management and leaders. However, you can start by giving employees the tools they need to build trust and safety to collaborate well, then monitor from there.
Emotional intelligence has been a hot topic since the ’90s because it can significantly improve work collaboration. EQ is defined as the ability to understand, express, and manage your emotions in positive ways that lead to healthy communication, empathy, overcoming challenges, managing relationships, and relieving stress. In the workplace, it also contributes to understanding others’ reactions, more positive interactions with leadership and management, and improving how teams engage with each other. Delivering EQ training as a standard gives the people in your organization the proper tools to communicate with one another.
FIRO, or Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation, is a personality scoring assessment used to help teams understand their behavior and how it impacts others on their team. Unlike many other personality assessments, FIRO doesn’t use “type” scoring, so members only see ratings on scores of expressed and wanted behavior. That helps uncover why teams do or don’t work well together and what they have to change to improve their collaboration.
Feeling comfortable when giving and receiving feedback is key to psychological safety on teams, and structured open or closed feedback loops are great ways to foster that. Options like 360-degree feedback are extremely popular because they allow teams to review themselves, their teams, and their management.
You should also work to create a culture of constructive criticism where individuals receive training on how to give and receive feedback, how to make it productive, and how to disagree with feedback in constructive ways. If everyone on the team feels comfortable voicing problems or concerns, sharing input, and requesting change, their collaboration abilities will grow significantly stronger.
Take steps to refine and improve collaboration
Collaboration problems are common in organizations. Causes usually relate to company culture, team incompatibilities, training mistakes (e.g., lack of onboarding support or training), lack of accountability, low feelings of psychological safety within the team, and leadership incompatibilities, to name a few.
The first step to remedy those problems is to recognize what’s happening and why. That can be difficult though, as problems can have more than one cause. For example, you might have a team where no one contributes except one “hero” who always takes the lead, preventing anyone else from offering feedback or criticizing their ideas. Or, you might find management is placing a high value on specific technical skills at the expense of communication and collaboration. Follow the steps listed below to address and redress obstacles among your teams:
- Identify problems and dig deeper. You can remediate issues, but if they stem from a larger one, they’ll crop up repeatedly.
- Develop procedures to resolve issues. It’s unlikely you can fix team collaboration issues overnight. However, implementing guided or facilitated feedback sessions teaches teams how to give each other feedback that’ll help resolve problems among themselves.
Meanwhile, cutting down on communication tools can ease communication bloat, and training managers or the whole team can improve EQ. Set goals and create a step-by-step plan to reach them and measure success along the way.
- Hold people accountable for change. That means dedicating people to ensure change happens — even if it’s the individual responsible for improving themselves.
- Build trust by implementing gathered feedback, showing everyone has to be part of the change, and being consistent.
- Create opportunities for ongoing development so employees can continuously work on personal communication, how they collaborate, and how they share within teams.
Good collaboration is less about having lots of communication tools and more about fostering the right culture. That requires you to invest in understanding how people communicate with one another, remediate weak spots or problems, and introduce tools and frameworks to strengthen communication.
By implementing tools along with training and workshops, you’ll ensure work styles match leadership styles, open clear channels between various levels of personnel, and encourage employees to value collaboration over solo work. All of that takes time to build and relies on robust feedback loops so employees can offer feedback on methodology, progress, and problems directly to HR and their leadership. With enough patience and nurturing, you can enjoy consistent, long-term productivity from your teams.