The trouble with a word like “collaboration” is it’s ubiquitous. Its value is diminished the more often it’s used. What’s more, a term like collaboration must yield results. If it doesn’t, it’s doomed to become a trendy business word that becomes annoying and undervalued.
Yet, collaboration is central to how high performing teams produce astonishing results, especially now with employees working remotely. No one person can ideate, create, and release something great. Ideas benefit from collaborative efforts: Hearing contrarian viewpoints, seeking counsel from valued stakeholders, and even a good team debate over the merit of an idea, concept, or design. A kernel of an idea becomes a nugget of value when people can pull it apart and put it back together, newly.
See how to amplify your virtual collaborations using a virtual whiteboard, too!
Let’s prevent collaboration from a fateful trip to the chopping block. Embracing the importance of collaboration, teams can improve how they come together. But it requires challenging, heirloom beliefs and familiar working habits.
Collaboration Tips That Defy Conventional Thinking
Hire people who make you uncomfortable. Team composition is essential to performance–individually and collectively. Bob Sutton, Stanford professor of Organizational Behavior, advocates for bringing on people who have different work habits and think differently. Comfort leads to laziness. In contrast, discomfort heightens our awareness and can sharpen our thinking. A team member who makes people uncomfortable can improve the quality of collaboration by getting the team to think deeper. There is a balancing act, however. The rebel needs to be skilled at reading the group and adapting his approach. Item six in this list applies to everyone, including the person brought on to shake things up.
Encourage the team to challenge authority and rules. It’s not only the rebel thinker that gets to challenge how things are done. Great collaborations aren’t hindered by the team’s roles or the implicit and explicit rules in how things are done. Yes, there is respect for authority and rules. Great collaboration, however, explores solutions without the guardrails to surface transformational ideas.
Ban the use of physical whiteboards. Many teams are distributed, making the use of physical whiteboards impossible. What’s more, their relevance has expired. A physical whiteboard limits who can participate. It doesn’t account for the different ways people participate or process information. Collaboration doesn’t need to reinforce old ways of working. Instead, virtual whiteboards help teams collaborate synchronously and asynchronously. Forget about waiting to get the entire team in the same “room” to brainstorm. A virtual whiteboard lets people contribute when they can from wherever they are in the world. Don’t limit how and when people contribute. Broaden the teams understanding of collaboration by bringing in a virtual platform where time and location do not matter.
Make feedback a requirement. Teams that know how to give constructive feedback are positioned to do better work. Feedback should never be personal. Instead, focus the feedback on the work product. When people shy away from input, their biases or familiar ways of thinking diminish the work’s quality or novelty.
Train teams on foundational skills. Foundational skills are those that improve the quality and tone of interpersonal interactions: Empathy, listening, critical feedback, storytelling, for example. Though professional skills are essential when teams collaborate, how people interact ultimately shapes the team experience. A positive team experience will help the team bond.
Allow time for decisions to “simmer.” A bias for action—getting things done—is helpful and relevant to progress in work. However, collaboration shaped by this bias limits great ideas from surfacing. Some team members prefer to think alone about their ideas or feedback. Neither way is better–bias for action versus thoughtful reflection. Both, however, are preferred in collaborative work. It’s also respectful to accommodate both preferences.
Collaboration doesn’t need to be a triggering word. Yes, it is a common approach to how managers bring employees together to work on projects. Yes, it’s simply not easy to achieve great collaborations. But without using these tips, collaboration can become an empty and meaningless buzzword.
Ultimately, for the tips presented here to make a difference, it takes practice, humility, and patience. The best teams know this and collaborate with ease, even when there is conflict.
See how virtual whiteboard transforms how your teams ideate and create.
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About the Author
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.
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