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How to Collaborate Effectively in the Workplace

Read on to learn how you can work better with your colleagues as a team leader, project manager, or stakeholder in 2023.

By Brier Cook  •   March 13, 2023  •   7 min read

Think back to your childhood or college experience. Chances are you were part of many group projects and teams over the years. From the time we attend school, we’re taught that success is best when shared. Whether it was assisting a teammate in scoring the winning goal or working with another person to bring an idea to life, collaboration is present at every stage of life. 

Unfortunately, many of us enter the workforce and forget how great it can feel to work with others to achieve common goals. Strict deadlines, high expectations, and tight budgets can lead to regular siloed work. When we get used to solo work, we fail to realize that collaboration is one of the best ways to improve processes, enhance effective communication, and drive company results! 

In this blog, we’ll explore why collaboration in the workplace is important, show you what ineffective collaboration looks like, and provide best practices for building a collaborative culture at work. 

Why collaboration in the workplace is important

Effective collaboration has endless benefits. When a team is skilled at collaboration, decision-making is streamlined, problem-solving becomes simpler, and trust is established between teammates. 

Collaboration lays the foundation for a connected workplace, making it appealing to current and future employees. An atmosphere that values people and their ideas may even help retention rates. Employees who feel connected to their work and team will want to stay and grow within the organization, too.

When a workplace isn’t collaborative, employee engagement suffers. Lack of collaboration also makes bringing new ideas to life challenging and hinders a group’s overall productivity. 

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”

– Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish inventor, scientist, and engineer

What ineffective collaboration looks like

  • Lack of consultation with other stakeholders: Teams that lack collaboration skills are siloed and make decisions without consulting key individuals. For instance, if a company’s marketing team decides to implement a new project management tool without first consulting other departments within the organization, collaboration may be lacking. 
  • Decision-making without open communication: Not-so-great collaborators don’t notify teammates about ideas, feedback, comments, and other relevant information when they should. It’s a clear sign that a team lacks collaboration skills when they don’t use modern-day applications and technology to remain in touch. For example, if two people on a four-person sales team make decisions about their customer engagement strategies while working in the office without notifying their hybrid and remote colleagues, it’s an indication that the group isn’t prioritizing teamwork. Collaborative teams have set systems and processes that involve all stakeholders. 
  • Confused employees: Employees who are uncertain how to move forward with their tasks and projects are often members of siloed teams. Individuals can become confused for several reasons, but confusion commonly stems from a lack of open and honest communication. 
  • Disengaged employees: If individuals at a company seem jaded or disengaged, they may be lacking the collaborative leadership needed to motivate the group. For instance, poor quality work, missed deadlines, and open displays of anger and frustration at work are all signs of disengaged employees. 

Say goodbye to meetings where only a few people speak up

A well-run meeting can foster communication and collaboration by including an agenda the whole team can contribute to. Try using a tool like Fellow!

How to build a collaborative culture

1Have executive support

An organization’s success or failure at collaboration reflects the vision of leaders in the company. Top executives need to understand the value of collaboration, make it a priority, and model excellent collaboration themselves. Leaders can show that they value effective collaboration by sharing the company’s mission and vision often, communicating their expectations for collaboration, and fostering a sense of community among their team. If possible, executives should create company-wide policies that promote collective decision-making as well. 

2Encourage communication

Effective collaboration doesn’t mean scheduling more meetings. It simply means that employees can use their existing meeting times to communicate openly and honestly with one another. Communication and collaboration go hand in hand. The more individuals feel they can contribute, the more ideas will be brought to the table, and the more productive the team will be. Leaders should also promote psychological safety—the belief that one won’t be punished for speaking up with ideas, questions, mistakes, or concerns—so everyone feels empowered to openly contribute their thoughts to each team conversation. 

3Leverage collaboration technology 

The right digital tools can make all the difference. Team leaders and project managers can go a step further to promote collaboration by having their teams use technology that enables and facilitates group work. These tools can take many forms, from email and conferencing software to instant messaging platforms to cloud-based project management software. 

Fellow is your one-stop shop for driving collaboration before, during, and after every meeting. Our collaborative meeting agenda will transform your meetings into productive work sections everyone wants to attend!

4Establish trust between employees

Trust is the foundation for a successful team. Leaders can begin building a trusting environment by getting to know their direct reports, their work, and their needs. Show employees that you trust them by giving individuals autonomy over their projects and offering them opportunities to take on additional responsibilities when they perform well. Be consistent with your expectations and stay true to your word so employees can trust you back. Own up to your mistakes and turn setbacks into learning opportunities for your team. Lastly, host regular one-on-one meetings to show that you care about your employees’ development, goals, and work! 

5Promote a shared sense of purpose 

Employees working towards the same goals will prioritize the collaborative process! Promote a shared sense of purpose among your team by modeling the values and behaviors you want your colleagues to practice. Connect and engage with employees in human ways so they feel like they’re a part of something bigger. You can eliminate silos, boost morale, and unify employees around shared goals by adopting objectives and key results (OKRs) into your daily work.

6Share and gather feedback

Feedback loops are imperative for great team collaboration. Give your colleagues regular positive and constructive feedback during team meetings and in one-on-one settings. Doing so will create an open space where everyone feels free to talk about their work without fear of hurt. When you deliver constructive feedback, help the individual develop a plan to take action and work through present challenges. During each feedback session, ensure that individuals or groups have the opportunity to provide you with feedback too. When delivering feedback, stay focused on specific situations and goals rather than character or personality traits. 

7Lead by example

If leaders want others to collaborate, they need to show employees that they too are collaborative. Collaborative leadership is a management strategy that fosters a cooperative and harmonious work environment to ensure a group’s continued success. Team leaders and project managers can hone in on collaboration by soliciting input from teammates before settling on team processes. For example, during a project kick-off meeting, teams can brainstorm ideas using whiteboards, shared documents, and collaborative meeting agendas. At every team meeting, promote discussion, assessment, and analysis to lead the group to a shared vision. 

8Offer mentoring and coaching 

Promote a coaching culture at work to increase the chances of two-way conversations and encourage knowledge sharing between employees. If relevant to your line of work, you can take a collaborative coaching approach so that mentors and mentees prioritize creating changes together. Both parties should help each other to fine-tune skills, work on problem areas, and determine ways to enhance strengths. 

9Encourage a diverse and inclusive workplace

Psychological safety must be in place for all employees to feel comfortable collaborating. Encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace by creating an environment where teammates feel safe talking to leadership about discrimination or bias of any kind. Leaders should be trained to stay open-minded at all times and avoid assumptions about their colleagues. Be open to employee feedback about company policies and create systems to address misunderstandings and resolve disagreements as they arise. Offer meaningful opportunities for employee engagement so in-person, hybrid, and remote employees all feel included in company initiatives. 

Parting advice

Effective collaboration can make the difference between an engaged workforce and an unhappy one. If you want to drive company results, the best thing you can do as a leader is to invest in your people. 

Remember: Teams with high levels of collaborative behavior have leaders that promote collaboration every single day. Productive teams are relationship-oriented, meaning they are just as focused on supporting, motivating, and developing the people on their teams as they are on achieving milestone goals. 

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