Early within my academic career, I began to understand how much positive impact a collaborative environment could bring. During my time researching for my Ph.D it became clear that while each person in my research group brought individual and unique strengths to the table, when working together towards a common goal we were able to achieve advancements in the medical field that had previously been unobtainable. I took this idea with me as I moved into the professional realm of marketing within the pharmaceutical industry, and with each leadership position I took I made sure to instill within my team the importance of working together towards a common goal while still highlighting their individuality.
Any successful business inevitably has team collaboration as a cornerstone of its business model. Workplaces that are collaborative in nature have employees that are engaged, performing at their best, and trust their superiors and co-workers. A recent study has shown that feeling motivated towards a common goal results in teams performing at a rate of five times higher than those who do not, and yet many managers today see the need to instill a cut-throat work environment that encourages competition rather than collaboration. Another recent study found that out of 1,400 executives, employees, and educators surveyed 86% believed lack of communication or ineffective communication to be the reason for workplace failures.
While competition can and does lead to innovation, it is a team-oriented workforce that not only promotes a positive work environment, but also ensures your employees’ job satisfaction. It can be a difficult task requiring a paradigm shift if your company’s previous habits and policies prefer the former to the latter, but it is important to remember that for most people collaboration is a teachable skill. By harnessing the strengths of each member of your team and effectively placing them where they can be best utilized, a company be set up to facilitate collaboration.
There of course are other factors that go into the success of a company such as strong leadership, work culture, and a unique strategy, but all of these are only amplified by an environment that encourages collaboration. Both large corporations and small start-ups can benefit from teaching their employees the value of collaboration and clear communication in order to build the trust within the team. As the coronavirus pandemic has moved many businesses to operating virtually, the importance of building trust within a team is more important than ever before, and a collaborative environment allows team members to communicate freely, understand emotional intelligence, share ideas and knowledge as well as resources, and teaches flexibility.
Read on below for nine tips toward creating a collaborative work environment in your own business.
ESTABLISH YOUR COMPANY’S MISSION
Regardless of your motivations for selecting your chosen profession, everyone needs a reason to show up everyday. By defining your own company’s mission, you give your team members a cause to be a part of and a broader objective to work towards. The mission itself should be simple and yet meaningful, and the more compelling the better. By bringing people together under one common goal, you give your employees a reason besides their paycheck to show up each day and feel a passion for their work. People are more likely to collaborate when they are passionate about the bigger picture — the company’s mission — and when they run into difficulties or conflict, the mission will allow them to stay focused.
Once you have established your company’s mission, repeat it on a regular basis to remind your team what they are working toward. Having a mission statement can spark new ideas, and creates a focus for people to come back to whenever they are making any decisions. By having one idea that unites everybody, using it as reasoning for your decision-making can make it easier for the collaborative process, when nobody can argue that a move or idea aids in working towards their common goal.
HIRE COLLABORATIVE PEOPLE FROM THE START
One of the simplest ways you can encourage collaboration in your business is by hiring team players from the start. Power struggles and ego trips do nothing but slow down a workplace, and while collaboration is as much about policies as it is about people, identifying during the hiring process whether someone is open to a collaborative work environment can save a lot of time and effort in the long run.
While it may seem like a no-brainer, it is imperative during the interview process to ask an interviewee about their experience working with teams. An effective collaborator is one who can balance being a self-starter capable of working alone while also being comfortable working with others as well. Candidates that show they have previously focused on outcomes rather than internal politics will be better equipped to handle working with different teammates and leaders, making them better suited for an environment that supports those who collaborate.
Asking questions beyond how well they work with others can also help separate out the true team players from the pretenders. Instead, ask when they last took one for the team, if they’ve ever let someone else get credit for their work, or if they’ve helped out a teammate just because they needed support and not because it benefited them in any way. These activities can reveal candidates who are determined, selfless, and open-minded, and have been passionate enough about their previous company’s goals that they were there for more than just their own benefit.
While some may think that creativity is something that is best saved for the arts, a team that is creative is a team that is innovative, and creating the space for creativity will help foster collaboration. By making an environment where members can suggest ideas as well as challenge others will aid in employees feeling connected to the previously aforementioned company mission. Encouraging employees to get creative with their thinking can lead to more novel solutions to problems, and one of the easiest ways to spark creativity is by collaborating with those around you, bouncing ideas off of each other.
This is where brainstorming sessions can be instrumental. Brainstorming sessions can be a great way of opening up your team to creative thinking, and the free structure of such sessions allow people to come together and say their ideas or opinions knowing they will all be received in a judgement-free environment. Because some team members can find the idea of an impromptu brainstorming session intimidating, giving your team some time to organize their thoughts by scheduling these sessions out is just another way to accommodate the different strengths and working styles each of your employees have.
A work environment based on trust is crucial to building a collaborative team. Creativity and innovation can only occur if there is trust between coworkers and trust in the organization itself. Without an environment of trust, team members may not have the confidence to voice their ideas for fear of sounding ridiculous, irrelevant, or even stupid, and by not making these employees feel they are in a safe environment you may miss out on some truly innovative ideas.
Unless your team members feel trusted as well as respected, there is no way for them to reach their full potential. Fearing failure is one of the most inhibiting reasons for someone to not speak up, and allowing those at your company to feel that way can be a major killer of innovation, as well as success. Promoting your team’s autonomy will encourage those to follow their intuition and move forward how they think is right, because they know if they do make a mistake or misjudgement, their other team members will not fault them for it as long as they learn from the mistake.
CREATE PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
Facilitating personal connections within the workplace is an indispensable way to keep up your team’s morale, and this means between both co-workers and superiors. Something as simple as going beyond “how are you?” when asking an employee or co-worker about their day can help people feel more comfortable being their true selves in their workplace, resulting in them also feeling more accepted and motivated as part of the team. Find out more about your employees’ backgrounds and personal interests, and while you don’t need to know every detail of their lives, getting to know what sparks joy for them is an effective way of showing that you care about them as people, not just employees. Getting to know them better also allows you the opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses, therefore giving you a better idea of what they want their future to look like and how you and your company might play a role.
A great way to encourage your team members to open up is by being more transparent yourself. Talking about your own hobbies and interests, telling stories about your life, these are the things that allow your employees to see you as more than a boss, and feel more at ease as a result. Team-building activities such as company picnics or volunteerism can also help break the ice and allow everybody to get to know each other’s talents and personalities. By encouraging your team to get to know each other on a more personal level, you help them understand each other better and therefore collaborate as a team more effectively.
HIGHLIGHT INDIVIDUAL STRENGTHS
Nothing can feel worse in a work environment than feeling unappreciated. Surveys have consistently shown that the vast majority of people out there say they would quit their jobs if they felt unappreciated, and not making an effort to acknowledge the value each individual adds to the team can foster division and unhappiness. Everyone can’t be a natural-born leader, or a highly effective public speaker, but a collaborative work environment recognizes that nobody can be perfect and instead chooses to highlight the best parts of each team member.
A successful team thrives when each member is able to bring their own unique set of skills to the table, and if those skills aren’t being used or their value isn’t being recognized, whether intentional or not they may sabotage the group’s goals as a result. Utilizing company-wide personality tests and sharing them in a group setting can be a quick and easy way to open up a discussion about strengths, and some of your employees may have some hidden that you were not previously aware of that come up through these exercises.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Strong companies begin with strong leaders. The success of your team’s collaborative effort comes from both the bottom and the top, and it is imperative that executives and managers lead not only by example demonstrating collaborative behaviors amongst each other, but also create supporting relationships with their team members showing that they both benefit from the other’s success.