“What’s the secret to creating a highly effective team?”
Where companies go wrong, time after time, is in making collaborative efforts a scheduled event rather than an ongoing, embedded philosophy. They doom themselves right from the start by training people to expect their collaboration to come at special events rather than in their daily work. Want collaboration? That's an offsite. That's a team-building event. That's a customer conference. At which experts pontificate, naysayers challenge, control freaks dominate the whiteboards, and everyone celebrates how collaborative they can be in their safe, limited, prescribed space. Then they return to their day-to-day work and day-to-day habits.
It's like a hockey team that practices teamwork by grabbing beers together.
How to achieve true collaboration—game-time teamwork—is an age-old question that we humans have been trying to unlock for years. Sports teams are infamous for paying through the nose to assemble collections of highly skilled, sought-after players who nonetheless underperform. Coaches who can build genuine collaboration are often legends—and that's in an industry that is in the literal business of building team!
What hope do businesses have?!
The irony is, businesses too often follow the collect-great-individual-talent model, despite the fact that, as in sports, the most individually gifted employees are often the ones least likely to share, display flexibility, or help others in a pinch. Especially if they love winning, these individuals are more likely to be puck hogs, scorekeepers, and do-it-yourselfers. And while these self-centric skills will propel individuals forward, it puts a ceiling on what the organization can achieve. The Chicago Bulls couldn't win with just Michael Jordan; it wasn't until Coach Phil Jackson built a team around him that they became a dynasty. Effective teams achieve goals bigger than the sum of their parts. Effective teams collaborate.
In a recent survey conducted by Emergenetics, collaboration ranked among the top four most important skills for determining an employee’s future success. The other three skills included: communication (#1), critical thinking, and leadership. It’s also been proven by Gallup that extremely connected teams demonstrate a 21% increase in profitability. And when staff feel well supported and acknowledged for their contributions, 60% are less likely to leave the company. Meaning that collaboration does more than help companies achieve more, it also lowers the cost of doing so.
So how do you debug your processes to achieve team collaboration?
Make working together work better…together
Create a positive work environment
Employees are more likely to be productive when they feel they are an essential part of the corporate culture and add value to the company. We spend 1/3 of our lives at work, so it’s important we feel safe, accepted, and mentally good about what we are contributing. Start by learning each employee’s special strengths, acknowledging their skillsets, and sharing them so all team members are aware. Head off all negativity, gossip, and bad attitudes, and make it common practice to equally treat everyone with respect and dignity. This alone will change the air of your workplace.
Communication is the number one challenge within companies—and among people in general. It sounds simple, but few people have mastered the skill of effective communication. Start by making eye contact so you can be sure you have the attention of the person with whom you are speaking. Choose clear and concise language to eliminate guesswork. After you finish, ask if there are any questions to see if you’ve been correctly understood. If you are on the receiving side, stop talking and listen. Make eye contact, clear your thoughts, and listen carefully to what is being said. Listening is where communication most often fails.
Set and focus on common goals
Collaboration is powerful in generating a sea of big ideas. Everyone gets to take part in the process and lights up at the realm of new possibilities. But at some point, the group brainstorm must be narrowed down to a few common goals. This is where critical thinking, leadership, and communication skills come into play. Select the ideas with the most traction, create tangible and achievable goals, and find creative ways to get everyone on board.
Break goals into doable and reasonable tasks with clear delivery dates
Once a goal has been decided, break it out by phases, timelines, benchmarks, and specific tasks. See which team members are best suited for the work needed to be completed. Ask if team members have work preferences and then allocate tasks to the people for whom they are best suited, along with clearly defined timeframes. That way, everyone on the team will know exactly what’s expected of them, and by when.
Create processes of ownership and accountability
When team members understand expectations, they are empowered to do their work more independently. Without such clarity, they may waste time and energy trying to figure out their role, protect their turf, or simply sit back and wait for someone else to take responsibility. When team members commit to scheduled tasks, they can focus on the work at hand and better manage their time.
Define next steps and approval processes
Big collaborative meetings can often leave team members wondering what steps to take next. This is especially common when several senior level team members are present from different departments—and they’re all giving different direction. In lieu of stepping on each other’s toes, the senior heads have their say, but without outlining an approval process to move the project forward. Needless to say, there must be an agreed upon process for signoffs and next steps.
Make meetings efficient and productive.
Let’s face it, meetings for the sake of meetings are a waste of time. Always start by including only necessary participants, a time limit, and the objective of the meeting. If you’re holding a daily or weekly scrum meeting, break it out by projects, and have participants share yesterday’s accomplishments, today’s goals, and current roadblocks if any are present. Unless there are significant challenges at hand, it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two to give an update.
Eliminate problems early
When problems do arise, as they often do, head them off early. This may be a workflow dependency along the critical path where another team member needs to complete their task first. Or it may be a delayed approval, capacity planning issue, technology setback, or lack of funding. Ask questions to get to the heart of the hold up, understanding that some team members may not be quick to share personal setbacks such as lack of training or knowledge of internal processes.
Nothing brings a team closer together than victory. Celebrate not only the big wins but the small ones, too. A simple acknowledgement goes a long way. Write a thank you email to all team members involved, being sure to especially thank those outside the spotlight who are working hard behind the scenes. Achieving goals builds confidence, and confidence builds desire to achieve more. While hard work pays off, don’t forgot to take a moment to rejoice and relish in team accomplishments. They are no easy feat.
Get everyone on the same page, literally
The physical logistics of our workplaces have become complicated with multiple locations for our global, regional and corporate offices, as well as outside contractors, third parties, and remote employees. Likewise, a host of one-off technologies have emerged making corporate communications now look like a weighed-down jalopy with built-on redundancies. Instead, invest in single source work management platform to deliver all of the things you need, from project schedule planning, risk remediation, cross-silo communication, onboarding, and accurate projections to determine on-time delivery dates. Simplify and eliminate the extraneous to keep everyone connected.