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5 Ways to Improve Collaboration in the Workplace

collaboration in the workplace, employee collaboration
Chuck Leddy
Published on

In today’s hybrid work landscape, people’s unpredictable schedules and work settings (office, home, a third place such as a coffee shop) can make it difficult for teams and organizations to effectively come together and collaborate.

For instance, if the marketing team is planning a brainstorming meeting for next week, the meeting organizer may not even know how many attendees are scheduled to be in the office that day and how many might call in remotely. That lack of knowledge could make booking the right-sized meeting room an arduous process. 

Having effective workplace technology in place is essential for driving the equitable participation of meeting attendees – you’ll need good digital connections, cameras, microphones, as well as business processes that support collaboration in hybrid get-togethers. 

Meanwhile, supporting collaboration in the workplace has never been more important. A study published in Harvard Business Review noted that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ in the last two decades.

The Muse (a career website) estimates that middle managers spend about 35% of their time in meetings, while high-level managers (directors and execs) spends 50% of their time in meetings. The more elevated a team member's role is, the more meetings – and workplace collaboration – matter.

Why We Gather: Benefits of Workplace Collaboration 

Business challenges, and their solutions, are more complex than ever. The challenges organizations face today, especially around product innovation and creating great customer experiences across physical and digital channels, are anything but easy and straightforward.

The “easy” solutions have already been developed. Today’s problems demand multifaceted solutions developed by diverse, cross-functional teams with deep expertise in multiple areas. Collaboration spurs that kind of innovation.

Let’s look at a simple business example of workplace collaboration. “Wearable” technology has been a massive global trend for the last decade. Yet building a “wearable” device that, say, monitors heart rate, blood pressure, and the number of calories you’ve burned, isn’t just about getting five engineers in a room to build a watch or other device. Instead, building a “wearable” health device requires medical professionals, fitness experts, IT and cloud technology experts, data and privacy experts, designers, marketing professionals, and more.

The biggest benefit of collaboration in the workplace is people sharing their know-how to create something new and valuable but that may also be collaborations greatest hurdle. That's because people from different areas of expertise typically use different languages (IT people, for example, use a dizzying array of acronyms that others might not understand), different measures of success, have different assumptions, and sometimes have mindsets that make collaboration difficult. Engineers, for example, may work well with IT professionals (they’re both “techie”), but struggle to collaborate with creative designers.  

“The higher the proportion of strangers on the team and the greater the diversity of background and experience, the less likely the team members are to share knowledge or exhibit other collaborative behaviors,” explains a Harvard Business Review article.

Collaboration doesn’t just happen by accident or luck: the groundwork must be laid.

Hybrid work adds to “collaboration complexity,” but hybrid work solutions abound. Collaboration was challenging before the global pandemic ushered in the present-day realities of hybrid work, but the need to navigate in-person and remote work settings and shifting schedules (in the office Tuesday through Thursday, at home Monday and Friday) has only added to the difficulties of collaboration. 

At the same time, effective workplace technology continues to evolve to support and foster collaboration in hybrid work settings. Supporting technology like meeting room management solutions or desk booking software make it easy for teams to find the spaces they need to connect. Collaboration starts with making the right resources readily available to all of your people.

The bottom line remains the same – today’s business challenges are complex and collaboration, often across disciplines and locations, is the only available way to develop viable and innovative solutions. Putting a “lone genius” like Thomas Edison or Marie Pasteur into a room by themselves is not how today’s business challenges get solved. Even Pasteur and Edison had multiple collaborators and support people behind them.

What Successful Collaboration Looks Like

Collaboration is built on the synergy of people’s know-how and effort, the belief (proven in practice) that 1 + 1 can be more than 2. Think of your favorite bands or your favorite sports teams – each member is a unique individual with a clear role who also contributes to collective success.

People typically enjoy working together – it’s been hard-wired into our brains since time immemorial. In fact, 64% of people responding to Robin’s Employee Motivators survey were more likely to come into the office if they knew their other team members would also be there.

People learn more from others as part of a team, and a more collaborative team-ethos can help motivate people to achieve shared goals. A Stanford University study found that people who worked collaboratively were able to stay with a task 64% longer than those who worked independently. Collaboration (unsurprisingly) enhances employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention too.

But effective collaboration requires that certain preconditions be put in place. For instance, roles on the team need to be clarified so that individual team members know what they need to do and when. In addition, effective collaboration happens in a cultural environment where difference and diversity – of gender and ethnicity, but also of functional expertise, experience, and opinion – are respected by all and integrated into a team’s collective action.

Differences between in-office and remote employees, for instance, can create surprising synergies. Research from Northwestern University found that virtual collaboration had an unexpected benefit for the entire team.

The absence of face-to-face contact reduced inhibitions among younger or less experienced team members, who felt they could step up and express themselves more freely to the group in a virtual/hybrid scenario. More ideas were shared and considered by the team.

5 Ways to Improve Workplace Collaboration

Team members collaborate for more effective problem solving, to get more diverse perspectives and to further team goals. All of these outcomes have a positive impact on the business as a whole. Here's how you can encourage collaboration in your workplace:

1. Provide Leadership Support

A collaborative workplace culture must be modeled and supported from the top down. Of course, leadership should consistently highlight the importance of collaboration for everyone in the entire organization, and work environment. Leadership support must also extend to investing in the physical office: you need to provide the meeting spaces where collaboration occurs.  

Robin’s report, The Three Pillars of Hybrid Leadership, found that employees want leaders who:

  • Communicate needs and expectations clearly and often
  • Intentionally build trust and relationships among teams
  • Establish company-wide shared purpose

2. Enable Collaboration in the Workplace with Technology

Supporting collaboration goes way beyond providing posters in the hallway (“Go Team!”), good meeting rooms, and movable furniture. Leadership support also extends to investing in various technologies and collaboration tools that enable team members to connect.

For example, people need the ability to easily book meeting and conference spaces and also communicate with attendees about details of the booking. Having an effective meeting room booking system saves people time, frustration, and also enables attendees to come together (in-office and remotely) to effectively collaborate. Investing in the right collaboration tools is a critical piece of promoting collaboration.

3. Offer Training and Enablement for the Entire Company

Collaboration and open communication between diverse teams is a muscle that must be trained, individually and collectively. People teams should be identifying and sharing team collaboration best practices, organizing training opportunities, and calling out collaborative success through recognition/reward programs. These ideas for connection should help teams successfully collaborate on future projects and encourage employees to connect more often.

Being able to engage differences and have purposeful conversations about shared goals, as well as resolving conflicts, doesn’t just happen by luck. People need to build and use their “collaboration muscles.”

4. Empower a More Collaborative Environment through Leadership

Your company leadership team and functional-area leaders have a crucial role to play in supporting team performance and collaboration. Effective team leaders get developed with good training, of course, but experience will be the best teacher.

Seeing and seeking to resolve all the challenges a team faces, including differences of opinion (and personality), as well as clarifying team member roles and responsibilities, will give a team leader the breadth and depth they need to drive effective collaboration. Offering team leaders good training, coaching, and mentoring can help. Leadership should also encourage team members to collaborate with one another.

Finally, it’s essential to empower team leaders with technology tools that support collaboration (such as a meeting room booking system), as well as best-in-class communication tools.

5. Treat Workplace Collaboration as an Evolving Practice

When it comes to supporting team collaboration, you’re never done. Find out what’s working and do more of it. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Much like supporting your workplace strategy in data-enabled ways, supporting collaboration requires an iterative mindset that’s constantly looking to drive improvement through enhancing processes and technology.

Keep considering ways you can support more collaboration for your teams.

Blending People, Processes, and Technology for Collaborative Teams

Supporting and improving workplace collaboration will drive productivity, retention, and revenue-generating success. Not to mention, your company culture stands to benefit considerably. But “doing” collaboration well takes a constant commitment to your people, your processes, and the technology tools you deploy to support collaboration.

Robin is here to help teams collaborate. We exist to build great tools that support team collaboration in complex, hybrid work environments.

Best of all, you can start with Robin today for free.

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