In today’s digital workplace, it’s important to remember that having the right tools is one thing, but using them effectively is another. As with any group project, the top collaboration challenges include poor communication, understanding roles and responsibilities, and trusting your teammates.
But don’t let that deter you. With a few tips, you can learn how to successfully collaborate at work.
The importance of team culture
Employees are essential to an organization’s success, and it’s paramount that they feel safe, respected and valuable.
Team culture dictates how people behave and work together, so it’s important to set the tone by establishing the right values and attitudes. Defining clear expectations for responsibilities and communication also influences how people work toward a common goal.
Culture is even more important in a remote setting, as it can be tougher to stay connected to the work and aligned with the team. A strong culture ensures that even in a digital workspace, you can keep up morale and productivity while staying engaged and inclusive.
Nine out of 10 managers believe that alignment with a company’s culture is more important than a candidate’s skills and experience (Robert Half, 2018).
Five tips for collaborating effectively as a team
Most people can work well independently, but collaboration is more challenging. Good communication and knowing how your role fits into the big picture go a long way. But it all comes down to how you work, including leveraging the right tools. In fact, 70% of employees said that collaboration improved with digital technology.
So what can you do to collaborate with colleagues effectively?
1. Get everyone on the same page.
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate, especially with a remote team. You don’t want to make the mistake of assuming something and inadvertently delaying your project. It’s always good to remember that tone, facial expressions and gestures don’t translate in chats or emails, so you want to be clear in your instructions.
At the start of a project, clearly lay out responsibilities. Things are less likely to fall through the cracks when people know their deliverables and how their job affects the rest of the project and team. It helps hold people accountable and also minimizes potential finger-pointing if someone drops the ball.
Keep information such as organization charts, internal wikis and key deadlines posted and easily accessible to everyone. Agree on a cadence for check-ins (weekly? bi-weekly?), and establish which communication tools to use for specific tasks. Maybe it’s a weekly Zoom video call for updates, Slack for file sharing, and Jira for comps and other sub-tasks.
Finally, be transparent. Being open about everything makes people feel like they’re part of the team. If something goes wrong, bring attention to it immediately so everyone can work together to solve the problem.
2. To meet, or not to meet, that is the question.
You’ve probably seen the “This meeting could’ve been an email” meme. So many meetings are unnecessary, especially meetings to prepare for other meetings. However, some are still important, so you should make the most of them!
There are a few things you can do to maintain structure, set the tone and make everyone feel included, even when your team is remote.
- A daily check-in meeting gives a chance for everyone to share their goals for the day and any roadblocks that need clearing
- Regular face-to-face video calls keep colleagues accountable for team goals
- For longer projects (or established teams), weave in team lunches or events. It lets people connect outside of work and fosters camaraderie
You can also use tech to cut down on meetings. Rather than hold yet another status meeting, message the latest milestone to your team in Slack, or solicit approvals and feedback on a shared document.
3. Take advantage of channels.
Collaboration tools like Slack create dedicated group spaces called channels. You can focus channels on specific topics to keep your team up to date with the latest files, conversations and decisions.
The cool thing about channels is that you can have as many as you want. All the information for each topic is centralized and readily accessible versus being buried deep in a sea of different email threads. Pro tip: name your channels with intention (find some good examples here).
Organization-wide “all hands” announcements belong in the
#general channel, which all employees have access to by default. You should also have a channel for that big high-stakes project, one for your cross-functional team to chat in and one for the workplace sustainability group. And don’t forget the party-planning team so they can hash out (secret) details for Bob’s retirement party.
Collaboration tools like Slack are especially helpful for remote work. You likely can’t just pop by your buddy’s desk anymore, but you can easily start a direct message and have a one-on-one conversation in real time.
Strategically creating appropriate, contextual channels keeps separate projects organized and encourages effective collaboration. In fact, 85% of employees with access to collaborative management tools are more likely to perceive themselves as happy in the workplace.
4. Be a team player, but set some ground rules.
Do yourself a favor and stay flexible, but anticipate that there will be some conflict. Change is never easy, and teams always comprise various people with different habits, attitudes and motivations.
- Be upfront with your expectations and how you want the team to communicate. Encourage discussion with mutual respect. Make it a rule that everyone can voice their opinion, but once a decision is made, everyone needs to commit to it. Having a naysayer continually degrading choices isn’t healthy for morale or productivity. But if that team player feels heard, he’ll be more inclined to put effort into the work.
- Normalize giving out kudos when someone does a good job. It’s so easy (and free!) to give a quick shout-out. They’ll appreciate it, and the team will recognize their value. It also encourages a little healthy competition, inspiring others to aim high.
With remote work, the physical barriers aren’t there, and communication can naturally flow. Be an active listener and respectful of others. Your colleagues will feel more comfortable, and communicate and collaborate more effectively.
5. Give your team members autonomy.
- Trust your colleagues to do good work. Your company hired them because they had the right skills and fit for the job. Once your team members are all on the same page and know who’s responsible for what, let them do their job.
- Provide a good support structure. Even the best self-starters need advice or a sounding board at some point. You want your team members to know who to reach out to with questions and when to bring up new ideas for discussion. That structure allows autonomous workers to focus and be creative and innovative, which ultimately leads to better collaboration. Having the freedom to test out new concepts or lead an effort fosters more idea sharing and feedback among the team. Plus, having personally motivated individuals makes for an overall stronger and more productive team.
How to collaborate effectively at work
Encourage your team members to be agile and take advantage of the tools they have. Set the stage by defining expectations and responsibilities, and then trust them to do their best. Lead by example, and coach and develop your team’s skill sets while keeping everyone focused. Be honest and transparent, and remember that over-communication is better than under-communication.
Collaboration tools can help put all of these ideas into action. Tools like Slack let teams organize in one place. Shared workspaces—especially if teams are remote—give you more ways to stay connected and work together faster, better and more efficiently.