Collaboration in the workplace can spur innovation, increase productivity, and boost team satisfaction. Read more about the benefits, challenges, and values of building collaborative teams below.
At Asana, we’re on a mission to help humanity thrive by enabling the world’s teams to work together effortlessly. Workplace collaboration takes teamwork to the next level. It allows your teammates to share their skills, talents, and ideas to achieve a common goal.
When done right, workplace collaboration can have a positive impact on your team and organization. Collaboration can improve efficiency, innovation, and team relationships. In this article we cover the benefits and challenges of a collaborative workspace, what skills you need to look for in your collaborative team, and how you can support them to create an innovative and positive work environment.
You can think of collaboration as the grease that makes teamwork work. It’s one of the three strategies you’ll need to encourage team synergy, the other two being communication and setting group norms.
Workplace collaboration is the cornerstone of building great teamwork—collaborative teams work together to brainstorm new ideas, complete ambitious projects, and achieve their goals. At its most basic level, a collaborative team is one that accomplishes more together than the individual team members could on their own.
Depending on your role, team collaboration in the workplace can look a little different:
For team leads, team collaboration can help you allocate work to simultaneously make your direct reports shine, expand their skill sets, and help them advance their careers.
As an individual contributor, team collaboration helps you communicate more effectively with your team and work together to accomplish great initiatives.
For cross-functional collaborators, team collaboration is critical to making sure work moves along smoothly. Without a clear way to work together and communicate, your team can end up siloed, and work can end up falling through the cracks.
Here are a few examples of what collaboration in the workplace can look like.
Group brainstorming: The perfect example of effective collaboration is a good old fashioned brainstorming session. This exercise allows everyone on the team to contribute their ideas and benefit the project by creating innovative solutions to complex problems.
Diverse teams: Everyone on your team is different, and every teammate brings something unique to the table. Building inclusive teams with a range of talents, skill levels, and backgrounds (personal and professional) strengthens your team’s collaboration.
Honest communication and open discussions: In order for teams to be able to work together effectively, you have to be willing to ask questions, dig into specific points, and even disagree in order to move work forward. Though open and honest communication isn’t always the easiest—or most comfortable—being a collaborative team means co-creating to build better solutions, listening to input from other team members, and working together towards your goals.
“In complex organizations, you need some way to keep everybody on the same page. When you let silos develop because there’s no organization-wide view into what’s going on—that’s the worst possible way of working. Asana gives us a single platform across every team to share work, to communicate, and to follow up with each other.” –Bill Crim, CEO, United Way of Salt Lake
Successful collaborative teams rely on the following values:
Clarity: Clear communication is key. While your team may not agree on everything, it’s vital that you communicate opinions, ideas, and priorities clearly to avoid unnecessary conflicts or misunderstandings.
Efficiency: How collaborative your team is does not necessarily correlate with how much time they spend together. It’s all about how time is utilized. Keep meetings or reports short and to the point to help your teammates get their work done on time.
Positivity: Not all team projects will go smoothly. Teams who can shake off failure and start a new project with a positive attitude make collaboration a long-term success.
Trust: Your team members need to feel safe if you want them to contribute their ideas and unique skills. Make sure your team knows that you have their best interest at heart and believe in their abilities.
Accountability: Check in with your team and make sure everyone is holding themselves accountable for their work—if someone’s missing deadlines or not delivering the quality of work that’s expected of them, try to locate the issue and support them so they can reach their goals in the future.
Keep in mind that a diverse team can strengthen the performance of a project. Different skill levels and personalities are great, but successful collaboration is only possible when every team member embraces these values
So you want to build a collaborative team: now what? Boosting team collaboration isn’t as simple as turning a switch “on” or “off”—it takes dedication and focus to develop this project management skill. But if you’re ready to reap the benefits of team collaboration, here are 11 tips to help you build a collaborative company culture:
1. Foster collaboration as a value
This one might seem obvious, but it’s critical to actually establish that collaboration is important to you and your team. Not every team values collaboration—some teams are driven by competition or individual prowess. Take time to clarify that team collaboration is important and lay out how your team will get there.
2. Establish communication conventions
Part of the way you can build and boost team collaboration is to create guidelines for your team to communicate and work together. Remember: at first, collaboration won’t be effortless. It’ll take time working together for team members to become fully comfortable with one another—and that’s ok. But by sitting down and co-creating your team’s communication plan, you can make the process easier.
Take some time to decide:
What should be communicated through email?
What messages should be sent through your direct messaging system?
What information should be shared via your project management tools?
Is there a preferred meeting day or time?
What kind of communication and discussion guidelines or rules should we establish as a team to create an inclusive environment?
Knowing when not to communicate can be equally helpful. Make sure you create time for deep focus work, and encourage employees to set themselves to “Do Not Disturb” if need be, or to block off their calendars to avoid piecemeal meeting days. At Asana, we practice No Meeting Wednesdays, which makes time for everyone—from the newest team member to our executive leaders—to dig into work.
3. Invite co-creation
The core tenet of team collaboration is that teams can do things better together than they can alone. So one of the best ways to promote team collaboration is to invite co-creation. Don’t just tell team members to work together on a project—instead, hold brainstorming sessions, invite discussion, and open the door to disagreement. Co-creation means building an idea together, not chipping away towards a goal separately.
Co-creation doesn’t have to be face-to-face, either. Asynchronous brainstorming sessions can be incredibly beneficial. One simple way to co-create with a virtual team is to all collaborate in a Google Doc—simply open and build on each others’ ideas.
4. Encourage open communication…
…and mean it. Collaboration happens when team members feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. Team members should be encouraged to participate, innovate, and communicate. Instead of holding back their thoughts or reigning in their feelings, they can be themselves and bring all of the great ideas that come with it.
But open communication also means that, sometimes, people are going to disagree. Disagreements are not counter to team collaboration. In fact, healthy disagreements and open conversations are critical to unlocking successful team collaboration.Read: How to give and take constructive criticism
It’s hard to build a collaborative team without a collaborative leader. Collaboration starts at the top, so make sure you’re always inviting co-creation, encouraging open communication, and making time for your team to innovate and collaborate. Encourage team members to reach out to you if they have questions, or schedule a 1:1 for some extra meeting time.
6. Build time for team bonding
When was the last time your team got together to just chat? Team building activities aren’t just a great way to release steam, they’re also an opportunity to get to know each other outside of a work setting. What is your colleague's life goal? Where is your boss from, and how did that affect their experience? What did your new teammate do before their current job?
Teams that get to know each other inside and out of work know each other better—so when you’re busy with your next project, they can more easily communicate and collaborate more effectively.
7. Highlight successful teamwork
Everyone loves to be recognized for a job well done—and congratulating team members on successful teamwork is no different. If two team members work together to bring a new idea to fruition or lead a particularly difficult initiative, take time to give them kudos.
Ask team members to share their impressions about their experience—what worked well? How did they collaborate and work together to achieve their goal? This not only gives them a well-deserved moment in the spotlight, but it can also serve as a blueprint for other team members to collaborate in the future.
8. Offer mentorship opportunities
Building team collaboration is a soft skill: in fact, it's a combination of interpersonal and communication skills. Every individual team member can work to improve those skills—but sometimes, an external perspective can be incredibly helpful.
There are some intangibles that come with work experience, time spent at a company, and familiarity with the market or job function—and new employees may be itching to learn more. Encouraging mentorship opportunities within your company can help the entire team improve.
9. Set goals collaboratively
How does your team set goals? Goal-setting is an incredibly important part of any team; it can help you align on what’s important and execute towards those goals. Oftentimes, goals are set from the “top-down,” which means leadership sets goals and the metrics of how to get there. This can help your team or company reach a common goal—but it doesn't give your team a chance to collaborate and innovate on how they can reach the goal.
Consider setting hybrid goals—where team or company leadership set the main objective, but individual team members are encouraged to set their key results or KPIs on how they’ll achieve the objective. You can workshop and brainstorm these metrics, but opening the door for team members to be involved in goals can make them more interested in achieving the goals.
10. Be flexible
As a collaborative team leader you have to continuously adapt to the different needs and practices of your teammates. Don’t expect people with different backgrounds to follow the same process—instead, recognize and support their unique styles. The more flexible your strategy to implement collaborative work is, the easier it will be on your team.
11. Use shared tools
The best and easiest way for your team to work together is for you to collaborate in a single, shared tool. When you have a central source of truth, all of your teams' work is happening in the same place. Any new updates, shared files, or additional context are all easy to find. By reducing the barrier to working together and collaborating, you're empowering your team to do more together effortlessly.
When done right, workplace collaboration can have a positive impact on your team and organization. It can improve efficiency, innovation, and relationships across teams.
Bringing your teammates together can spark innovative ideas and create solutions to complex problems they may not have come up with on their own.
Think back to a truly great brainstorming session you had. The team was probably overflowing with new ideas—building off of each others’ suggestions to come up with an absolute gem of a plan. That’s the magic of team collaboration—on their own, your team couldn’t have come up with the solution you landed on. It took all of you, engaging and creatively feeding one another, to get to where you did.
Teams that collaborate well will report higher levels of team satisfaction. Collaborating on projects will help your team members bond, highlight their individual strengths and talents, and make them feel valued as part of the big picture. Happier teams can also directly influence their quality of work, which ultimately impacts your organization's success.Read: How team morale affects employee performance
Alignment across distributed teams
Collaboration is more difficult but nonetheless important when your teammates aren’t sharing an office space. The right collaboration tools can help your team members feel less isolated and more part of the organization.
Lean into collaboration software to allow team members to routinely update each other and actively participate in decisions, brainstorming sessions, and work distribution. Even though team members aren’t in the same room, these collaborative experiences can make them feel more connected.
Shared knowledge among team members
When team members are working together, they’re constantly involved in each others’ work. Because they’re contributing to joint initiatives or problem-solving together, team members need to share ideas and talk about their work—which leads to increased, team-wide visibility.
While assembly lines may have a bit of a bad rap, they’ve also proven highly efficient. When your team collaborates successfully, it can improve company-wide processes and individual workflows.
Collaboration can make your team more productive and free up time in their schedule for other tasks. This can impact your customer experience as your team is quicker to act when your clients need them.
We've covered the benefits of team collaboration and how to get your team to the point where collaboration feels effortless. And while there's no downside to collaboration done right, there are some pitfalls you can run into while implementing these strategies.
Team leaders who are aware of the difficulties will find it easier to support their teammates when struggles arise—here are some of the challenges teams encounter:
The problem: Your team is dragging their feet on implementing some new policies and using some of your new collaboration tools.
The solution: Make sure you start off small. We recommend implementing one new workstream or project to get the feel for your new processes and tools. It's also helpful to have internal champions who can guide others on the adoption journey. At Asana, we've developed the Asana Way of Change to help teams successfully implement new practices.
Creating space for everyone
The problem: Team members who are shy or less confident may struggle in a collaborative workplace environment. While their input is valued, they may feel less inclined to share or contribute their unique ideas because they’re afraid to fail or be rejected by the group.
The solution: Leaders can combat this by establishing inclusive meeting and conversation guidelines that create space for those who tend to be more quiet. Your team should also know that failure is nothing to be afraid of but rather an opportunity to grow—this will take some of the pressure off of teammates who are less confident in their ideas, abilities, and talents.
Too much information
The problem: For your team to work together effectively, they need to know where to find things. Seamless workplace collaboration only works when all information is readily available and organized rather than spread out across multiple platforms, or worse, personal accounts.
The solution: Use a work management tool like Asana that keeps all of your files and other apps in one place and allows you to know exactly who’s doing what by when. A work management tool will not only reduce app switching but also make it easier for your team to find, comment, and collaborate on information or tasks.
Too many notifications
The problem: Now that everyone is connected, your inbox keeps “dinging” with new information, and you can hardly get any work done.
The solution: Make sure your collaboration software offers easy access to any relevant notification controls. Choose solutions that offer Do Not Disturb and “unsubscribe to notifications” features, so your team can more easily focus on the work that matters to them.
The problem: The more teammates you involve in a project, the more input you’ll receive which can slow down decision-making processes.
The solution: A strong leader can use their communication and influencing skills to navigate through these processes and lead their team to a solution everyone can agree on.
Friction between strong personalities
The problem: Having teammates with strong personalities can be great for your organization but when they’re all on the same team, it can lead to friction and resistance.
The solution: Focus on creating diverse teams with members who complement each other and work well together. As their leader, make sure that everyone feels treated equally and supported by their teammates. Check in regularly to inquire about your teammates' collaborative skills and guide them as they grow into better teamworkers.
The problem: Team performance hasn't improved, and the group dynamic doesn't feel like it’s changed, either. Or you’re just not sure if workplace collaboration is improving your organization’s way of working.
The solution: When it comes to boosting team collaboration, you might not see results overnight. But helping your team gain clarity and visibility is only a good thing. Try establishing clear, measurable goals of “where you are” when you start, so you can look back and gauge how things are progressing over time.
Not all teams will experience the same challenges when working together but the better prepared you are as their leader, the easier it will be to overcome them.
Collaboration apps can help your team more easily communicate, share files, and coordinate work. Try these tools to help your team promote effective collaboration:
A file sharing tool like Google Workspace, Microsoft Office, or Dropbox
One of the biggest barriers to team collaboration is having to endlessly search for documents, or wait for an email reply before you can access a file. With a centralized file sharing tool, your team has a shared knowledge base and file depository they can access.
A communication tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams
How does your team currently communicate? Rapid communication for simple tasks or fun moments of team bonding can be critical for team collaboration. A good team is in constant contact—even if they're not constantly talking. This is especially important if your team is remote. While a meeting or a huddle are great ways to communicate, a messaging tool provides easy access to all members of the team.
A video communication tool like Zoom or Google Meet
For remote teams, video conferencing is critical for team collaboration. Increasing face time with your team can help create a collaborative environment—even while you're working remotely. Make sure everyone on your team has access to create video meetings and knows how to use your tool.
A work management tool like Asana
Work management is the linchpin of your team collaboration strategy. With a work management tool, you can easily align on team needs, visualize work in real time, and clarify goals. Work management software is a great tool to help your team do just that. It helps your team organize work, stay in sync, and hit your goals.
It’s important to integrate all of your collaboration tools, so you can limit toggle fatigue. The average employee switches between 10 tools per day—but with Asana, all of your favorite tools are accessible in one place.
When your team collaborates, you can do great things. While teamwork isn’t always easy, the gains in innovation, efficiency, and team dynamics will be well worth the investment. So from our collaborative team to yours: you got this.
Remote collaboration is a whole other ball park—but with the right mindset and online tools, you can successfully connect teammates across the globe.Connect and collaborate remotely with Asana