Monday, February 13, 2023

9 Strategies to Increase Team Collaboration Quality

improve-cross-team-collaborationEvery business I know has teams, some working collaboratively to great advantage, while others sadly operating as collections of individuals who work alone, often in competition with each other. As a consultant, I often get asked what can be done to improve team relationships and maximize the impact of the whole organization. Most business successes I see required great collaboration.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the challenges of team collaboration, including stealing credit, placing blame, herding cats, egos, and responsibility without authority. On the other hand, most business leaders agree than great team collaboration leads to more innovation, better decisions, and a more productive and satisfied workforce. They just don’t have a strategy to get there.

I’ve always had a few recommendations, but I was pleased to see the most detailed study of this important challenge in a new book, “Collabor(h)ate,” by an experienced business consultant, business executive, and relationships researcher, Dr. Deb Mashek. I like her set of practical recommendations for making workplace collaborations less painful and more productive:

  1. Set clear expectations for the collaboration. Set aside time at the beginning of a collaboration relationship to make expectations explicit and to co-create an understanding of the norms that will govern the shared work. Then revisit these agreements as part of a regularly scheduled relationship maintenance check-up.

  2. Behave consistent with shared expectations. Be honest with yourself here. Perhaps you object to the expectations and have no intentions of upholding them, or you don’t understand why a particular behavior is valued, don’t have the skills or resources, or just lack motivation. Your good behaviors will increase the likelihood of others’ good behavior.

  3. Avoid jumping to conclusions about others. When someone doesn’t behave as expected, or when something goes wrong, our brains are quite adept at coming up with rich stories based on thin evidence and emotions. Don’t let this start a vicious cycle that can make it difficult to engage constructively when a collaborator violates expectations.

  4. Be receptive to accountability feedback. If you react defensively or if you off-load the blame for poor performance or dropped balls on others, you miss out on the opportunity to become better at your work, undermine the quality of the shared work, and erode the fabric of trust in the relationship. Accept your mistakes, forgive others, and move on.

  5. Be responsive to other collaborators’ needs. Over time, the other person will come to see that you have their back, and assuming they are likewise making the effort to be responsive to your needs, you will come to see that they have yours. This mutual responsiveness builds trust and connection, which will be needed in challenges.

  6. Strive to be communal rather than transactional. In communal relationships, like a marriage, we look for opportunities to contribute positively, without waiting to be asked, or measured on a tit-for-tat accounting. You can gracefully point out imbalances, pull back on efforts, and always highlight the small actions you see and appreciate from others.

  7. Use self-disclosure to create trust and closeness. If you would like to improve collaborative relationship quality, share an appropriate bit of yourself with colleagues, and make space for others to do the same in their own way and in their own time. Always, when a colleague shares something with you, acknowledge it with care and sincerity.

  8. Cultivate a collaboration identity, “we” versus “I.” This is called mutuality, or the psychological sense of sharing a social identity with other people. Mutuality results in a higher willingness to work together and share resources and rewards. You can encourage this through novel ideas, humor, and trying a new place for lunch together.

  9. Seek out novelty and challenge items as a team. We are all drawn to relationships and experiences that we believe will provide self-expansion and new strengths. In business teams, this might include attending a conference together, or saying yes to a challenging new project, or tackling new roles. Avoid boring and repetitive activities.

Even if you would rather work alone, I recommend that you pursue these strategies for the health of your career, and the health of your business. In this era of a worldwide economy, you need to learn how to interact and collaborate effectively with other cultures and diversity, both inside and outside the workplace environment. Life is more fun where you are not isolated and ignored.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 1/30/2023 ***



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