Workplaces value and promote collaboration within teams, but in many cases, expectation does not meet reality. Teams may not demonstrate the expected levels of cooperation.
Or they may start out well but not sustain the momentum over the natural course of a project. We look at some of the pitfalls and some successful strategies to sustain and enhance collaboration among teams.
You may have a great team but sometimes, uncharacteristically, you may stumble across one or more members dragging their feet. Before you diagnose it as laziness, preoccupation, or job dissatisfaction, think:
• Does this person have clarity on the way forward?
• Did the last meeting or pow-wow leave your team with definitive action points?
Often employees walk out of lengthy, wordy meetings none the wiser on what they are supposed to do next. How do you avoid this situation? By making clarity in communications a baseline.
This may take some stepping back to re-evaluate how your organisation communicates.
Is there more than one platform for sharing information? Does vital information get fragmented across email, workplace forums, Trello, WhatsApp, where some see it and some miss it altogether?
If so, it would be worth your while to consolidate all communication on various aspects of a project onto one centralized platform accessible to the entire team. When everyone is in no doubt about their role, ownership and expectations to be met, they can perform with confidence.
On a more interpersonal level, know how your team operates as a unit before you assign work briefs. Know which members work well together, which ones don’t, and resolve any disagreements at the outset. Practice communication in groups: Have a team member say something, then introspect on what exactly they were trying to accomplish in saying that. Have the person at the receiving end state their understanding of the statement. Have the speaker rephrase any discrepancies until the clearest version of the message is delivered and understood.
Every interaction has the potential to be a win-win interaction. Often this potential is not realised because in the real world, people often move forward without fully exploring each other’s interests.
To demonstrate this in an exercise, a collaboration expert asks students to work in pairs to think through how to divide an orange. Each partner is told, without the other’s knowledge, a reason for wanting the fruit: One needs to make juice, and the other needs the peel for a muffin recipe: there is no actual overlap in their needs.
Yet, most pairs that fail fight over the orange, cut it in half, or throw up their hands. The ones that succeed understand the other’s reason for wanting the orange, and arrive at the optimal, mutually satisfactory solution.
For collaborative projects to succeed and for all the team members to understand each other’s vision of winning, they have to be transparent on where their personal interests lie, and declare their honest assessment of what they can contribute. They have to ask questions and listen carefully to arrive at a version of success that is a win-win across the board.
What you can do as an individual: Whenever instructions and intentions are fuzzy, do not hesitate to ask questions
As a business owner: Move to a common communication platform accessible to all employees. If the platform allows task assignment, and a way for you to monitor performance, nothing like it. Make sure your employees communicate well among themselves and that you are well aware of any undercurrents.
As an organisation: Organise regular interdepartmental or inter-team sessions to promote clear dialogue, understand how the other unit works, and emphasise how team goals are nested within the company goals.