Collaboration is defined as "the action of working with someone to produce or create something." The concept has grown in importance as technology allows us to work with people on projects across the globe. In fact, even the use of the word has been on the rise since the early 2000s, but what does it really mean to be collaborative? And how can working collaboratively increase your productivity at work? Most people agree that collaboration will increase productivity generally, but they are unsure how to use this tool effectively.
What they may not realize is that collaboration requires a defined process, not just throwing your employees into a room together and hoping they come up with an amazing idea. Forcing employees to work together (bad collaboration) can actually be worse for your company than their not working together at all. Successful collaboration centers on three major aspects: company culture, process, and having the tools and technology to get things done.
- Your company should have a collaborative culture.
The old saying that two heads are better than one is generally true in business, especially for developing new, creative ideas. Having a collaborative culture means that you encourage your employees to interact with one other to get things done. It may not necessarily mean that you assign specific group projects if you don't want to do that, but you can encourage your employees to at least ask one another for help. Here are a few suggestions to start developing this culture:
- Share your business goals with your employees. They should all have the same overall goals, and then you can break off pieces of that general goal for each person. All staff members should understand how their personal goals contribute to the business goals.
- Encourage mutual respect among all employees and supervisors. Everyone has a role at your company, and is valued, or he or she wouldn't be there. If your employees understand what each person contributes, then they are more likely to foster that mutual respect.
- Have uniform measurements and deadlines as much as possible. When you are striving for a collaborative culture, you need to treat employees equally as much as possible. This will cut down on competitiveness and let your more successful employees share with others how they achieved their goals. Your leaders can model this.
- Encourage collaborative processes.
Part of having a collaborative process is designing it. At first, you may let your employees develop their own process, but then, as you refine what works for your team, write it down. Make it a requirement. This will not only let future employees know how this process works, it will also make collaboration the norm.
Just be careful not to force it to get started. Once your employees develop a process that works, they are more apt to follow it because they had a hand in creating it. As an alternative, you could develop a few process options and ask your team to try them out. Then poll your team to see which type they like best moving forward.
- Have the tools and technology to encourage collaboration.
One of the best ways to be sure that your team has the tools and technology that they need is to ask. What would make collaboration easier for them? It may be something simple like having a weekly meeting or moving the office furniture or desk areas, but it could also include getting more technology-based collaboration tools. Here are a few that your team could try:
- Shared calendars for days off or telecommuting days
- Company wiki
- Instant messaging
- Social intranet
- Forums or blogging
- Task management tools such as Basecamp
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it can actually discourage collaboration if it is not used effectively. Sometimes, it is just better to get up from your desk and talk to your co-worker in the other room. Be sure that your collaboration technology is balanced with the need for face time.
Keep in mind that collaborating is not the answer for all projects. Those that require intense research and thought are not conducive to collaboration, but you do want an employee engaged in such a task to be able to ask others for help when he or she gets stuck. Having that collaborative culture will encourage this practice. Develop your processes and give your employees the tools to succeed, and your business will be well on its way to increased productivity.