Leaders often spend their time trying to get their team to work together. Forcing them to collaborate is rarely very effective and only works temporarily. Instead, encourage them to proactively work together with a 'workplace exchange' of activities; and watch their productivity and morale take off.

A workplace exchange is when employees proactively identify the work activities they enjoy, identify a coworker in need of that skill, and then reciprocally exchange that activity for something the other employee can do to help them.

As an example, I struggled to complete my expense reports on time. I frequently ended up on the naughty list of employees who were tardy on expenses and even had a few times where I had suffered the late payment penalty on my corporate credit card.

Then one day I noticed that the administrative assistant who took pride in her expense report knowledge (and who frequently rejected my expense reports), was struggling to design a PowerPoint presentation for the she worked for executive had requested. I offered to help.

A week later when I turned in my next expense report, instead of rejecting it she stopped by and pointed out the issue so I could correct it. Then she even offered to guide me through correctly preparing my next my next expense report.

A workplace exchange was born! From then on she helped me prepare my expense reports accurately and on time. I helped her with her PowerPoint presentations.

Our new collaboration increased our job satisfaction, productivity, and overall quality of our work.

You could formalize this collaboration process for your organization, but this would require time and an administrative investment.

Instead, follow these five easy steps to create a workplace exchange for your team and boost their collaboration and productivity:

1. Have each person on your team create two short lists.

  • Three skills they enjoy using most at work.
  • Three activities they find most challenging or tedious.

2. Ask them to share their lists in your next staff meeting.

Just sharing the lists creates awareness of potential areas for collaboration. You can write them on a whiteboard or take notes during the meeting.

3. Identify an opportunity to collaborate

Request that each person on your team identify or offer at least one workplace exchange.

Workplace Exchange FAQ

  • Does a workplace exchange have to be permanent? No. It is often better to make it temporary. Both parties can check-in with who; each other and/or team leader to see if it is still working.
  • Does a workplace exchange have to be about work activities? No. A workplace exchange can also be an exchange of knowledge or mentorship.
  • Does the workplace exchange have to be accepted by both parties? Yes. Either party can respectfully decline to participate and end the collaboration at any time.

Workplace exchanges are probably already happening informally in your organization just like in my personal example above. Spread the benefits by proactively sharing these simple steps with your team, and ignite the power of workplace exchanges within your organization.