At the rate that open-office layouts and real-time communication tools are taking over companies, it would seem that collaboration is a necessary key to success. But as Inc.com columnist Geoffrey James pointed out, recent research suggests that collaboration can only go so far, arguing that it can limit productivity and even promote mediocrity by isolating top performers. So does this mean we should stop collaborating altogether? Probably not. As with most things in life, it's something in between. Here are four ways to facilitate healthy and productive collaboration that does not alienate team members.
1. Identify clear roles
Collaboration does not mean that everyone on the team needs to be in everything that needs to get done. Instead, it's about finding ways to leverage the strengths of every team member to achieve a common goal. One way to do this is to come together as a team at the start of every new initiative or even each week, to agree on what needs to be accomplished. Then, break up the work into tasks and assign an owner to each task. While multiple people may work together on a specific task, one person is responsible for its final delivery. As suggested by iPod inventor Tony Fadell, when decisions are based on opinions rather than facts, the task owner makes the final call.
2. Openly share strengths and goals
For all team members to feel valuable, it's important that each person understands how every other person can best contribute and vice versa. As your elementary school teachers always said, no one person is great at everything. Even top-performers have opportunities for improvement. To create a more "even" playing field for all team members, encourage each individual to share his or her perceived strengths as well as areas in which he or she hopes to improve. At the start of every project, my teams come together to do exactly this. Each person shares what she hopes to bring to the team and where she wants to learn more and improve. This opens lines of open and honest communication about one another's performance over the course of the project.
3. Share feelings
One criticism of collaboration is that it causes resentment between top performers and mediocre ones. This may cause top performers to disengage from the group. An effective method for preventing the team from devolving is to provide an opportunity for everyone to share what he is contributing, what he needs, and how he is feeling about his and the team's progress. In the past, my cross-functional teams have had morning "emoji check-ins" where we each shared an emoji that best represented our mindset for the day. This created a light, inviting way for people to express their emotions and enabled our leader to get a quick pulse on potential unrest that needed to be addressed.
4. Get away from the office (but not each other!)
Teams who are able to connect about matters outside of work better collaborate on matters regarding work. Find small ways for your teams to take breaks and share new experiences together. One of my past teams appointed a rotating Fun Captain each week. This person was responsible for organizing some small moment for the team to come together and bond about something other than our project. These moments included everything from a 15-minute ab workout to a potluck lunch with everyone's favorite meals. By allowing people to share multiple facets of their personality, people are less defined by the strengths and weaknesses they bring to their work.
Collaboration, just like individuals on a team, has its strengths and shortcomings. But when you enable its benefits to shine, the whole team wins.