When was the last time you enjoyed collaborating with your colleagues? Your answer to this question has increasing importance in today's workplaces. Wharton professor and popular author Adam Grant and several of his colleagues found that collaborative activities are more the norm than they were 20-years ago. In fact, over 50 percent of the work done today is accomplished through collaboration.

Collaboration, however, is not always welcomed or efficient. In America, where we have a strong bias for individualism, collaboration can cause drama between colleagues. "I can get this done much faster if I just do it myself," is a common sentiment I hear when consulting with clients. While it is certainly possible to rely on the unifying approach too much, the benefits from and the practices that help teams work together often produces better, more thorough results.

If collaboration in your teams needs to be more prevalent, the following list includes actions you can take to right the ship, so to speak.

Inclusion and Collaboration

Last year, Gallup surveyed 15,000 working adults. The research firm wanted to know which percentage of Americans work virtually. 43 percent of those surveyed spend part of their time working elsewhere. Remote working is also a commonly cited benefit from today's workforce. Though some companies have revoked working virtually, the trend is not likely to slow down anytime soon. Teams spread across the country our around the globe have the added challenge of uniting teams to work collaboratively.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in how we collaborate. Tech companies like Zoom and Slack make quick interactions streamlined and effective. They, however, aren't always enough for all types of work. Peter Jackson's company, Bluescape, gives creatives, consultants, even movie studios a platform to collaborate on a variety of complex work projects. Jackson, the CEO of Bluescape, illuminates a key ingredient to help virtual teams connect, debate, and decide the best course of action for a project--inclusion.

"Inclusion is where collaboration tools started," Jackson tells me. He goes on to explain that collaboration tools give everyone a voice. He calls it the democratization of work. Picture any team you're a part of. Often there are several people who dominate the conversation. With tools like Jackson's, Google Docs, or Slack, everyone can chime in and not worry about waiting for the vocal few to pause long enough to take a breath.

The democratization that the Silicon Valley executive believes is important stems from a fundamental belief: relationships at work should flourish. "Everybody has different skills and leveraging them creates wonderful [solutions]," says Jackson. By creating a safe place and not being impressed by superstars, two of kind-hearted CEOs beliefs, a team mindset shapes how the team works together. 

Inclusion is a non-negotiable for high performing teams. A homophilous group will struggle to be innovative and to think creatively. No matter the differences, gender, sexual orientation, experiences, backgrounds, or even cognitive diversity, you want collaborative efforts to be fueled by an assemblage of people united by a common purpose.

Oh, the Many Other Ways to Promote Collaboration

Here are some high leverage approaches to promote collaboration in your company and teams.

Hire for it.

At the design firm, IDEO, they look for T-shaped employees. This type of job seeker, according to a recent Harvard Business Report article, is more apt to recognize and talk about how the team made a project a success. The research-backed article encourages screening for empathy, teaming perspectives, listening skills, and even curiosity.

Create spaces for it.

While perhaps a bigger solution than many of the others on this list, physical workspaces need to promote what Zappos calls random collisions. The layout of your workspaces should direct people to see people as they move from meeting to meeting. Have spaces that promote group activities, including brainstorming sessions.

Encourage friendships.

In my research for my upcoming book on belonging at work, I continually hear from the companies that I'm studying how friendships promote stronger ties between colleagues. These strong ties help elevate performance. How? When you know someone it is easier to move as a cohesive team. Equally as important, the camaraderie eases the way to have tough conversations without concern about unnecessary drama.

Maintain a zero tolerance for incivility.

Psychological safety has been identified by Google and academic researchers as a major factor to teams that produce great work. Incivility, the intentional rude behavior directed at others, undermines a safe environment. When uncivil behavior surfaces stop it quickly. Work with employees to know how to give feedback to someone who breaches trust with uncivil actions.

Coach executives to view human contribution differently.

"The culture is the shadow of its leaders" is a well-worn phrase in leadership circles. Executives who came up the ranks two or more decades ago may maintain a traditional view of employee contribution. The "you get a paycheck; that's my gratitude" mindset will not help foster a collaborative environment. In fact, it could reinforce the individualistic approach to getting work done. That is not helpful in project-oriented work environments.

Inquire about collaboration overload.

It is possible to overuse collaboration. Meet with employees one-on-one. Inquire about progress in their projects. Examine how much downtime they have to do non-project-oriented work. Ask your employees about their wellbeing. Remember, those of us who are introverts can become fatigued if we don't have time to decompress from all the collaboration. Conversely, your extraverts may not give enough attention to solo work.

As technology, generational influences, and disruption in the marketplace shape how we work, savvy leaders and companies are adapting to the trends. It's normal to face some resistance to collaboration. Pervasive resistance is a red flag that collaboration is not happening in the best way.

Note the signal and move into action quickly. You want your teams and companies and customers to benefit from one of humanity's greatest assets--the ability to work together.

Published on: Sep 6, 2018