It is said that without collaboration, there would be no innovation. “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” - Julia Rozovsky, Analyst, Google People Operations
Now when the value of collaboration is out of the way, you should read this article to improve your personal collaboration practices. We go through what is collaboration, how poor collaboration manifests and its root causes, and finally, practical tips to improve collaboration with your colleagues, and teams around you. We have broken this article into three categories:
What is collaboration?
Put simply, collaboration means working with other employees, teams, departments, or even other organisations to accomplish a shared goal. But while it may be simple to collaborate on a quick task, deep and meaningful collaboration takes practice and skill.
You need to know the different ways your teams work and find ways to bring them together amidst all the noise and distractions. If we imagine the perfect workday, it would have:
Some collaboration time, ensuring that you, employeers, and all teams are aligned with what they need to do.
As many distraction-free focus time hours as possible as that's when most major progress is made.
Very little shallow work in between to only do the most necessary admin-like tasks.
What's causing poor collaboration?
When it comes to collaboration as an individual contributor, it's essential you know you're doing the work that matters the most, armed with the right information while understanding why you're doing it.
But if your organisation lacks transparency and good communication, it can be tough to find the best time and resources to kick-start meaningful projects with other teams.
Common symptoms of poor collaboration
Reworking tasks because you had outdated information
Leaving a meeting without knowing what was decided
Having back-to-back meetings regularly
Constantly changing business priorities
Confusion when handing over projects or starting new ones
Experiencing FOMO (the fear of missing out) and being frequently present in online tools
Low meeting quality where they either overrun, lack an agenda, people are distracted, or people tend to show up late and talk over each other
Common root causes of poor collaboration
No proper meeting policy and/or etiquette that results in too many meetings being scheduled. Avoid this with a better flow of information and asynchronous communication.
Poor cross-team communication and lack of clarity in goals, roles, ownership, and defining handovers, causing confusion and, in some cases, conflicts.
Misalignment in priorities, work items, and broader business objectives, making it impossible to collaborate with other teams effectively.
Lack of visibility and limited access to information systems across teams make finding up-to-date and current information challenging.
A culture of immediacy when it comes to communication, for example, responding to something now is more important than a proper answer in your own time.
Communication between teams funnelled through higher up management, adding too many stakeholders along the way.
What can you do to improve collaboration in your worklife?
RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO OVERSCHEDULE MEETINGS
Meetings disrupt the regular flow of work, and while they get multiple people in the same room to discuss an issue, they can be a big waste of time without a clear agenda. When you schedule meetings, be mindful of who actually needs to be there. Only include key decision-makers and mark everyone else's attendance as optional. You can also make a habit of recording your meetings to make it easier for team members in other time zones.
AIM TO MAKE MEETINGS AS PRODUCTIVE AS POSSIBLE
When you do have meetings, make sure you make the most of your collaboration time. Instead of discussing the task, take a more practical approach and do the prep beforehand. Share the meeting plan as early as possible and emphasise the desired outcome for the event, complete with clear guidance on what the deliverables are with assigned owners.
FIND THE BALANCE OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION AND FOCUS TIME
We need uninterrupted time and space to enter deep work, but we also need to work together with others to drive purposeful projects forward. Balancing both requires skill. You need to intentionally decide on how much time you spend on collaborating with others and how much focus time you carve out for yourself.
TAKE TIME TO LEARN HOW OTHERS LIKE TO WORK (AND SHARE YOURS)
Manager ReadMes (a.k.a. 'How to work with me' guides) may be most popular among leaders, but they are just as useful for individual contributors. This public document usually includes details on your average workweek, role, and preferred communication methods (from day-to-day to emergencies). You can also add notes on how you like to give and receive feedback, what you value, your approach to 1:1s, upcoming projects, and so on.
IMPROVE YOUR SOFT SKILLS AND TONE DOWN YOUR NATURAL RESPONSE TO CRITICISM
Even if you believe in working together with a passion, you or your team members may get into a conflict over how you think the project should be run. Sharing big responsibilities can be challenging, especially between clashing personalities. Improve your problem-solving skills by keeping cool in such situations. Cultivate enthusiasm for the ideas of others, and don't be afraid to show vulnerability to better manage your defensiveness.