Unfortunately, coming up with great ideas and pushing them through isn’t as simple as saying, “collaborate,” and expecting things to all fall into place. People have different personalities, learning styles, ways of communicating, and opinions — all of which can make collaboration in the workplace difficult. With that said, we’ve compiled a list of 14 tips to guide you in your quest to increase team collaboration (and its effectiveness) in the workplace.
1. Stop thinking your office space needs cubicles/private spaces or an open plan. Rather, aim to create a flexible office plan.
If we didn’t see the value in collaboration, we wouldn’t write this. Regardless, we understand there exists a time and place for everything. Workers will always need to complete some tasks independently. They will never collaborate 100% of the time. Taking this into account, it doesn’t make sense to implement a completely open office plan in favor of collaboration. Studies have shown that doing so can actually lead to a decrease in productivity.
People need spaces they can focus — with privacy and minimized distractions — for some tasks. (Of course, the preference of working in a more private environment vs. an open one relates to personality types and not simply type of task, too.) When times call for more collaboration, or when some workers work better when they sit with their peers, it’s important for people to have the option of working in a more open environment. Consider creating an office plan with some quiet, more private spaces set up with cubicles, private offices, small rooms available to everyone, etc. — as well as some more open-concept areas with shared, modular desks/workstations.
2. Have employees communicate how they feel each day with a simple graph.
Make the x-axis represent mood, with the left end indicating unhappy and the right indicating happy. Then, have the y-axis reflect level of energy, with the bottom signifying less energy, and the top representing a high level of energy. You’ll have four quadrants like so:
At the beginning of each day, each employee will place a sticky note with their name on it somewhere on the graph. They may change the location of their sticky note throughout the day as they see fit. Doing this helps coworkers understand each other better and know the right time to discuss certain things with each other, thereby supporting an environment more conducive for effective collaboration.
3. Set aside one hour each week for a meeting without a defined topic.
This may seem like it contradicts the advice most people give when it comes to meetings: have a defined purpose. However, while this proposed type of meeting does not have a defined topic, it does have a defined purpose. The purpose is to allow time for people to discuss ideas and concerns that may not come up in other meetings with specific agendas.
One of the great things about this type of meeting is that it allows the group to democratically decide on what to discuss, making it a great way to collaborate. Plus, people propose ideas anonymously, so they don’t have to worry about their ideas seeming stupid or that others won’t consider their ideas due to personal biases.
Here’s how it works:
- Have each person write down three things they’d like to to discuss, each on a separate sticky note.
- Have everyone place their sticky notes on a table or wall/board.
- Let each person vote for the top three topics they’d like discussed (aside from their own) by placing a dot on each of three sticky notes.
- Once everyone has places their votes, start with the sticky note with the most votes. Set a timer for five minutes and discuss that topic until the timer goes off or until the group decides it can move on, whichever comes first.
- If a discussion hasn’t reached a natural end by the time the timer goes off, take a quick vote on whether to keep discussing that topic or move to the next one. Then, if the majority wants to keep talking about it, set another timer for five minutes. If not, move on to the next topic.
- Continue this process until a full hour has passed.
4. Make a three-column to-do list with your team, and only allow three things to exist in each column containing uncompleted tasks.
Your three columns should be “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Limiting your team to only three things in the “To Do” and “Doing” columns will help you prioritize and prevent team members from feeling overwhelmed. In order to easily move things around as your team sees fit, use sticky notes.
Note that this type of to-do list also helps for individual tasks.
5. Create presentations that cater to different learning styles.
If people don’t listen to what you have to say, they won’t offer any input/ideas of their own. In other words, if they can’t focus when you talk, collaborating with them will prove a challenge. So what can you do to ensure people will receive your message? Craft your presentations in a manner that appeals to multiple learning styles.
In order to do this, diversify the way you deliver your message by incorporating visuals, text, and interactive elements into your presentations. This will help ensure more people receive your message and, in turn, may offer feedback and relative input that aids in collaboration.
6. Use “we” instead of “I” and “you.”
When you speak using the pronoun “we,” you demonstrate a consideration for others on your team. By contrast, using “I” all the time can make you appear selfish and only concerned with personal goals. In essence, people will be more likely to identify with your thoughts and ideas when you pose them in a way that relates them to the team and not just yourself. This lays the groundwork for collaboration, because as people feel more a part of something, they have more desire to contribute to it.
In addition, using “we” rather than “you” when pointing out a problem can help limit defensiveness and allow for better collaboration to come up with a solution. For example, let’s say Sally works for a social media marketing agency and incorrectly set up tracking to see what conversions resulted from a Facebook advertisement. If her boss or coworker brought the matter to her attention by saying, “You screwed up the tracking for our client’s Facebook ad,” Sally might get defensive and claim no one showed her how to do it, or deflect by bringing up something said boss or coworker did wrong in the past. However, if the person shedding light on the problem says, “I think we messed up the tracking for our client’s Facebook ad,” Sally will likely focus her reaction more on finding a solution since blame hasn’t been placed solely on her.
Now, an exception to this rule of thumb that you should use “we” exists when you’ve done something wrong. In that case, it’s best to take accountability by using “I.”
7. Allow for socializing in the workplace.
Perform a simple Google search for “socializing at work productivity,” and you’ll discover a general consensus that socializing with coworkers increases productivity.
Even when some research shows social interaction at work to have its downsides, overall, researchers often conclude that the pros of workplace socializing outweigh its cons.
You see, when people become friends at work, they become more comfortable around one another. As a result, they are more willing to collaborate and more likely do so effectively.
8. Use paper clips to control the amount of times each person can speak during a meeting.
Although probably not intentionally, more talkative employees often monopolize the conversation and can inhibit collaboration. To prevent this from happening, try giving each person three (or however many you see fit) paperclips at the beginning of each meeting. Each time an individual speaks during a meeting, they have to give up one paper clip. Once all their paper clips have been used, they may no longer speak for the duration of the meeting.
9. Use “no rehash” ping pong paddles.
This is a technique employed by security solutions provider Brivo. Each person has a ping pong paddle, and whenever someone starts repeating something that has already been discussed, their coworkers can raise their ping pong paddles as a reminder. This helps cut back on time wasted during group discussions.
10. Allow meeting participants to color during meetings.
Catering to different learning styles as discussed in tip #4 will help you gain the attention of your coworkers so you can more easily collaborate with them, but so may doodling.
Psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth found that doodling during meetings can actually help people retain more information. This makes sense, because some people struggle to simply sit down and listen to someone speak; they may start to daydream out of boredom. The theory behind why doodling results in increased attentiveness is that it prevents people from daydreaming.
It may be important to note that in Andrade’s study, participants did not doodle freely. Rather, they were asked to color in some squares and circles. If they had been allowed to doodle freely, they may have become too focused on their doodling, trying to create a masterpiece. With that in mind, limit your meeting attendees to coloring books.
11. Have meetings without managers.
Sometimes managers can be intimidating, making it less likely for their employees to speak freely and collaborate with one another during meetings. Because of this, try holding a meeting without any superiors. Afterward, someone from the meeting can present the ideas agreed upon in the meeting. As a bonus, managers may take the ideas more seriously knowing their whole team (or the majority of it) backs them.
12. Use the free instant messaging app Slack.
Slack is a great way for employees to communicate with each other, but also with people outside of the organization. Plus, users can create “channels” with multiple members, which comes in handy for team projects that involve specific people rather than everyone in the company. If everyone in the channel works within the organization, it would be referred to as an internal channel. However, users can also create external channels to communicate with people that don’t work at the company, but with the company in some way. For example, if your company operates as an agency, you may choose to create one external channel for each client.
13. Take advantage of the many project management solutions available online.
14. Deter tardiness by scheduling meetings at unusual times.
It’s hard to collaborate with someone in a meeting if they are not there. Plus, it distracts others when a person shows up late. Needless to say, punctuality is important.
One way employee engagement solutions provider TINYpulse tackles the issue of tardiness is by scheduling a meeting at an unusual time, like, say 9:17. The theory is that doing this makes the start time more memorable. Regardless of why it works, the point is that it has worked tremendously well to decrease tardiness at TINYpulse, so why not try it at your office?
What are some unique ways you promote effective collaboration in the office? Tell us in the comments below!