While any single employee can deliver exemplary results, assigning a substantial workload to one person can be a recipe for disaster. That’s why you’ve probably grouped your employees into teams instead of operating one-person departments. But do your team members collaborate, or do they silo off and do their own tasks? If only the latter is true, you might want to work toward achieving the former. And as you’ll learn below, there are good and, well, not as good ways to build team collaboration.

The difference between team collaboration and teamwork 

A group focused on teamwork gives every member specific responsibilities. It’s similar to the gears of a watch, with each component performing individual tasks to produce the desired result. When the team reaches a new milestone, it’s usually because everyone on the team successfully performed their duties to the best of their abilities. 

In contrast, team collaboration describes several employees combining their knowledge and skill to solve a particular problem. A great example of a collaborative team might be a writer’s room for a TV show. There, everyone’s ideas and experiences bounce off one another to elevate the final product.

Listen to all voices

Encourage everyone to contribute to meetings by having a collaborative agenda. Fellow helps everyone’s voice be heard.

9 ways to build team collaboration

While teams can produce better results than the sum of their parts, simply putting your employees in a room together won’t always lead to magic. The below list of tried-and-true methods for building team collaboration can point you in the right direction. 

1 Establish common objectives

Many collaborative teams work so cohesively because a set of common goals grounds them. These goals often tie into a larger vision that your organization’s leadership sets – and that you convey to your team. A shared understanding of that vision and your current goals can help each team member better apply their knowledge to the problem at hand.  

You and your co-managers, be they project managers or department heads, should always state your objectives clearly – and frequently, so no one forgets them. Additionally, you all should highlight the importance of what the team is trying to accomplish and how the goal can benefit the company. The more compelling a project’s end goal, the more motivated team members will likely remain throughout your many collaborative processes. 

You might also want to think about what could happen without common goals in place. Unmotivated team members may struggle to work with their peers without a compelling enough reason to provide their expertise. The result is a complete lack of a collaborative process – and products or services not innovative or forward-thinking enough to deftly meet customer needs.

2 Set expectations

When you state goals, you should communicate the roles and responsibilities of each team member. More importantly, you should clarify what type of collaboration is necessary. How many brainstorming meetings will you hold? Who must attend? What should everyone bring to the table? Clear expectations help everyone understand how to successfully contribute to the process and avoid misunderstandings that can slow the team’s progress.

Remember, collaboration means reaching your team goals as a collective rather than as a group of skilled individuals. It can be challenging to get team members to think cohesively when there are conflicting ideas on your objectives and expectations. 

3 Focus on the strengths of each person

A collaborative team works together on problems otherwise belonging to one person. Team collaboration also gives your employees space to bounce ideas off one another. It’s also just plain fun – imagine how bored you’d get without regular interaction as part of the gig? That said, as you bring increasingly more people into the fold, you’ll need to harness what each individual person brings to the table.

Each employee participating in the collaborative process will have their own unique strengths and pain points. Maybe you don’t yet know these strengths and weaknesses; maybe you’ve been leading your team for ages without explicitly reckoning with these skills and drawbacks. Either way, collaboration gives you the perfect opportunity to discover more about your team. 

You can use personality quizzes and team-building exercises to help everyone see each other’s key strengths and weaknesses. (When employees can admit their weaknesses and how they’ve acted to improve on them, that’s a strength.) Understanding each individual’s specialties and quirks can help you assign tasks to best capitalize on your team’s strengths and avoid their weaknesses. With each team member doing what they do best, you can bolster collaboration and help each employee feel appreciated.

4 Foster fresh ideas

In a healthy collaborative environment, everyone’s ideas are heard and debated with equal merit. Each team member will bring a unique perspective to the brainstorming process. This perspective can help the entire group see an obstacle in a new light. 

Free and open discussion should be encouraged to make the most of your team’s expertise – good ideas don’t come out of closed mouths. Additionally, maintaining a positive attitude about the group’s progress also helps foster an innovative mindset. Think about it like this: If you say that a problem is “unsolvable,” your team might put less effort into finding a solution. But is it really unsolvable? You’d be surprised how many excellent products are the results of simple patience and perseverance in such moments. 

5 Create a trustworthy and trustful environment

A collaborative environment is one where each team member benefits from the skills and knowledge of their peers. A lack of trust within that situation can cause doubt in another member’s contributions. This lack of trust can lead to resentment and unproductive disagreements. Therefore, forging trust is one of the most crucial steps to building team collaboration. 

In these situations, trust is usually a two-way street – employees typically reflect the amount of trust that’s put into them. You should show confidence in their ability to contribute and a genuine interest in their ideas. Doing so can increase your team’s engagement with the problem at hand. Plus, if the group embraces an accepting attitude, it helps bolster their confidence to pitch more novel solutions.

Of course, even when all ideas are given equal consideration, disagreements can still occur. However, if your team addresses and solves these interpersonal problems together, further trust can result. And that extra trust arrives alongside fewer interruptions to the brainstorming process. 

6 Build around established relationships

Creating an effective team with employees who started as strangers can be challenging. A collaborative environment requires trust and honest, respectful communication, which can be awkward to achieve with people you didn’t know before. Without healthy discourse between team members, collective decision-making can become that much harder.

To avoid this issue, try forming your team around a few employees who already have a rapport. The clear communication among that small group can act as an ice breaker for the remaining team members and create a more relaxed atmosphere.

Despite the benefits they provide to collaborative teams, established relationships need to be handled carefully. If too many members of your team already know each other, they could split off from the larger group and form a smaller one. Such a subgroup isolates some team members while elevating others’ ideas. As a result, some opinions will only reach some of the group, and few solutions will reflect the whole team. As such, the risk of conflict is greater.

7 Arrange only necessary meetings

Having too many meetings in a short period doesn’t leave much time for your team to perform its tasks. Yes, team gatherings are often a helpful – no, vital – way to devise solutions to all kinds of problems. But with too much time spent in meetings, employees can’t act on those solutions in a timely manner. 

So, to be clear, this advice doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t call any meetings. On the contrary, meetings are an essential part of the collaborative process that guide the flow of knowledge among team members.  A good rule of thumb is to pass on small information with a group email and use occasional gatherings for bigger needs. Save your meetings for discussing major project updates, planning new projects, celebrating milestones, or – of course – focused collaboration.

8 Honor collaboration

Positive reinforcement is among the most powerful tools in a team leader’s arsenal. Effective collaboration requires consistently great choices and thought processes, and to promote these needs, be sure to celebrate your team’s wins.

Honoring collaboration doesn’t require some sort of elaborate reward. You can send a group email to your team praising their collaboration or make a small announcement during the next team meeting. You could even award bonuses for successful collaborative efforts if you want to go a bit bigger. 

Such rewards at once help employees feel appreciated for their work and create a benchmark for their colleagues. With good examples after which to model their work, the entire team can improve their collaboration skills. 

9 Organize casual gatherings after work

Getting together with your team outside of work is a tricky but potentially great way to improve a team’s collaborative process. Challenges here can include employees who place a stern boundary between their work and private lives. It can be difficult to get some team members to deviate from that viewpoint, but it’s still worth trying. 

Small, casual gatherings outside the workplace can present an excellent opportunity for team members to build their relationships in ways impossible during work hours. When team members discover that they share interests with their colleagues, they can more easily see their colleagues as people with valuable feelings and thoughts. This humanizing effect can encourage healthier communication among team members. 

If your team doesn’t usually meet outside work, it might be wise to test the waters first. Ask your team members if they’d be interested before settling on any plans, and avoid making the gathering mandatory. Instead, start small with a quick happy hour and gradually build to longer or more elaborate events. Steady exposure to each other’s personalities can build camaraderie that leads to better collaboration, not to mention more enjoyable meetings. 

Why is team collaboration essential?

  • Encourages problem-solving. Every employee on a collaborative team brings a unique perspective to the creative process. Try viewing each team member as an expert in their field who can consider all potential solutions from a professional standpoint. Be patient as you do so – it can take time to find a solution that everyone likes. It doesn’t have to be something everyone loves – it just needs to be the solution each team member agrees most benefits the company. 
  • Widens perspective. When you bring together a collaborative team, you’re also uniting a wide range of professional experiences. The diverse array of opinions and open communication among team members can help them examine a problem from multiple angles to find potential solutions. 
  • Promotes internal knowledge sharing. Collaborative teams are more than units for solving a company’s problems. They also provide opportunities for employees to advance their skills. When a team member brainstorms with a diverse group of experts in an environment where sharing ideas is encouraged, they can learn quite a bit. What they learn can help them improve their own processes.
  • Improves employee happiness. One of the most effective ways to improve an employee’s engagement with their work is by making them feel valued. Appreciating employees as such is typically easier in a collaborative environment. That’s because these spaces more clearly reveal the contributions an employee makes to the whole team. Plus, proper collaboration ensures every team member’s opinions are valued – as in, appreciated. That’s a big deal: A valued, happy employee will likely stay with you longer. And as they do, they’ll likely perform reliably thanks to your collaborative team setting.

Three types of collaboration skills

Some teams click almost instantly thanks to similar personalities and experiences. Other teams may take a bit more work. Typically, your employee base will comprise people with disparate areas of expertise and personal backgrounds, so good vibes aren’t guaranteed. What’s more likely is that each team member offers a unique perspective on overcoming a project’s obstacles. And what’s certain is that, when you develop practical collaboration skills, you help these ideas flow. 

Below are there types of collaboration skills key to making the brainstorming process more efficient and diminishing disagreements.

1 Communication

Sharing knowledge is among the primary purposes of a collaborative environment. Building on ideas and concepts collated from several unique perspectives often gives rise to successful products and services. To get these perspectives out on the table, proper communication is key for your collaborative team. 

The ability to express your thoughts and ideas clearly is a great starting point for communication skills. You and your team should also strive to actively listen to the contributions of your peers. Respectfully delivering peer feedback – which should be a boon, not something to fear – is also an essential building block in the collaborative puzzle.  

2 Emotional intelligence

It’s not uncommon for tempers to flare during collaborative projects. With so many cooks in the kitchen – each with different experiences and thought processes – it’s possible for a difference of opinion to undesirably escalate.

Developing emotional intelligence can help disarm such conflicts. With emotional intelligence, you and your team members can glean more insight into each others’ feelings. Of course, a positive attitude benefits collaborative projects, but everyday events can negatively impact team members’ performance. You can shorten these setbacks if you recognize how your employees feel, empathize with their struggles, and control your own emotional responses. It all helps with keeping employees engaged too.

3Respect for diversity

A multicultural team paves the way for a wider variety of ideas to influence the final product. So when you’re working with cross-cultural peers, do all you can to consider everyone’s ideas. Excluding contributions can derail otherwise productive brainstorming and deprive your product of novel innovations. You should instead forge an environment where all opinions are equally welcome and appreciated regardless of background. 

Success is built on collaboration

Not all great teams start that way. Some start as disconnected groups of great employees brought together to solve a problem. While each team member’s knowledge is valuable alone, collective knowledge can lead to effective collaboration that makes good ideas great
If you want to build team collaboration, Fellow can help. Fellow’s professional meeting management features let you easily set collaborative meeting agendas and gather peer feedback in real-time. That means it’s simpler than ever to foster collaboration and build trust among team members – and make excellent collective decisions.