| 7 min read

6 Key Skills for Managers to Improve Team Collaboration in the Workplace

Team Collaboration

Collaboration.

Teamwork.

One company.

Describe it any way you wish.

Collaboration continues to be a holy grail of human behavior that we strive for in business. We have a stack of tools at our disposal, which are all meant to help us reach the state of collaborative and connected workplace Nirvana. Collaboration is so important that it stands as the most cited of corporate values. Sitting proudly in the Top10 of MIT SMR/Glassdoor Culture 500 list.

Collaboration - why is it so good? 

Work is a team game. Collaboration is necessary to win that game. Working in interconnected teams brings benefits like transparency, innovation, but most significantly, it improves performance. Another reason why collaboration is an even bigger focus for companies now is the trend towards the distributed workforce, remote workers, and freelancers. Technology makes it easier to share information. Yet, collaboration has even more extraordinary power than we first thought.

Collaboration has a superpower?

It’s been a widely held belief that a shared purpose leads to higher employee engagement. Yet MIT Sloan has uncovered the hidden superpower of collaboration at work. In their extensive research that covered 20 years across 300 different companies and sectors, they flipped the traditional belief that purpose leads to engagement. They determined that purpose plays a role in creating an engaged workforce. Yet, the determining factor for engagement to flourish is the quality of interpersonal connections and a culture of collaboration. It has the most significant impact on employee engagement. Collaboration’s superpower is Engagement.

So let’s jump into the six things you can do to nurture collaboration.

1. Measure Team Collaboration

To design collaboration into your work and teams, you need to understand what the current state of cooperation and collaboration is? What are the gaps? Fix the holes and re-measure what’s changed and communicate the results of that change so you can keep improving it.

The tracking of both team’s and managers’ collaborative performance is essential. Feedback is vital so employees can adjust and improve. You can go down the sophisticated tools route and use organizational network analysis (ONA) to model and assess how communications, knowledge, decisions, and resources flow through an organization. Or you can run some primary surveys to collect data and benchmark how you can improve. How do you measure collaboration in teams, if you want to dig deep read Beyond Team Building or start here and  choose the measures that are most effective for you?

Attendance

Attendance is an important measure of how healthy mutual respect and collaboration is within a team. If members of a group have a track record of showing up late, or missing meetings or leaving when everyone is under pressure, then it’s a sure sign work is needed to support that team. When employees forget to attend meetings or calls, it can be an indicator that they are overloaded, unmotivated, or worse, disincentivized. You can measure this by rating it through 1-5 and asking the following question. Do members of our team demonstrate a high level of attendance at work and in meetings?

Helpful

Understanding how people interact and assist others when a problem arises that needs solving is useful. How well do managers and team members create mutual respect and collaboration? You can measure how supportive and helpful managers and team members are towards each other. Or you can segment it to new hires, remote workers and then rank it on a scale of 1-5 and ask the following question. In the past three months, how have groups or team members been the most helpful to you and your operational role?

Accountable

Employees and individuals need to be counted on to deliver and finish their tasks. You can track missed delivery dates or look at overworked individuals that might be taking up the slack of others. You can rank it on a scale from 1-5 and ask the following question; are team members held accountable, and are they encouraged to perform at a high level?

Other measures can include: measuring the effectiveness of decision making, meetings, feedback, goal setting task allocation, and the list goes on.

Once you’ve collected your data, you can use these three steps to help you to cultivate a more collaborative culture.

2. Trust Makeover

Prominent titans of collaborative research like Google and MIT Sloan both concluded that for a company to thrive and reap the benefits that interpersonal and collaborative culture brings, managers must first cultivate a bedrock of solid TRUST.

If your teams aren’t performing then it’s time for a trust makeover. We’ve written on this topic of trust before and covered how you can design and grow better teams. As a start, you’ll want to encourage behaviors where psychological safety can thrive?

Like everything, it starts with the behaviors of managers. At its most basic core, it’s allowing yourself and others to think, share, and provide feedback without the fear of feeling exposed and rejected. So, what kind of trust should you include in your playbook to fix collaboration?

Three kinds of trust managers need to foster:

Elements of Trust

Shawn Burke, along with her team at the University of Florida, concluded that trust comes down to three common elements; Ability, Integrity, and Benevolence are where managers need to start.

Benevolence - Within a networked organization, benevolent trust refers to how humane and empathetic you are. Do you act in self-interest, or do others perceive you do everything with most honorable intentions?

Integrity - or as Google puts its dependability, people can rely on others across the company to follow through on their words with action and outcomes.

Ability - People have skills and competencies that they insist they bring to the role.

Trust-building behaviors

MIT Sloan has released 10 Trust Building Behaviors for managers that are worth embracing. These have a common thread like Brene Brown’s Dare to lead workbook. Examples include:

  • Encouraging others to provide feedback and improve on their ideas.

  • Recognize and share their stuff-ups and areas where they need to bring in expertise.

  • Consistently communicate your values, objectives, and needs.

Yet, TRUST alone is only one part of the playbook prescribed for leaders to follow. 

3. Purpose - Get yourself a hit of Sinek

Sinek

Once managers have worked building trust, they can begin working on behaviors that influence a shared sense of purpose. Truthfully though, if you want to get some inspiration on the topic of purpose, then grab a can of energy drink and soak in some Simon Sinek action. Everything you do should start with Why? If you do nothing else, watch his video here.

An excellent way to share purpose amongst team mates is in this format. Remember to connect your team’s mission back to the company goals, vision, and values. Start by describing:

  • what your team do

  • whom you do it for

  • and why you do it

Or use this sentence to complete your purpose.

We build ___ to serve ___ and achieve ___

Again, MIT Sloan, have 11 behaviors managers can use to foster this, and some of these are:

  • At the start of a project or a newly formed team, managers should share why each team member was selected to work on a project or a new initiative. It helps everyone to appreciate the individual contribution and how connecting it will bring more success.

  • Why is it so important - Leaders work with others to develop solutions but also are clear on why their work is essential. They then let-go handover and give autonomy to the employees or team so they can take ownership of it.

  • Reframe negative situations and refocus on the work worth doing.

4. Energy - not the drinking type

Once you have cultivated Trust and Purpose, then it's time to release the energy. Not the ones you drink, although you may need one or two energy drinks after you’ve nurtured collaboration.

Energy is more than just bringing enthusiasm to work, it’s about helping people believe that their contribution matters. It’s about creating that momentum, so people want to connect with others, so that information, talent, innovation, and insights move smoothly throughout the company. People who are natural energizers are interested in others and take the time to understand their workmates as well as solve problems.

MIT Sloan has six energy busting behaviors some of these include:

  • Humor - Managers use it to help them stay human. They laugh at themselves to alleviate negative situations and shy away from unreachable perfection. People that can talk about their failures or shortcomings with a smile are more approachable. 

  • Show interest in others and other people’s ideas - When in meetings, managers are listening and give equal turns in contributing.

  • Critical feedback - managers can focus their attention on the issue, not on the person.

The more you can encourage these behaviors in leaders and managers, the higher chance collaboration will become the standard, which leads to improved performance.

5. Set expectations - What to collaborate on and when to do it?

Similarly, if people don’t know what you want them to work together in, you can’t expect them to do so. From the start, set your expectation for collaboration as a minimum standard. Even better, it should be part of your onboarding process so that potential recruits know you prioritize it.

Employee’s job descriptions should include details about their roles, but also include the type of collaborative behaviors expected of them at work.

By separating this, you set clear lines between what they should be taking personal responsibility for, and what they need to work on collectively.

6. Weave connection and collaboration into the onboarding process

One great example is how Workday uses a new connection program for new hires. Half of the day, they get together to examine the value of connections and how these show up in the Workday culture. New teammates get coached on how they can deepen collaboration as a new workmate. The second half is working with team members on a community project to strengthen team connections and make connections outside of work.

Give your teams the tools so they can collaborate better

Digital Collaboration Tools have been a significant enabler of openness and sharing of information across teams. They encourage the desired behavior of dependability amongst team members. Reliability is one of the core elements for groups to succeed. Great Collaboration tools unlock the doors and make reliability and reality. Teams know the information they need to do work together is a click away, and asking people is one @message away.

A great collaboration tool should work hard for you so you can build trust, purpose, and release energy some of the benefits it should deliver include:

  • Release internal communication campaigns in minutes that get employee attention

  • Amplify the company culture you want to build with instant internal communication that looks good.

  • Conveniently communicate team to team or across the business.

  • Help people to find facts faster, which leads to solving problems through powerful search tools.

  • Build trust - through tools that give people the freedom to ask questions, share ideas, and help to underpin conversational turn-taking.

Wow, we’ve covered a bit of ground we’re confident if you use these six steps, it will guide you to foster more collaborative behaviors and do more effective teamwork. Find out how you can build collaboration faster using CentricMinds. Start a free 14-day trial of CentricMinds Intranet Solution and then take a well-deserved sip of that energy drink.

The only difference between success and failure is a great team.

We wish you every success towards that collaborative journey.

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