How much time does your team spend collaborating and communicating? Do you love to get together to throw out ideas for a client project, or throw out concepts with the client to find the perfect solution?
Or, does your team prefer to sit at their desks, heads down, headphones jammed on their ears, muddling through as best they can? If you have a company culture, workplace design and leadership style that subconsciously discourages workplace collaboration, your team may be missing out on a wealth of knowledge, and experience, not to mention be working inefficiently. Silos, cubicles, lack of clarity around tasks, and poor body language among your team can lead to misunderstood directives, forgotten tasks, sub-standard work and dissatisfied employees. It’s not good.
We’ve created a new infographic and blog post series exploring communication barriers, and what you can do to break them down. Each part of the series will focus on a professional relationship: with employees within the same office; with remote and contract colleagues; with clients.
In this article, we look at three simple steps you - as the leader - can do to improve communication, and therefore collaboration, among your team.
You Gotta Walk the Walk
As a leader, the onus lies with you to set the example for how collaboration is handled in your company. When a leader espouses the benefits of open communication and work collaboration and establishes these practices in their own work, the team will follow suit. But if you’re locked away in your office and insist on doing everything yourself, your team might (rightly) assume you’re not open to collaborative working.
You can’t just say to the team, “Collaborate more!” You need to follow up this goal with some action that begins with you.
You need to be the pioneer who leads the way for the rest of your team. That means you take the initiative in opening up conversations, in suggesting two people work together on a project, on encouraging the free expression of ideas, and on keeping your door open and your presence visible for everyone.
With you leading the direction and setting the example, employees will be able to interact with each other respectfully and professionally – the type of interaction that leads to increased productivity and happier staff.
Not Another Meeting!
Meetings are a part of office life, but they can be emotionally and physically draining. Contrary to popular belief, just because you have a meeting to “brainstorm” ideas, doesn’t mean you’re collaborating in the most useful way.
Your first order of business is to make sure time spent in meetings is as productive as possible. Ensure all attendees understand what the meeting is about, and send out materials and objectives prior to the meeting, ideally with the invite.
Set clear goals and objectives for a meeting, and steer the conversation toward focusing on those goals. Ensure that you ask quieter members of the team to speak up, or even allow them to submit ideas to you in writing beforehand (many shier people prefer this).
At any project meeting, you need to decide upfront how progress will be tracked and who will be responsible for what aspect of each project. With this blueprint in place, you know exactly what’s going on throughout the project.
Celebrate the Wins, Learn from the Fails
Another important aspect of workplace collaboration throughout a project is to ensure that awesome work and collaborative efforts are highlighted, so that your team can see their efforts are noticed and appreciated. In a recent study, 50% of participants cited positive feedback and recognition of contributions actually encouraged collaboration.
When milestones are reached, congratulate the team and when a particularly difficult project is in the bag, take them out to celebrate. Everyone should feel as if their contributions are valued. When you have a project management system that alerts the team to deadlines and milestones, it helps the team to feel invested in the project - that work matters and efficient work that meets deadlines and exceeds expectations matters most of all.
Likewise, when something goes wrong, don’t jump on the blame-train. Instead, ask the team what can be learned from the incident. Actively seek their input on areas that can be analyzed and potentially avoided in the future. Progress tracking using your project management system can also help you to identify areas for improvement.
As a business leader, what can you improve on right now to help your team collaborate and communicate better? Is it time to get rid of the cubicles, come out of your office, or simply buy the team a plate of cupcakes to say ‘thanks’?
Stay tuned next week when we publish the second post in this collaboration series, where we discuss another common business relationship - that with remote and contract colleagues.