On the surface, collaboration is deceptively simple. It is about actively working together, usually toward a common goal. But true collaboration is not just about discussion and work. It is about actively contributing solutions that help to achieve that shared or common goal. So in effect, good collaboration has equal participation which leads to a solution or understanding.
Great collaborators share a number of key skills: communications, conflict resolution, problem solving, and decision-making, To effectively solve problems, we need to “mine” for conflict and have healthy conflict to bring out all possible solutions for a healthy discussion.
Besides leading to more effective problem solving and decision-making, collaboration improves team work and makes the team more efficient. Yet many project managers don't know how to promote more collaboration. Here are five ideas to get your teams collaborating more.
Collaborate on visioning. Organizational change can be difficult, but if people work together to form that change, they will be more likely to buy in and work in a positive way toward that change. To create positive change, collaborate on visioning. Instead of command and control tactics, use visioning for the organization and team as a way to allow participation and shaping of the direction. Present the overall strategic goals and let the team move forward from there.
Provide collaboration spaces. Many of my best collaborations occurred through chance encounters at water coolers, in elevators, or hallways. Small, social interactions often led to big productivity and other gains. With work from home, however, these spaces are unavailable. These remote chance encounters come from emails, reading posts on LinkedIn, and having online discussions. If you have a physical workspace, consider how break rooms, lounges, and other areas may encourage people to meet in these chance encounters. For remote work, consider establishing online collaboration spaces. Don't worry too much about what technology is used - its not about technology but rather the interactions of people.
Encourage brainstorming. Speaking of social interactions, brainstorming is another good way to bring people together. Brainstorming is a fundamental way to collaborate and a diversity of thinking will lead to better solutions. Don't be afraid to ask the team for their ideas. Some may not find the meetings helpful, so arrange to collect inputs by email or an online platform. There are also many different forms of brainstorming to try. I've personally found Six Thinking Hats to give good results and have heard good things about Brainswarming. Don't be afraid to try out new methods.
Selectively invest in automation and productivity improvements. Freeing people from mundane administrative tasks and allowing them to work more effectively will allow more time for thinking, innovation, and collaboration. For many years I participated in or led productivity improvement teams. We would interview workers of a business unit and find out what they needed. With requirements in hand, we did some analysis structured a project to address the items with the highest payback. Perhaps our biggest win was taking a task that literally took 24 hours to complete and turned it into 5-10 minutes of work through automation and productivity improvements. This led to additional breakthroughs which helped the organization grow and thrive.
Discourage silos. Don’t allow silos, cliques, or other separated groups to form. To have an effective collaboration, everyone needs to be at the same level and sharing the same information. Groups not working together will not be able to effectively collaborate. Knowledge hoarding is an inappropriate behavior that costs companies millions, rather than help them save millions. Without collaboration, innovation is stifled which can lead to loss of competitive advantage and other costly issues.
Do you have other ways to improve collaboration that have worked well? Let us know in the comments below.
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