Tackling complex problems, fostering creativity and nurturing collaborative solutions is universal in business today. The terms cooperation, coordination, and collaboration are often used interchangeably. However, collaboration refers to a higher level of joint working in which people and resources that may have previously operated in different spheres – separated by organizational and reporting relationships – are pooled together and aim towards a common end goal. The glue that binds these collaborative teams together is communication.
In this article, we look in detail at how to facilitate effective team collaboration and the communication channels that will support it.
Why Collaboration Matters
Traditional, hierarchical organizational structures are increasingly being replaced with flatter models and more open lines of communication. Flexibility is the order of the day in the modern workplace with more staff members telecommuting and working flexible hours at least some of the time. According to the latest research, 4.3 million employees in the US now work from home at least half of the time. This is a trend that’s only going to increase as among the non-self-employed, the number regularly working at home has grown by 140 percent since 2005.
Virtual businesses comprised of freelancers and specialist contractors as well as employees are also becoming increasingly common. In fact, the number of freelancers in the US economy has reached over 57 million. These personnel are often located in different states and even continents and demand diverse, more dynamic communication channels to the traditional ones of phone and email.
As well as different ways of working, the trend towards organizational collaboration is also being driven by the simple recognition that more can be achieved by working together. It’s not rocket science, but more people equals more ideas, more productivity and more efficient and effective achievement of goals. And that’s a very powerful combination. In today’s ever-changing and highly competitive marketplace, businesses that can foster creativity, agility and problem-solving capabilities have an enhanced ability to adapt and respond to change. In fact, it could well give you that all-important advantage over the competition.
Why Communication Matters
Effective collaboration cannot take place without the support of good communications. And successful collaboration goes beyond merely dividing up tasks and assembling a finished product. It’s more about fostering a genuine determination to reach a common objective by sharing knowledge, insights and learning to build a consensus. Unlike its poorer cousins coordination or joint working, real collaboration involves creating an environment of openness with mutual respect and trust. Providing a range of communication channels that will support collaborative teams is, therefore, a critical part of the process.
What’s more, good internal communications will have a positive impact on other business processes. From enhanced employee engagement to improved productivity and a superior customer experience, good internal communications are at the heart of successful businesses. After all, how can you expect staff to deliver if they have no understanding or appreciation of what’s going on within the company?
Spending the time and effort on getting internal communications right will, therefore, not only impact on collaboration, it will also have positive spinoffs in other ways too.
Collaborative Communication Culture
Before an effective collaboration can take place, however, each team will need to spend time creating the right environment. This means setting out and communicating team members’ roles and responsibilities so that everyone is clear about their contribution to the process. Uncertainty or a lack of clarity over roles and expectations can lead to resentment or even worse conflict. If you’re not sure how the role of one person is different from another, then you’ll never be able to work together effectively. From the outset make sure you clearly define team goals and objectives as well as outlining each member’s role and responsibilities in reaching those goals.
And while you’re at it, make sure you have a system in place to manage any disagreements or settle disputes. It’s inevitable that there will be differences of opinion in any collaborative exercise, and in most cases these can be respectfully and easily resolved. However, it’s a good idea to have a formal process of conflict management or mediation in place just in case these problems were to escalate.
It’s also worthwhile setting out a code of conduct and working methodology for the collaborators. As we’ve seen respect, recognition and valuing the contribution of all team members are essential prerequisites to effective collaboration. In addition, there’s no room for a blame culture. Mistakes are an inevitable part of any process and team members need to be freed from the burden of guilt if they make errors and similarly shouldn’t hold a grudge when their colleagues fall short. Instead, mistakes need to be analyzed and lessons learned without apportioning blame.
Business owners and managers need to make it clear that in a successful collaboration, the group’s goals take precedence over any individual ones. The egos of individual group members must take a backseat to achieving the aims and objectives of the wider project.
Similarly, effective collaboration requires a certain amount of compromise amongst group members in the interests of reaching a consensus about goals and methods for completing projects or tasks. All members need to be in agreement before the project can move forward.
Effective workplace collaboration, therefore, requires a cohesive company culture across the board which needs to come from the top.
Collaborative Communication Skills
So, what are the collaborative communication skills that team members need to bring to the table to be successful? Well, it’s surprising how many organizations take it for granted that staff members instinctively know how to work together. However, that isn’t always the case and like a great many other skills in the workplace, collaboration needs to be nurtured and developed.
Here are the top ten skills needed to support effective collaboration:
1. The Ability To Get On With People
Simply being able to get on with people has to be the starting point for an effective collaborator. A people person will have the capacity to work well with a wide range of individuals, is a natural communicator and knows how to get the best out of others.
2. Being Able To Listen
By definition, collaboration involves a minimum of two people working together and so being able to actively and respectfully listen to the views of others is essential. This ability is especially important in situations when there may be a difference of opinion or even conflict.
3. Respect For The Contribution Of Others
As well as being able to listen, effective collaborators also need to respect the contributions of other participants. Team members may not necessarily agree with the viewpoints of all their colleagues, but they must at least be respectful of the skill, experience and creativity as well as their ideas and contributions of their fellow collaborators.
4. Being Open-minded
The best collaborators know the importance of being open to new ideas. Different team members will inevitably have different ideas and approaches. Being open-minded and having a willingness to consider different approaches is an essential skill for effective workplace collaboration.
5. A Willingness To Compromise
Effective workplace collaborations are all about achieving a consensus on the best solution. This will inevitably require the ability to compromise and make concessions in order to achieve an outcome for the greater good.
6. Able To See The Big Picture
All the best collaborators understand that the achievements of the group are more important than any individual goals. They are able to see the bigger corporate picture and are willing to accept that their personal goals are secondary.
7. Problem-solving Abilities
The ability to problem-solve, identify obstacles and find creative solutions to problems is an essential attribute for collaborators.
8. Effective Organizer And Project Manager
Good organizational skills are essential for collaborators. Team members will be required to share information and resources, use online project management tools, collaborate and edit shared documents as well as organizing files and data.
9. Able To Give And Receive Constructive Feedback
Brainstorming and exchanging ideas as well as collaborating on tasks requires participants to have the ability to give and receive constructive feedback. Effective collaborators give and seek input from others in order to complete a group task or achieve an outcome.
10. Commitment And Enthusiasm
Finally, effective collaborators must be committed and enthused. They should be willing and able to invest the necessary time and energy to completing the tasks on time and fulfilling the expectations of their role within the project.
Collaborative Communication Tools
Now that we understand what collaborative communication is all about and the skills and attributes needed to support it, let’s turn our attention to how it can be achieved in the workplace.
Technology has certainly made it easier to provide the diversity of channels needed to support collaboration. In particular, cloud technology means that collaborative team members can be connecting with each other in real-time regardless of the many miles that may physically be between them. There’s no doubt that cloud software with its great flexibility will form the cornerstone of any collaborative communications strategy, but it’s important not to lose sight of the need for more personalized communication too. We are, after all, social beings that require some form of simple interaction to get the best out of us. The key thing here is to provide a range of communication channels that teams can select to support their collaborations as needed. So, let’s take a look at the toolkit of possible collaborative communication channels. We’ve divided these up into those that support personal connections and those that lend themselves more to streamlined working processes.
Communication And Collaboration In The Workplace
Supporting Personal Connections
One of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration and communication is that team members simply don’t know each other. The team may be made up of people that haven’t worked together before and have no personal connection. If at all possible, get the group together informally over a shared lunch or a coffee away from the office. Breaking the ice in this way before participants are required to knuckle down and get on with the job helps the team to gel and promotes better relationships.
And even if your collaboration teams are located in the same building, it’s still a good idea to have technological solutions in place that can support the traditional project team meeting. As we’ve seen, there will be times when team members are working from home or are away from the office attending a conference for example. One of the great obstacles to collaborative working is an inability for employees to get together and this could be down to time or physical constraints.
So, what technology platforms can collaborative team members use to connect with each other without having to leave their desks? High definition video and conferencing apps are an obvious choice. Much of human communication takes place on the non-verbal level in the form of body language, facial expressions and gestures. What’s more, paralanguage – our intonation, pitch and tone – is almost as important as the actual words we use. These types of non-verbal cues can easily be misunderstood or missed altogether in written communications and so face-to-face interaction is still an essential aspect of successful collaboration.
High definition audio software, as well as group chatting and messaging apps, are also essential items in the collaborative communication toolkit. These enable collaborating staff to quickly and easily communicate and share updates. In addition, social intranets are great enablers of collaborative communications. With staff biographies, follow-me functionality and individual or project activity walls, team members will be able to keep up to date with the latest developments.
As well as being very effective, these tools are also inexpensive, which will be a big plus when making the case to the Director of Finance!
Streamlined Working Processes
File And Document Sharing
File sharing tools are another essential item in the collaboration toolbox. Being able to quickly and easily share documents and files is essential to the smooth functioning of collaborative communication. And there are a number of software platforms out there that you can choose from. Dropbox is perhaps the most well known. It may be that you are also using OneDrive or other file sharing apps like WeTransfer. And while these apps are certainly convenient and will do the job for you, they also have a number of disadvantages. There are, for instance, question marks over security. SSL encryption and folder locking features are perhaps not as robust as they could be. Price can also quickly become an issue as the ‘free’ storage capacity is limited. Perhaps the most important disadvantage though is an inability to edit and collaborate on documents in real-time.
In comparison, cloud intranets offer the same ease of use and convenience but with the added advantages of price certainty, security assurance and unlimited storage. You see, cloud intranet providers retain responsibility for the security of all company information and data. They use the very latest encryption techniques and security features to safeguard important or commercially sensitive documents from cybercrime and hacking. Along with automatic backups and updates, a cloud intranet also comes with unlimited user numbers and storage all for just a modest monthly fee with no hidden extras.
Real-time Editing And Collaboration
Furthermore, anyone who has had experience of collaborating with others on a document using Word’s track changes and email will know what a challenging process it can be. Keeping on top of where things are at is not easy. And having to notify all project members every time there’s even a minor revision is time-consuming. It’s easy to see how mistakes and errors can creep into the process.
Cloud technology, especially in the shape of an intranet, will do away with these challenges resulting in more streamlined working processes. As well as making it easier to share files and documents both internally and externally, team members can simultaneously work on the same document in real-time via an intranet-embedded G Suite or Office 365 app.
Available 24/7, the cloud intranet will support telecommuters as well as those working flexible hours. Collaborative team members will no longer spend valuable time navigating complicated email threads for the most up to date version of the document. Nor will they need to make sense of complex track changes and editing comments. Instead, they can have absolute confidence that the intranet has the very latest version of the document. Embedding the document or spreadsheet directly in the intranet also means that essential contextual or background information can be displayed alongside. What’s more, the intranet can be configured so that alerts and notifications are automatically sent to team members when a change has been made.
So, if you want easy, convenient and fast file and document sharing that also allows for real-time editing and collaboration, then a cloud intranet may well be the platform for you.
Shared Project Spaces
In addition, the cloud intranet offers the opportunity for team members to brainstorm ideas, easily share insights and data either through a collaborative workspace or a project blog. Access can be restricted to only the relevant team members through a series of intranet site permissions. Workspaces or blogs can transcend time and location and enable employees to connect, share and collaborate effectively.
These are another very effective collaboration tool. Team members can share their entire desktop screen, individual window or specific application with one or more colleagues as well as streaming videos or presentations. Shared-screen apps are a great way for collaborative team members to show their colleagues exactly what they are talking about and help to keep everyone on the same page as well as ensuring meetings stay on track.
Project management systems or task management software will be another important weapon in the collaborative arsenal. Whether it’s used to assign specific project tasks and responsibilities, monitor completion of milestones and deadlines or to generally keep track of where things are at, project management software makes for a more efficient and effective process.
However, Google search for ‘task management software’ and most likely, you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number and complexity of the options out there. And many of these tools require extensive staff training before employees can get the best out of them. Indeed, there may well be a sharp intake of breath when you see the price tag at the end of it all!
A cloud intranet, on the other hand, can easily be used to develop a streamlined project management process. From project initiation and planning through to execution, launch and control, an intranet will support operations with online processes offering central oversight. The ease of communication made possible by the intranet is one obvious advantage. What’s more, with an intranet solution, there’s no need for additional software. And because employees are already using the platform in their day-to-day work an extensive program of staff training won’t be required either. There’s no need for collaborative team members to log on to different software platforms and have multiple apps open. In the context of project management, it’s a logical and very easy step to use the intranet for collaborative communication.
Collaborative Communications: Making The Difference In The Workplace
There’s no doubt that collaborative working is the future. And so, if your business is serious about promoting collaboration, then the starting point must be communications. Flexible, adaptable and dynamic collaborative communication channels will ensure collaborative working is a success in your business.
Hopefully this article has given you food for thought about what’s needed; however, if you would like an informal discussion on how technology can support the process then get in touch with us here at MyHub. Better still, why not take advantage of our no-obligation demo or 14-day free trial and discover for yourself the many benefits a cloud intranet has to offer. Get in touch today!