"Collaboration" has become a pretty big buzzword in the modern business world. Every company hopes that cloud technologies and content sharing platforms will enable its staff to efficiently work together, no matter where they are. But unless leaders are truly committed to creating a culture of collaboration, their employees will never reap the full benefits of these tools.
"A collaborative culture should be something that employees feel, rather than something that the executive team talks about," said Kevin Lynch, CEO of cloud content collaboration service Volerro. "[When this happens], it inspires a sense of community within an organization while driving productivity, insight and innovation."
Collaboration is even more critical for young companies as they work to create a structure that can grow along with their success.
The purpose of teamwork in business
Businesses that have successfully incorporated a collaborative mentality into their company culture will reap the benefits of collaboration, but it takes commitment, leadership and diligence. That commitment must begin at the top.
"This dynamic must be set in motion by those in charge," Francesca Gino wrote in the November-December issue of Harvard Business Review. "Many leaders – even ones steeped in enlightened management theory – fail to consistently treat others with respect or to do what it takes to earn it from others."
At companies that succeed in fostering a collaborative workplace culture, she added, employees feel heard and are believed to generate more creative solutions.
Why is teamwork important?
Integrating collaboration into the company culture improves not only the morale of the employees but also the results of the company. At Pixar, one of the companies Gino cited as notably successful at integrating collaboration, new managers take a series of courses designed to improve their leadership skills. A key component of one section is improving feedback, which, for many people, is as difficult to give as it is to receive. With the tools provided in the training and some hands-on practice, Pixar managers feel comfortable that they can bring out the best in their work teams. Pixar even has coaches who attend real meetings and can interrupt work in progress to suggest collaborative enhancements. As managers become more accustomed to the practice, it begins to feel natural, and even welcome, Gino said.
Technology is not the whole solution
To truly make cloud collaboration technologies work for your business, you first need to show your team how to work well together. Lynch shared six simple ways to encourage an open, cooperative workplace.
1. Set team goals.
Use timelines, plans and structured content that clearly define current and future goals for the team. This way, all team members can share a distinct point of view. Leadership should ensure that everyone understands the goals and what part they specifically play in achieving those goals. One way to emphasize the importance of the team value is to reward teamwork ahead of individual accomplishments. Team members who feel they are a part of a valued unit will perform at a higher level than those who feel they are carrying a disproportionate share of the load. [Read related article: 5 Best Apps for Business Collaboration]
2. Foster a creative environment.
Allow team members to brainstorm in an open, nonjudgmental framework that embraces the team's purpose and direction. The team has to be secure enough to take risks, both individually and as a team, to be willing to suggest daring ideas. There are numerous ways to give employees the security they need to take risks and be creative. Fairygodboss contributor Maureen Berkner Boyt suggested periodically hosting a lunch event to celebrate the biggest team flops – to show that "we can't win if we don't fail, and we can have fun by laughing at our mistakes."
3. Build cohesion.
Create a means of communicating that allows for easy workflow, establishes a distinct set of priorities and makes all colleagues feel included. Keeping everyone on the same playbook enables team members to focus and flourish. Jeff Bezos famously established a "two-pizza rule" for the size of teams at Amazon: The number of people on a team was not allowed to exceed what two pizzas could feed. This limit kept the teams at a manageable size, fostering productivity and accountability.
4. Visualize ideas.
Give team members the opportunity to use visuals to clarify and share their ideas at the simplest level. You can do this with anything from rough sketches to full-scale presentations. Most people learn better and retain more when they have seen something, and a shared whiteboard, real or virtual, is a great tool.
5. Break down barriers.
Using multiple channels of communication – such as email, phone and text messaging – can ultimately create barriers to successful collaboration. [See our review of RingCentral, the best business phone system for collaboration.] Agree upon and enlist just one channel that allows the team to communicate efficiently and effectively. If you have conflicting modes of presentation, or half the team is on Google while the other half use Office, valuable productivity will be lost in matching up versions. It is important to be sensitive to the comfort level and training of the employees, as well as the leadership. New offerings are constantly hitting the market, and small splinter groups of your workforce may be using technology that others aren't adept at using or even aware of.
6. Follow through.
With all of the focus on creating ideas, don't forget the most important step: acting on the good ones. Nothing will kill employees' desire to create new ideas faster than a failure to implement existing proposals. Choosing which ideas to move forward with can be a significant bottleneck, particularly in smaller organizations. Voting and ranking are popular methods of selecting among competing projects. Tools such as Tricider and Trello offer simple ways to collect the votes. Progress shows team members that their ideas matter and provides the motivation for more great ideas.