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Three Tips for Successful Collaboration

Collaboration is a hot topic among managers. Most management books, articles, and speakers tell you to be “more collaborative”, and with good reason. Research has proven that collaboration results in better decision-making and outcomes, as well as more efficient use of resources. Most managers agree and are already on the collaboration bandwagon, but many are confused about how to make their staff more collaborative.

The following are three tips to help you form and manage a collaborative team:

  1. Define. In my mind, collaboration involves close cooperation, clear shared goals, and a structured system of discussion with a commitment to the action needed to achieve those goals. However, collaboration can mean different things to different people. When forming or joining a collaborative team it is critical to define just what collaboration means to your team and your organization.
  2. Align. Collaborative teams need clear communication guidelines. This means defining the channels and tools the team will use to communicate and create. The communication guidelines should cover the communications environment you want to create and support. Team members need to be open and honest. They have to be comfortable being questioned and challenged, as well as questioning and challenging others. Passionate debate which results in an enhanced outcome is what collaborative teams are all about. The team leader must find ways to spark sharing and creativity - and reward those who deeply engage.
  3. Assign. For collaboration to work, people need to understand their role in the process. Without clear roles and assignments, collaborative teams can become like any other work group – people assume “someone else” is doing the work, or everyone does the same simple task. The best collaborative teams make a point of assigning roles that do not take hierarchy or rank into account. Having mid-level managers or even inexperienced team members lead and facilitate discussions sends a clear signal that this team is really about input and outcomes. Part of assigning roles should address responsibilities and accountability. Articulate deadlines and take action if members fall-short. Nothing can destroy a collaborative team faster than uneven contribution and a lack of consequences.

Most of the breakthrough ideas and innovations in the last two decades have come from collaborative teams. As a manager, collaborative teams help you get the most from your employees while finding new and better ways to operate and grow. While they do take effort, collaborative teams can be contagious. If you have a high functioning team and offer them visible praise and credit when it is due, others in your office will be encouraged to embrace collaboration. The result will be a culture that operates effectively and develops groundbreaking results.