December 2, 2020
Performance Management 01 April 2020
How to Improve Team Collaboration: Five Steps for Managers
Joan Elmore
<a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/business">Business photo created by senivpetro - www.freepik.com</a>

My boss and coworker were arguing. 

“You were supposed to have the lead on this!  You can’t let things slip through the cracks!”

“Look, I did have the lead on it, and then you jumped in.  You told me that you were going to the meeting instead, and then I didn’t hear about the changes they decided on, and then you kept working on it without me.”

I was hovering over my computer, trying to look absorbed in my work and hanging on every word.  I’d heard similar arguments between coworkers in almost every job I’d been in, and I had found myself in this type of mix-up more than once.  And here it was, playing out ten feet away with my boss involved.

His shoulders were slumped.  “Well – I know.  But I thought you got sent the details on that.”

“And I thought you wanted to take over, so I let you.”

I love the thought of everyone pitching in together to reach a common goal.  I get starry-eyed thinking about the unity, the support, and the strengthening friendships.  I imagine the smiles, the camaraderie, the shared ideas and the high-fives at the end of it all.

But sometimes reality can differ a little, so today let’s make sure that when your team is working together it’s a smooth, effective, and enjoyable process.  Let’s talk about teamwork, and how you can help everyone to collaborate efficiently.  


MAKE SURE EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THE GOAL 

When I first started in a management position, I’d use a sentence or two to give the gist of my vision and let it get rolling from there.  I didn’t want to be too intense about the whole thing, you know?  But I’d leave way too much open for interpretation, no one could agree on the best method, and when the results came in, I was disappointed and trying to fix my mess.

Learn from my mistakes and make identifying the intended ending comes first.  Each person on the team must know exactly what the finish line looks like, so start out by giving everyone a bright, shining picture of the exact results you want, as Mary explains:

“Humans work better when they understand their role and goal. Our ancestors in the caves understood that in order to reach the goal of survival, each member of the group must perform their role, whether it be protector, hunter, gatherer, or nurturer. Our modern brains still operate in the same way - if we don't see the end, why bother with the means? 

If a team member isn't fully invested, informed, or interested in the final result or goal, they may view their tasks as inconsequential or meaningless. Think of the assembly lines in the last century - although someone might have stood in one place drilling bolts all day, they could still see the finished product roll off the line and know that their bolts were integral to the success of everyone else. Every team member needs to know and understand why a task or goal is important and how their work is integral to the process.”

- Mary Yakovets, Freelance Editor 

Thinking about this makes me remember a past boss who would get so detailed with communicating the result he wanted, that he would usually find some way to include an actual picture.  Sometimes it was a drawing or diagram he made himself, and sometimes it was from an outside source, but it expressed his wish perfectly without the need to say a thousand words.

You might do this with a portrait, the written word, or a rousing locker-room speech, but make sure that in the end, each person on your team completely understands what they’re working toward.

As a leader in your business, it’s important that you take steps to make sure that you’re creating a knowledge-sharing culture within your business. This is so if one employee has a problem that they need to address, people are proactive and keen to help in any way they can. One of the most important strategies you can do to implement this is to encourage an ‘ownership attitude’ among your employees. This is where an employee feels like they own the business and are responsible for it, rather than simply coming to work and doing the bare minimum to get by. 

This way, employees will realize that they are working together to achieve a common goal, in which communicating and sharing knowledge and data with one another is a great way to assist in this progress.


DELEGATE AND THEN TRUST YOUR TEAM

How efficient is it for you to do everything yourself?  The boss in my first story often struggled with delegating. He’d been in the industry longer than anyone else in the company, he knew exactly how certain things needed to be done, and taking those on himself often seemed like the safest bet.  But it also created situations where he tried to delegate but couldn’t contain his need to step in and take over parts and pieces of projects, which created confusion about who was responsible for what and frustrated the employees he’d assigned to those jobs. 

I know this one can be scary, but no matter how much it challenges you now, Lidia Staron has great news, and she shared it in her article, Why Successful People Work Less and Get More Done:

“Successful people don’t do it alone. They trust their people and therefore, willingly delegate tasks to get stuff done as quickly as possible. To ensure a good outcome each time, learning to delegate effectively is crucial.

“Delegating tasks is a skill which can be learned and improved over time.” 

-Lidia D. Staron, Marketing Manager, OpenLoans.com  


And let’s consider Dawn Moss’s take on it:

“One of the most powerful and under-utilized tools for a manager to improve their team’s efficiency and collaboration is delegation.  Delegation is essential for individuals and teams to build and develop existing skills, and grow and learn new skills.  

“Typically, employees that progress into people management roles are the technical experts.  They tend to work through the various levels in their discipline, which gives them a sound knowledge of each role within the teams they manage.  Managers that are used to doing the work and being hands-on will find it more challenging to delegate, give others an opportunity or even trust members of their team to do the tasks.  

“[But here are the] advantages of delegating:

  • Builds trust within the team and maximizes resources (time, knowledge, experience and skills) 
  • Improves performance and productivity by sharing the workload
  • Allows individuals in the team to understand the bigger picture 
  • Develops good working relationships and collaboration 
  • Builds ownership and a sense of purpose within the team
  • Creates time and space for the manager to manage”

- Dawn Moss, Founder of Your Interview Coach 


KEEP COLLABORATION ORGANIZED

This is how you can have teamwork without misunderstandings, bickering, and dropped balls.  Organizing collaboration will make your team’s teamwork much more efficient and successful, and it will come with the great bonus of helping you to feel more confident about delegating.  

You can do this by first clearly defining roles and responsibilities for each person on the team, as Brandon Stanley advises in the article “7 Tips on How to Build Effective Teams” :

“Everyone within the team must be aware of the hierarchy and their role in it.”

- Brandon Stanley, Professional Independent Journalist

Identify each major step in the life of the project, and have a name with each step so there’s one person ultimately responsible.  Then set up a process for the collaboration, so that everyone will easily know where one person left off, who continues it from there, and what happens next.  

I had a boss who got really serious about this.  He drew a map of every position and associated job description, and the intersections with other positions and job descriptions.  He sat us all down for a meeting where he showed us his drawing and explained the potential pitfalls if we all tried to wear every hat.  He clearly defined our roles and gave us procedures for collaborating, and then he asked us to remind him about this if he got busy one day and approached one of us with a task that wasn’t our business.I went back to work after the meeting, and I saw the difference that day.  Over the next week, the improvements became more and more apparent.  The number of times I was getting interrupted were cut at least in half.  I knew exactly who to go to when I had a question about a certain area of a project.  My coworkers and I were able to work more effectively together.  I was completely clear about what was expected of me, and I knew what to prioritize.  I was way more accurate, I got work done faster, and my stress level plummeted. 

And now I can’t recommend this enough.  Put things in place for your team so their collaboration is organized, and I’m confident that you’ll be thrilled by the results! Be sure to organize the results of the collaborations as well so that the improvements can be measured and failures can be analyzed. 

Besides organizing roles and responsibilities, it's also important to organize knowledge. When team members are collaborating, you don't want these collaborations to fall into a black hole. Instead, you want it accessible by future teams (through a knowledge management system).

- Josh Brown, Digital Marketing Consultant at Helpjuice



HELP YOUR TEAM TO HAVE ONE PURPOSE

I love the idea of throwing out a Welcome mat for everyone’s ideas.  I love it when every person in a company feels excited to share in and contribute to its growth.  And I know each member of your team will feel much more invested in the project they’re working on if they have a way to make it their own somehow, by doing some things in their own way, and giving their suggestions for improvements.

In the article, “How to Engage Your Employees This Year”, Britta Howlett says of this:

“[Make] sure that people feel ownership of what they are working on. All employees want to know that their voice is being heard. Everyone should have the opportunity to explore new things for the company. Their voices should be heard and respected, even if they are contributing ideas on things they aren't working on.”

-Britta Howlett, Marketing Asst. ProSky 

And in her article, “How to Refocus Workers and Improve Productivity”, Kelsy Ketchum points out something else you’ll want to keep in mind, especially when you’ve got people working on a long-term project:

“Doing the same thing every day for weeks on end is exhausting and makes workers more likely to look for distractions. Be willing to shake routines up and let employees try out new tasks to challenge them.”

-Kelsy Ketchum, Editor for Better Buys

You’re going to celebrate ideas and allow for flexibility, all while keeping your team focused, and the whole thing might have you picturing a collision of contradiction, but you can do this!  You want everyone excited about this creation, and you also know that throwing every ingredient from the pantry into a soup wouldn’t necessarily make it taste delicious.  Not every method or idea will be a good fit – at least not exactly as it was given, or exactly at that time, or for that exact project.

So your job will be to filter accordingly and help everyone to stay on course with a united purpose.  This comes back around to your first step, which was to make sure everyone understands the exact results you want. You’ll act as a rudder to keep everyone on course, even as you give them leeway where you can. The balancing act will be worth it in the end.


CONTINUOUSLY ENCOURAGE TEAMWORK

There are probably plenty of people in your place who prefer to work in solitude.  I like working independently myself, and if I were able to, I’d go for weeks huddled over my desk with my head down and forget how to communicate with anything besides email. 

But I’d be missing out on all the things my coworkers can teach me, and all the ways they can make my job fulfilling.  I think all of us need the experience of collaboration regularly, so we can learn to get along better, build trust in each other, learn to consider other ideas and ways of doing things, and get the energy and satisfaction that comes from a group working together.

Let’s put a star next to this gem from the article, “How Multiple Generations Can Work Together in Harmony”:

“The important thing to remember is that the key to working with everyone is not putting them in a category and value the individual flair they bring to the work environment. We're always learning from our peers, and having many different perspectives from people of different experiences can only be a good thing and add to that.”

“When employees with different backgrounds and experiences come together, everyone shares a slightly different approach to the job, which in return, finds solutions to problems that arise.”

 - Gisel Malek, ProSky 

Encouraging collaboration might take some creativity, but I think it will be so worth it.

One of the things my boss did to encourage safety in our company also encouraged us to work together.  At the end of the year, anyone who goes the whole year without getting safety infractions gets a bonus.  However, if the entire company gets to the end of the year without safety infractions, every person’s bonus will double. 

It helped us all to look out for each other and to remind each other to take the necessary precautions and use required safety equipment for our industry.  It’s probably not what you would first think of as an example of collaboration, but it does apply, and if you do some brainstorming you can find lots of ways to replace competition with collaboration.

So there it is!  You’re going to help everyone to work better together and better for you, and you’ll do it by making sure everyone understands the goal, delegating and trusting your team, keeping collaboration organized, helping your team to have one purpose, and continuously encouraging teamwork.  

And you’ll do all of these with a certain truth in mind because I was talking to my friend about this subject and she made an observation that was so perfect, I think it belongs here as a final thought:

“It’s a fact that happy people equal [a] more productive staff.  When a manager cares, and his/her employees can feel that – that’s when magic happens.  That’s when you’ll see efficiency explode!”

- CH, Account Manager



Joanie is a part-time employee with a mission to end the Sunday Night Blues and start a new way of working. She uses what she’s learned from her experience to help employees have happiness, fulfillment, and high-performance in their jobs, with a revolutionary approach to goal achievement.  Learn more at: useyourjob.com/about    

Her latest book, As Its People: A 90-Day Challenge, is for employers, managers, team leaders, and HR professionals, and gives actions, strategies, and habits for having motivated, engaged and high-performing employees.  It’s available in paperback and Kindle at: www.amazon.com/author/joanelmore