8 Tips for Effective Collaboration: From Finding Common Ground to Managing Conflict

Effective Collaboration

It used to be simple. You would go to the office, see your colleagues, your manager would give you the work for the day, and you would sit in your team to complete your tasks and answer customer concerns. Everyone would sit next to each other, and team spirit was one of the most important parts of the office experience. Managers know that their teams spend more time in work than with their families, so they made efforts to make the workplace a happy place with effective collaboration.        Teams would bond over lunch, communication around the office involved walking to the next person’s desk and discussing the issues and effective collaboration was face to face communication with teams, managers, and business owners!  People would share calls, share work and share the experience of the day.

Then things changed

Offices closed, people took their computers home and spent hours in DIY shops or furniture stores buying the perfect home office set up. They turned the corners of bedrooms into office spaces, or made the extra bedroom an office, or built outhouses into effective office spaces. The re-birth of the remote worker model exploded. Communication switched from face to face to virtual meetings through communication platforms like Skype, Zoom or Teams.

This working model became the norm for a year whilst the world recovered from a global pandemic started in Wuhan, China. Some workers were paid for not working, some had their hours reduced and some continued their jobs as they would in the office but alone, in their homes, unsafe to return into the public spaces.

Mobile became the norm

This can not continue forever, as businesses require effective communication to operate and as much as virtual communication can be helpful it is not as effective as human interaction and face to face communication. The hybrid working model created opportunities for those happy working at home part time, in the office part time and alternating their working week between working from home and working in the office.

Mobile working, or hybrid working, made effective collaboration better. People would work from home 2 days a week, and from the office 3 days a week on a rotation to improve communication and to maintain effective collaboration. Working in the office gave people the best communication and their work for the week. Working from home allowed people to focus without the distractions that come from office life. This was the best of both worlds.  For some it works well, for others they prefer working from home, whereas some prefer working in the office.

Technology through mobile communication continues to innovate and change the working environment focusing on effective collaboration between teams, managers, and operations.

Born out of necessity, outsourcing or out of expansion?

As companies expand, they look for alternative operational centres to support their growth with reduced costs. This is supported by outsourcing operations, often to other countries around the world. India, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and South Africa became outsourcing hotspots, offering high speed internet, educated staff, and low wages to businesses in America and the UK.

Outsourcing was an early adaptation of the remote working model. If a company can work with an outsourcing company, they can see that they do not need staff in their office to do the jobs. As companies outsource more tasks, they test what can be done in the office and what is not needed. This reduces costs, reduces the need for expensive office spaces and increases profits for the business owners.

Expansion of companies is a key factor in experimenting with different working models. Some companies expand faster than others and it takes a lot of time and effort to build new offices, connect the technology required and hire the staff. If a company is expanding rapidly, there might be a need for outsourcing of tasks, or for some people working remotely until the office becomes available. Remote work could therefore be attributed to the expansion of companies.

It could be necessary to offer remote working to employees. It used to be a perk of the job to be able to work from home at times. This could include sick days, paternity or maternity leave or could be as an incentive to people who work well. If there was an outbreak of cold or flu in the office, or if the office had a gas leak or suffered water damage there might be a need to relocate the staff temporarily. In 2020 there was a global outbreak of Covid. Remote work opportunities exploded out of necessity and safety for the staff. Companies could not continue operations due to health and safety concerns. Effective collaboration of remote workers became the focus for many businesses in this time and born from necessity, businesses developed work-from-home strategies which remain in force to this day.

What came first? The need for remote work, or the exploration of remote working possibilities? Mobile working created a better work/life balance for many people and allowed businesses to continue to operate during hard times, but at the core of all operations must be the need for effective collaboration so let’s explore that a bit more.

What is effective collaboration?

In the simplest terms, collaboration means 2 or more people working together. Where 2 or more people work together that must have effective collaboration to complete the project or to do a good job. That collaboration can be face to face, verbally, physically or from the same workflow process. If they are working on the same processes or projects, they need to communicate with each other, and support each other. They need to know what the other person is doing so not to duplicate and to be as effective and efficient as possible.

There are many different tools to support this process including communication and organization tools to support effective collaborative working.  Effective collaboration includes using virtual tools like CRM Solutions, text and voice communication and project management tools to support processes.

Effective collaboration includes some common themes and concepts such as communication, trust and understanding. A place where staff can be heard, listened to, respected, trusted, and given the autonomy to do the jobs assigned. It is a difficult process to manage, especially if the managers are used to working in an office environment.

Effective collaboration includes meetings, shared work projects, clear communication, standardized systems, and platforms to work on, and shared goals to work towards. Teams that work effectively must understand each other and speak to each other regularly. Healthy debates, discussions and even arguments are required in collaborative working, as well as clear assignments of tasks so that people know what they are doing.

When they work well, they can be positive and productive. When people struggle to work remotely, they can not do their tasks, and they let their team down. It is not for everyone, but those who excel in it might also struggle in an office environment.

When it works well, it is good for the staff, the business, the profit that the shareholders make and the brand of the company. To make it work well, effective collaboration and communication is essential.

What are cloud collaboration tools?

Teams can not work together if they can not communicate with each other. Many communication tools have been developed to support effective collaboration. These include some well-known systems like Skype, Zoom and Teams. They can also be simple mobile communication platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Getting even simpler it could be the mobile phone call or a simple SMS. As long as the people working together are speaking to each other that forms the basis of effective collaboration.

Cloud collaboration tools include CRM solutions that workers can log into to see what other members of the team are doing and how their work fits into the business directive. There are free systems like Trello that allow users to add tickets to processes and Atlasian that have a shared work board for employees to see tickets raised and jobs issued. Some businesses have bespoke systems built directly for the function of that specific business.

Safety of data is a major concern when using cloud-based collaboration tools. These tools often have multi layered protection, that could include email, SMS, and password protection.

Where a user can log into the system from anywhere in the world, they are using cloud-based collaboration tools. If there is an IP Address restriction, possibilities are limited but security and monitoring protections are increased.

What are some effective collaboration communication tools?

Skype

One of the earliest and most used communication tools to support long distance VoIP collaboration.

Teams, Zoom, Google hangouts

These tools allow for virtual connection, shared screen experiences and have been custom built for effective collaboration.

Mobile Phones

Everything in relation to mobile collaboration can be completed with a touch of the screen or a click of a button on most modern mobile phones. In your hand is a superphone! They can send and receive communication from anywhere that they have reception. Mobile communication has grown significantly over the last few years and continues to be developed to support effective collaboration in teams working remotely.

The simple SMS

Sending a text message is the simplest form of collaborative working. Letting people know when you are starting work, what you are working on and when you will be finished can improve collaborative working.

Emails

Yes, the simple email is a collaboration tool. Using CC and BCC adds in multiple people into the same email. When we are talking to multiple people, about a work project, we are collaborating effectively.  Emails have been the bedrock of communication for several years and continue to underpin most operational processes in the workplace. They are a key tool for collaboration.

Slack

This is the tool that was built for collaborative business communication. The drawback to it is the cost, but it is custom designed to aid and improve communication with teams.

ConxHub

A Mobile technology platform allowing for better communication within teams, all from the mobile phone of the user. With remote work and work from home opportunities increasing the world is more mobile now than ever before, so implementing a mobile only communication platform has clear benefits for teams who work on the go.

CRM Solutions

When a team is working on the same project they require communication, and evidence of work completed. A CRM solution, of which there are many, can help to keep all the work in one place. People can log in to the CRM Solution to complete their daily tasks and managers can log in to monitor the workflow on their projects.  CRM Solutions provide reports and a collaborative space for work, monitoring and management.

Work Boards

Tools such as Trello, Atlasian, Salesforce or other such project management tools help to see who is working on what, who is assigning jobs to people and how far towards completion those jobs are. These such tools are well used by project managers or project staff to move the project forwards and to keep everyone informed about what is happening in the work project. They have been designed and created to assist with effective collaboration.

There are several other key tools that benefit collaborative working; however, they generally fall into the categories above. Communication is the main area for collaborative working, but then it can be voice, written, or work focused. Some teams do not speak to each other to work together, if they know what everyone is doing, they can still collaborate effectively.

Benefits of effective collaboration

Teamwork makes the dreamwork. The goal of teamwork is to work well together towards a common goal, so effective collaboration is obviously the means to attain the goal. If collaboration is not effective, people waste each other’s time, projects and businesses fail, customers complain, and things fall apart. Effective collaboration is the glue that holds teams and businesses together.

Developing a well-functioning team benefits the business. But it is not an easy task for managers and operational staff. It is not easy to bring people together from different places, time zones, cultures, and educational levels. The amount of effort that it takes to build a team that can effectively work towards a common goal depends greatly on the size of the business and the structure of the operations. The effort is worth it because the company grows and the team develops a harmonious working atmosphere, with collaborative working, it is a good place to be.

The benefits of collaborative working far outweigh the negatives, and the effort that it takes to build collaborative working, monitor it and improve it is effort well spent for the benefit of the company.

There are other benefits such as:

Innovation

Where there is collaboration, people can share ideas and have constructive discussions. Arguments are healthy, concepts are developed, and problems are shared and solved. Where teams work effectively, people from all backgrounds, ages, cultures, and educational levels can work together towards a common goal. This collaborative working has a very useful byproduct of innovation. Business expansion, new products and services can develop, and customer concerns can be resolved.

Stronger Teams

Strong teams perform better; they communicate better, and they bond better. This all has advantages for the Company, the customers, and the brand. A team working towards one common goal supports each other and plays to everyone’s strengths within the team. The team has a sense of purpose, a unity, and each member adds something different to the team so they fill the gaps that one person might have in their skill sets. Where one person excels at something, another person might lack those skills, but as a collective, they are stronger and cover all bases. Dividing work and assigning tasks to people’s strengths makes the team stronger than the individual.  Where a team cares about each other and trusts each other they are driven to success and will meet their goals.

Experienced and skilled staff

Two heads are better than one, especially if they are working together effectively. Learning from experienced staff helps the new staff to develop. Learning from new staff gives the experienced employees a new perspective on the job and how the technology can be used to improve efficiency. A collaborative team has time to openly discuss issues, concerns and to fix problems. Ideas flow around the team to benefit each other and the business. It is an exciting and productive place to work.

Knowing strengths and weaknesses helps teams to develop. Where there is trust and collaboration, there is support and learning. People find out what they know and discuss what they don’t know or what they have not thought about yet. Building team awareness and self-awareness at the same time builds the team morale and improves outputs.

The more diverse the team and the members of the team, the more learning is available to support each other and to benefit the team.

All these points lead to a Better Customer Experience – the better informed the team is, the more informed the customers are, the faster complaints are resolved and the better services they are provided. IF the team knows the product, they can sell the benefits of the product better. If the customer receives a product that matches their needs, they are happier and will return. If a customer is well informed and is told that there are different products that better suit their needs, even though the company loses a sale, the customer is still happy. This all comes from a well-informed, strong team that can teach each other and communicate effectively.

Primary principles of effective collaboration

We have looked at what we can do to have effective collaboration in the team, but it is more than that. We need to look at how we do it too. What we do is supported upon the foundations of how we do it. We might communicate well, but if we are in a bad mood, or we are not listening to others, our communication will go unnoticed. If we blame others for mistakes, they will not collaborate with you again, and a negative atmosphere will take over the team.  The mindset of the collaborator will make the collaboration even better!

Efficiency

don’t use a hundred words where 10 will do. Only have meetings that are effective and useful, do not have meetings for the sake of having a meeting. Use the meetings wisely and in a time efficient manner, ensuring that everyone in attendance is also in participation.  Keep to agendas and respect each other’s time. If people are attending the meeting virtually, they deserve attention and time as well. Keeping on point keeps things collaborative!

Trust

trust the team, the management, the leaders, and the purpose of the meeting. People need to feel trusted and need to show trust, it is a 2-way process that can move a team towards effective collaboration.

Empathise

walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. They might be having a bad day or a bad week. Understanding their situation does not mean sympathizing with them, it means understanding at a deep level what that person is going through. Empathise with the team, if there are people struggling, if the targets are too high, if the work is boring but essential, for collaboration, you must understand.

Stay Positive

even if the team is struggling, or stressed or bad things are happening, staying positive and happy with encourage others to be positive too. Looking on the bright side is up-lifting. It might be fake for some of the time, but it helps others and shows that you can keep your emotions in check, and you can remain positive and professional. Leave the bad stuff at the door!

Check In

check in with the team about their goals, desires, hopes for the project, concerns, priorities and interests. Checking in with people will make them feel included and respected, as well as help to collate the agendas and find a common goal to build from. Keeping people focused means checking in with them from time to time.

Assign accountability

people in the team have their own tasks to do to keep the team project moving. If one person drops the ball, it affects the team. If deadlines are missed by someone, others should take up the slack, but the person who missed the deadline is accountable for their failures. People are also accountable for their successes and contributions to the team. Giving people in the team responsibilities and accountability keeps a sense of team spirit alive.

Skills needed for effective collaboration

You have the training, the education, the product knowledge and all the support that you need to move the project forwards. All this is useless without a set of soft skills that can boost performance of yourself and the team and your position within the team. 

If the team has remote workers, communication can be hard. If the team has absences or holidays or sickness to contend with these pressures can mount up. Where there are problems to overcome to improve the effective collaboration of the team the leaders and team members will support each other to achieve the team goals.

Know the goal

Keep your eyes on the prize and know the route that it takes to reach the goal. Keeping the team focused on the goal will keep people focused on moving forwards and not letting others down. A common purpose bonds people.

Communication

We keep coming back to this issue, it is at the heart of all teamwork. Communication could be in writing, face to face or verbally, it could be virtually, or real, as long as it is consistent and effective it will guide collaboration.

Active Listening

people generally have 2 ears and one mouth. They rarely use them in that ratio. Active listening means trying to understand what people are saying and empathizing with them to get a better understanding of the issues. Listening closely to feedback, body language advice, guidance, training, and concerns means that you better understand the situation and can act accordingly.  Being considerate and respectful of the team, the business, the people around you in the wider network shows awareness and respect of the processes.

Solving problems

if you have good problem-solving skills, you can help the team to resolve their issues and promote effective collaboration. Being able to calmly look at a situation objectively and without emotion shows an ability to better understand and collaborate.  Fixing problems builds trust. Trust builds effective collaboration.

Be prompt

good time management skills show respect for the team and team members. It keeps things organized and focused. People depend on you and your team, and if you are late, or disrespectful that puts the projects back. Prioritizing tasks and timetables shows good organizational skills.  Time management means meeting deadlines on time, completing work on time, attending meetings on time and being focused and collaborating positively.

Summarizing the 8 tips for effective collaboration

Effective collaboration takes more than successful teamwork, it also takes effective tools, and effective people using those tools, we have reviewed in detail above, but just in case you have forgotten anything above, let’s summarise briefly before we close for the day!

  1. Teamwork makes the dream work
  2. Find the best tools and use them correctly for your team
  3. Respect everyone, not just the team, but people in the wider team
  4. Understand the project and the goals to reach a successful conclusion
  5. Communicate
  6. Listen
  7. Keep your eyes on the prize
  8. When all those around you are losing their heads, stay positive

If you can keep these goals in mind, you will be an effective collaborator!

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