How to Improve Collaboration in The Workplace

Smiling young males and females business people sitting around the table in the modern office room with decorative brick wall and discussing their joint project.

It’s no secret that a team can come up with better ideas and solutions than an individual, and they can do it faster and more efficiently. Even a genius employee sitting all alone in a cubicle for hours on end, chipping away at the next great innovation, is no match for a variety of ideas, talents, and skillsets. This is why companies are now realizing the need to focus on team effort. The benefits are many, including improved productivity, greater employee satisfaction, and an enhanced generation of ideas. 

Creativity stems from a collaborative effort. Whereas that genius in the corner can get bogged down with finding the right solution, a team of diverse talents feeds off each other to continually throw out new suggestions and move forward with new ideas and innovations. This is a huge benefit to an organization, leading to increased productivity and business growth. 

Implementing a collaborative workplace is a must for your organization to fully leverage the talents of your employees. Team members bring different skills to the table and have different strengths and weaknesses. Collaboration allows them to learn from each other and draw on varied strengths and talents to achieve a common goal. Collaboration is even important in remote positions. Employees can gain a better understanding of what other departments do and better see the big picture of the company.

9 Practical Steps to Creating a Collaborative Workplace

1. Create a supportive work environment to share ideas

Collaboration doesn’t work without support and sharing. The fastest way to kill collaboration in the workplace is to offer no support for team members, or worse, create an environment where they feel afraid to speak out or intimidated. They won’t feel comfortable sharing ideas if they think they might get laughed at, ridiculed, or rejected. What generates creativity in others is encouragement and appreciation for what they have to offer. A supportive environment builds trust, which is the opposite of fear. Establishing a judgment-free culture will lead to a healthy sharing of ideas in the workplace. 

When you set too many guidelines and restrictions, you’ll end up stifling creativity. On the other hand, when you constantly welcome new ideas, suggestions, and decisions, regardless of how strange, different, or off the wall they may be, you’ll establish a safe place for employees to collaborate with confidence and freedom. Creating a safe, supportive environment takes effort, but the benefits are well worth it. Not only will your team communicate more openly, but they’ll also gain a better understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and will be better prepared to help each other in the collaborative process. 

2. Encourage openness and transparency

It’s not easy to motivate employees to collaborate with others throughout the organization if they don’t have a good sense of why they are being asked to do it. It’s important to be open and transparent about company goals and the challenges you’re facing. Keeping employees in the loop is crucial to inspire and motivate employees. In turn, they will be more loyal and productive. When everyone knows what they are working toward, you have a much better chance of the team collaborating to reach that goal. You will also get better input, suggestions, and ideas from employees when they have a good sense of the challenges and the business goals. 

3. Encourage employee growth 

Employees who do the same things the same way day in and day out are not going to be the best innovators. Not only will they get stagnant and not grow, but the company also won’t either. Allowing team members to question procedures and ways of doing things without being judged can lead to better and more efficient ways of doing them. Regularly encouraging the sharing of ideas will allow employees to freely speak up and share their thoughts. Give your team options to share ideas as not everyone will be comfortable speaking out in a group. A group online platform where they can post ideas or a group email are ways to encourage those less likely to participate face to face. 

Another way to encourage employee growth through collaboration is engagement across different teams and departments. Exposing employees to differing objectives, people types, and skillsets can lead to effective idea generation and employee growth. Pushing team members out of their comfort zones is often where the best ideas come from.

Related: How to Invest in Employee Development

4. Lead by example

Another collaboration killer is a leader who has little interaction with the team and shows little initiative in developing a collaborative atmosphere. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about the benefits of collaboration, if employees don’t see you as a collaborative leader, they won’t be motivated to collaborate either. It is of utmost importance to have good communication with your team and to spend time with them as a group and individually. The better you know your team, and the more open, encouraging, empathic, and helpful you are toward them, the more motivated they will be to share ideas with you and others on the team. 

Visibility is key. Have an open-door policy in your office. Let the team see the effort you’re putting in. Present opportunities to them and encourage collaboration from them. Be attentive and listen carefully to each request or idea they give. Be honest with their responses and you’ll earn their trust. When employees see you as a collaborative leader, they will feel inspired and will improve their productivity as a result. 

Related: How To Be a Leader in The Workplace

5. Communicate expectations clearly

If you are trying to create a collaborative workplace for your team, but you don’t clearly express expectations to them, you might be creating an atmosphere where employees are unsure of what you want. This leads to confusion and decreased productivity. By encouraging questions and thoughts, whether positive or negative, after presenting your plan, you can work past the confusion and make sure everyone is on board with what a collaborative workplace is and how they should interact in it. This will also give the team a chance to address negative thoughts openly, which can promote collaboration improvement among the team. 

6. Use technology

The workforce looks different today than it did years ago. No longer is everyone on the team in the same place at the same time every day. Your team might be fully remote and spread all over the country. Technology allows collaboration between your team regardless of where they are. The easier it is for team members to communicate, the more sharing of ideas you’ll see, and the more innovative and productive the team will be. Utilizing cloud-based software is quickly becoming the norm in most companies. This allows users to collaborate more and stay more engaged in the process. 

7. Offer rewards

Nothing motivates employees as much as the opportunity to receive a reward after achieving success. Rewards work at the individual and team levels. You might have a star who went above and beyond and deserves something extra, but the team that collaborates should also be rewarded together. A reward system facilitates and encourages future collaborations and helps employees see the value of working together. Rewards can come in the form of recognition, monetary rewards, a celebration, days off, or other perks.  

Related: Unique Employee Recognition Ideas

8. Encourage teambuilding

An effective way to enhance collaboration between the team is to give employees opportunities to interact outside of work. Everyone seems to have a busy life these days and arranging an after-work activity might not seem like the best approach. But it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or be very involved. The key is to give your team a little time to get to know each other on a more casual level and develop friendships and deeper relationships. Employees who have fun together doing things unrelated to work tend to work together better when they’re at work. They will be more inclined to interact and exchange ideas. A more cohesive team, where team members feel comfortable around each other, will be more accepting and involved in a collaborative workplace. 

Related: Virtual Team Building Ideas

9. Treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn

Not every idea is a good one, and not every solution works, even in a collaborative environment. Mistakes and miscalculations will happen. How these mistakes are handled can determine how your team responds moving forward. Harsh criticism will not encourage your team to try harder next time. Calling out an individual for their role in a failed goal is not conducive to a collaborative workplace. That does not mean you should let mistakes or missing goals slide and let your team assume that is okay. Acknowledge that the team fell short, but it’s important to use these situations as opportunities for the team to learn what didn’t work and why. Collaborate with the team on how to improve going forward.

Avoid assigning blame to anyone. Instead, ask questions similar to the following:

  • Is there something the team did (or did not do) that caused the mistake to occur?
  • How can we regroup and move forward to reach our goal next time? Be specific.
  • What can I do to help the team reach the goal next time?

Generally, when a failure occurs, it is not due to one mistake. There are a series of events that occur and failure is the result. Spending time trying to assign blame takes away from learning how to avoid the same pitfalls next time.

Always Encourage Collaboration

Collaborative workplaces set the stage for effective interaction between colleagues and increased idea-sharing. When ideas are acknowledged and accepted without judgment, employees are encouraged to collaborate, which leads to a higher level of participation, increased innovation, happier employees, and a more productive workplace. A collaborative environment that encourages regular feedback and maintains accessibility at the leadership level will make it easy for all employees to participate and share ideas. The collaboration steps listed above can help motivate your team to work together to achieve goals they couldn’t on their own. That positive, collaborative atmosphere translates into a successful, productive workplace.

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.