Collaboration is a major concern of managers and for good reason. Collaboration in the workplace has a plethora of benefits. Collaboration “allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people” says Jacob Morgan, co-founder of The FOW Community.
Despite the bottom line and culture benefits of collaboration, many employees and employers alike believe that their companies don’t collaborate enough. According to a 2012 Salesforce survey, 86 percent of executives and employers blame a lack of collaboration for workplace failures. According to the 2013 Cornerstone OnDemand State of the Workplace Productivity Report survey, 39 percent of employees felt that people at their work didn’t collaborate enough.
This disconnect is likely due to the delayed return on investment in collaboration. “The challenge with collaboration is that it drains resources but does not always have immediate apparent benefits” says Elliot Gordon, marketing manager at GCP Applied Technologies. “It takes time, space, and money to bring employees together, especially in a global organization.” Investing in collaboration, even when the results aren’t immediately visible, can make a huge difference for a company in the long run.
How to Promote Collaboration at Work
1) Integrate collaboration into work.
Employees are more likely to collaborate if they can do so organically. “Collaboration should never be seen as an additional task or requirement for employees” says Morgan. “Instead collaboration should fit naturally into their flow of work.”
According to the 2013 Cornerstone OnDemand State of the Workplace Productivity Report survey, 72 percent of employees would prefer to collaborate in-person. 23 percent of employees favor collaboration online and only 5 percent choose phone or video conference as their preferred method of collaboration. These findings reinforce that employees don’t want to have to disrupt their workflow to collaborate. Instead of forcing phone and video meetings that require employees to pause their work, make it easier for employees to collaborate as they work.
The same survey found that 33 percent of employees would collaborate more if they were able to easily share input with different departments or offices. There are a variety of ways to integrate collaboration into work, as described in the following points.
2) Use technology strategically.
There are a number of collaboration apps that can help improve the ease of collaboration. According to the 2013 Cornerstone OnDemand State of the Workplace Productivity Report survey, 28 percent of employees already use collaboration apps at work. 65 percent of those employees only use apps that their employer provides, however, and 72 percent of employees are unlikely to pay for an app for work with their own money. If you want your employees to increase collaboration and productivity using tech, you must provide the tools.
However, don’t rush into buying lots of apps without a clear idea of what you want to achieve with them. “Before rushing to pick that shiny new collaboration platform focus on developing a strategy which will help you understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how,’” says Morgan. “This is crucial for the success of any collaboration initiative. You don’t want to be in a position where you have deployed a technology without understanding why.”
3) Create a collaborative workplace.
Cubicles are the antithesis of a collaborative working space. Instead, the open, accessible layouts startups are famous for are far better at promoting teamwork. “Exceptional collaborative working environments are a defining trait of the humble beginnings of many successful companies, and large enterprises should take notice” says Jeffrey Rodman, co-founder and chief evangelist at Polycom Inc.
Open work spaces lend themselves to unplanned encounters and unscheduled exchanges between coworkers. “Unplanned interactions among co-workers, sometimes called ‘collisions,’ are one documented need [of employees] that results in new ideas and higher productivity” says Rodman. Sometimes the best ideas can come from the most unexpected places and collisions provide the opportunity to share those ideas.
4) Create room for privacy.
This seems contrary to the need for open workspaces, but private workspaces are still necessary. “Private huddle rooms are a great place for teams to get together for a focused brainstorming session without distractions or fear of talking too loud—which can stunt creativity and innovation” says Elliot Gordon, marketing manager at GCP Applied Technologies. The ideal workplace includes both open workspaces and private workspaces.
5) Reward collaboration.
What employees are rewarded and recognized for directly affects what they are motivated to do. “If your organization focuses on rewarding employees for individual performance as the main driver of success then it will become quite hard to encourage employees to share and communicate with each other” says Morgan. Comparing employees against each other goes even further in the wrong direction, providing a disincentive for collaboration.
According to the 2013 Cornerstone OnDemand State of the Workplace Productivity Report survey, 50 percent of employees would be motivated to collaborate more with their coworkers if they received positive recognition for the input they share. 41 percent of employees said they would collaborate more if they received encouragement specifically from senior staff. Managers must positively reinforce collaboration and provide incentive and recognition for effective teamwork.
6) Lead by example.
You can’t expect your employees to collaborate if your managers and executives don’t. “Leaders are very powerful instruments to facilitate change and encourage desired behaviors” says Morgan. If a company’s employees work in open workspaces, its leadership shouldn’t be tucked away in closed offices. If employees are encouraged to participate in team lunches and outings, leaders should participate, as well.
7) Foster friendships.
According to a 1999 Gallup report, employees who report having a best friend at work are 27 percent more likely to feel that their opinions count at work. Those employees are also 35 percent more likely to feel that their coworkers are committed to quality and 27 percent more likely to say that their company’s mission makes them feel like their job is important. You can’t force friendships, but allowing a bit of levity at work so that friendships may develop naturally, as well as encouraging and organizing team lunches and outings, can be beneficial.
8) Don’t micromanage.
Just as you can’t force friendships, you also can’t make your employees collaborate. “By trying to enforce and police everything, you stifle collaboration within your organization” says Morgan. Create a work environment that encourages collaboration, but don’t overregulate how employees work together or you may find that you get the exact opposite of the desired results.
9) Listen to your employees.
Work together with your employees to design a way for them to work together. “When going down the collaboration road within your organization it’s important to make employees a part of the decision making process from step one” says Morgan. “Listen to their ideas, their needs, and their suggestions and integrate their feedback in your technology and strategy.” This not only is another way of leading by example, but it also makes it more likely that your collaboration strategy will be an effective one.