Discover best practices for team collaboration, leadership, and project management.
You’ve probably heard the saying “There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’” However, team collaboration requires a lot more than witty quips and icebreakers. With the hybrid workforce becoming the new norm and employees looking for a healthy and engaging work environment, good team collaboration is more important than ever.
So, instead of playing Two Truths and A Lie to get a new team fired up before a big project, take a look at our team collaboration tips so you can boost productivity, enhance company culture, and enable successful collaboration.
What is team collaboration?
Team collaboration is when a number of employees come together to discuss new ideas, solve problems, and share knowledge. It’s more than just teamwork because it requires complex skills like the ability to compromise and brainstorm concepts.
Teamwork refers to the individual work that each team member completes separately during a project. Alternatively, team collaboration refers to the collected effort everyone puts in when talking about, for example, general procedures, the company’s goals, or project concepts.
How your role enables team collaboration
Whether you’re a manager, director, or executive, it’s your job as the team’s leader to set the tone early and create a healthy environment to enable team collaboration.
It’s true that team collaboration relies on participation, effort, and creativity from the entire team. But as the leader, your communication, emotional intelligence, and support will directly impact how well your team will work together. If you can succeed as a leader, your team will succeed as well.
Benefits of good team collaboration
When integrated properly, you and your team can experience a variety of benefits that can affect the entire company as well.
Remote teams and hybrid workplaces are becoming increasingly common, so team collaboration can happen anywhere. By giving access to project management software and cloud-based collaboration tools, you can encourage team communication and discussion no matter where everyone is located.
Enable problem solving
Collaborative teams are more likely to engage in productive problem solving when team members can share their professional opinions and discuss new ideas. By creating an environment where employees can share their diverse perspectives without judgment, you enable your team to successfully overcome obstacles and solve problems.
Make employees feel respected and valued
Employees should feel heard and like their voices matter. When they work with fellow team members and managers who respect their opinions and welcome new ideas, the entire company can start to see an increase in employee satisfaction and morale.
Improve knowledge sharing
Good team collaboration can boost knowledge sharing, an activity where team members exchange information, expertise, and different perspectives on anything from general business topics to specific procedures. Knowledge sharing can also help team members understand their colleagues’ roles, responsibilities, and working methods, thereby improving overall team performance as everyone moves from task to task.
Increase valuable time
Project management tools that improve collaboration can help team members track the amount of time and effort they each put into a project. No matter what project management tool or team collaboration software you choose, you’ll be able to manage projects, execute plans, and stay on task—all of which will save everyone valuable time.
Three rules to achieving good team collaboration
There are 3 rules that make up good team collaboration, and all of them start with you as the leader.
To achieve better team collaboration, you should follow these 3 golden rules:
- Communicate your expectations
- Give power to your team members
- Invest in collaboration tools
By following these rules, you can create a healthy company culture that enables employees to work efficiently and creatively. In the best case scenario, you should be able to successfully lead your team until they can collaborate and manage themselves and you only step in when necessary.
Rule 1: Communicate your expectations as a team leader
The first rule to achieving successful team collaboration starts with how you communicate as a leader. You need to not only define your expectations but also outline the steps, goals, and responsibilities that apply to every team member.
Ultimately, a project can only go smoothly when everyone knows what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, who they’re reporting to, and what the end result should be.
Define your expectations and style of leadership
This is especially important when working with new teams or employees, but, nonetheless, make sure you define your expectations to your entire team. It’s also helpful to describe your leadership style so your team knows what to expect from you too.
Remember though, collaboration relies on compromise and support. If your team would prefer to do something that doesn’t directly align with your own collaborative behaviors, try to reach a consensus or middle ground that can make everyone happy.
Define project steps and goals
By the end of one of your first collaboration sessions, every team member should know the schedule, timeline, and overall goals for the project. You don’t want your team’s efforts to go to waste if they get off track due to miscommunication or misinformation.
If your team needs to discuss what the project steps will be, make sure to give everyone the chance to talk about their workloads and what timeline works best for them.
Define roles of individual team members
Make sure that every employee involved in the project is on the same page regarding what their roles are. In particular, project managers should be informed about how responsibilities are defined because you’ll need to delegate and assign tasks through them.
While everyone will already have an idea of what their job is, it’s important to make sure that you define the specific responsibilities of each person for this project. Everyone else should also know what those responsibilities are so tasks aren’t duplicated or left untouched.
Rule 2: Give power to your team members
Creating successful, productive teams means distributing responsibility and empowering the entire team. The second rule in effective team collaboration is about fostering an open work environment that allows team members to feel like their voices matter and that they’ll be rewarded for sharing their thoughts.
If you want to achieve successful team collaboration, always make sure you encourage creativity. Promoting creative thinking enables your team to share new or different viewpoints that can spark discussions as they brainstorm.
Team members who use their imagination can engage in creative problem solving, which can encourage the entire team to approach and solve challenges with fresh perspectives. Overall, creativity can boost productivity, empathy, and outside-the-box thinking.
Foster honest communication
Your efforts toward successful team collaboration can flourish if you make room for open and honest communication. As the leader, you need to create an environment where employees won’t feel nervous to speak up. If your team members feel like a project timeline is too tight or they need to decline a large ask from a client, they should absolutely feel like they can come to you and voice their opinions.
This is especially important for situations where your employees feel overwhelmed by their workload or if personal matters start to affect their productivity (e.g., financial hardship, family matters, or health concerns).
If you establish early on that you want your team to voice any concerns—either related to the project or their personal workload—they’ll feel more confident knowing that you’ll support them.
Reward successful work
Everyone needs validation that they’re doing a good job. If you see good work being done, give a shout-out to a productive team member or write them an email saying that you appreciate their work. You could invite the team to a happy hour event after work and buy everyone a great meal, or you could even bring in coffee and pastries on a Friday morning.
While voicing your approval and buying the team some treats are great ways to show your appreciation, try not to limit yourself to these suggestions. If you notice an employee is drastically improving or going above and beyond expectations, keep them in mind during the next few months so you can reward them with a promotion, bonus, or even a raise.
It’s understandable that monetary rewards may not always be in the budget, but if you are able to compensate employees for successful work every so often, they will feel motivated to keep collaborating and producing good work. Try not to think of it as a bribe, but rather as an incentive to make employees feel inspired and appreciated.
Open the floor to new ideas
Fostering good team collaboration means opening the floor so everyone can share ideas, especially during brainstorming sessions. Sometimes the best ideas can come from the quietest of employees, who may feel less comfortable sharing in a group setting if they aren’t directly asked to give their opinion.
If you have a team member who is fairly extroverted and likes to talk a lot, make sure they don’t dominate the conversation. Ask other team members what they think about specific ideas or if they have anything to contribute. It’s okay if they don’t have much to add right away, but by asking in the first place, you make it known that you value their ideas and perspectives.
Opening the floor to the group also means thinking beyond how there are “no wrong answers/ideas” because some employees may still feel that their input will be judged. Instead, encourage your collaborative team to ask questions that will prompt a group conversation. That way, if anyone is nervous about the validity of their ideas, they can test the waters to see how the group will respond.
Share knowledge with every team member
Knowledge sharing is the idea of contributing documented or undocumented knowledge with a group. When it comes to team collaboration, try to encourage employees to share their experiences and knowledge with everyone else. This could be sharing past experiences with a particular client, describing past successes, working on live process documents, or creating style guides.
When team members are able to successfully exchange information with each other, they can gain experience, further develop their own skills, and feel more confident as they work together. Knowledge is power, which means knowledge sharing is empowering!
Rule 3: Invest in team collaboration tools
Investing in software is the third rule for establishing effective team collaboration. Whether you have an in-office, hybrid, or fully remote team, the right collaboration tool(s) can help your employees do many things:
- Instantly communicate with each other
- Share timelines and schedules
- Meet project goals
- Brainstorm new ideas
- Access data and reports
- Collaborate on live documents in real time
Most online collaboration tools are cloud based, meaning you can access documents and communicate with your team from any location. This will also likely require you to invest in cybersecurity software to keep your company’s data and knowledge base secure.
When you start investing in collaboration software, keep in mind that you may need to invest in more than one tool. Not even the best team collaboration software can do everything you need on one single platform, so it’s best to invest in a few depending on your business needs.
Having an audio-/videoconferencing tool is especially vital for remote employees. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to connect with anyone in the business world without this collaboration tool. Interviews, weekly stand-up meetings, executive meetings, and client consultations are often held online because now everyone is based in multiple locations.
Some applications like Zoom or Skype are stand-alone tools, but others come with an entire platform of multiple collaborative tools. For example, a Microsoft 360 subscription comes with Teams—their audio-/videoconferencing application—as well as a suite of other tools like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
Messaging apps for internal communication
Chat and messaging applications are great for instances where you want to send a team member a quick message or question, but you don’t want to clog their email inbox or request a call. More importantly though, chat and messaging tools can allow for better team collaboration by helping colleagues stay in touch from anywhere with internal discussions that stay in one place.
Some audio-/videoconferencing tools include instant messaging (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Skype), but other messaging applications, like Slack, only allow audio calls. Nonetheless, try to find one that enables you to “tag” your colleagues so their inboxes aren’t flooded with unimportant messages or updates.
Having a project management tool can be a game changer for team collaboration. These tools come with basic features that allow you to plan projects, distribute tasks, tag employees, and create to-do lists. Project management software can also let you view your projects holistically, track progress and budgets, and define milestones or deadlines.
Each project management tool will often specialize in something specific, such as automated scheduling, project planning, growing teams, time tracking, or budgeting. There is a wide variety of project management applications, tools, and resources out there, so make sure to do plenty of research before you invest.
In general, document and file sharing fall under the umbrella of knowledge management, which allows employees to share or acquire the up-to-date information they need in order to stay productive. Document and filing software are an important part of knowledge sharing—which we’ve discussed in the second rule as being a major contributor for improving team collaboration.
Document and File Sharing
Document sharing applications like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive can help your entire team collaborate on documents in real time. These cloud-based tools let your team create, share, co-edit, search, and even e-sign new documents.
Most file sharing applications enable you to file and organize your shared documents, images, or videos so that you don’t have to sift through multiple folders or old email threads. They let you upload, download, or distribute files of any size and maintain access from any location.
Collaboration tools can also help with time management needs, such as organizing and scheduling tasks, projects, and plans.
As a leader, you can use time management software to analyze how long projects take to complete, which can help you assess how long similar ones may take in the future. You can also identify bottlenecks and determine if your employees need help based on how long they’re taking to complete a certain task.
Extra tips for creating collaborative teams
Now that we’ve gone over the 3 rules for team collaboration, here are some extra tips to enable creative collaboration, proper communication, and quality control.
Involve your entire team without "too many cooks"
As mentioned in the second step, you should absolutely make your team feel heard and valued in order to boost morale and employee satisfaction. However, you don’t want to create a situation where there are “too many cooks in the kitchen,” meaning there are too many people trying to make decisions for the group.
If you plan on having a brainstorming session, try to keep your invites to people who will directly work on that project. Outside perspectives should definitely be welcome, but if you have too many people trying to give their input on something they won’t be a part of, you could actually end up making your more-important team members feel less valued.
As long as you’re in charge, make sure you validate your team’s joint effort to brainstorm or solve problems on their own first. Then, if your team feels stuck or needs additional input, bring other colleagues into the conversation.
Don't overload with team meetings
Workplace collaboration inherently means having multiple team meetings. However, effective collaboration doesn’t rely solely on having meetings.
Try not to overload everyone with team meetings to the point that they can’t actively work on the tasks that are discussed in those meetings. Otherwise, you and your team will end up doing more talking and less action. Too many meetings can also cause employees to feel overwhelmed when they have to make up their actual tasks after work hours.
As we mentioned in the third rule, your collaborative efforts should rely on a few different software tools. Audio-/videoconferencing applications are indeed important, but money spent on other collaboration tools can help you cut down the amount of meetings on everyone’s schedule.
Lead by example
A collaborative team needs appropriate guidance and support from their leader. As you work with your colleagues, make sure you are holding yourself to the same standards and expectations that you set for your team.
For example, don’t make people stay later than their expected work hours if you’re not staying late too; don’t demand to be heard if you won’t listen to your colleagues; don’t create rules or new processes if you aren’t willing to incorporate them into your company’s wider knowledge base.
Ask for feedback
Good leaders should not be afraid of change. Try to adapt to new ideas by listening to your employees—and even other teams—about what they think.
Similar to our “too many cooks” section, we know you can’t please everyone. But if there’s collective feedback among the team regarding your leadership style, some general processes, or the collaboration software everyone uses, make sure you look into it and adapt as necessary.
Lastly, be patient with the results! You and your team may not see outcomes immediately because successful team collaboration is a slow process that will only show its effects over time.
Change may not happen overnight, but if you build good collaboration habits into your daily routines, your influence could become a standard practice and even transform your company’s mission, values, and output.