How to Boost Team Collaboration at Your Small Business — And Why You Should

We’ve all seen what happens at siloed organizations where trust runs low and “my way or the highway” thinking runs rampant. Employees toil away in a constant state of partial darkness, unsure of what’s fully happening around them. Projects stall halfway to completion. Personnel duplicate efforts. And nobody’s encouraged to divvy up responsibilities according to team members’ unique strengths.

Certainly, some to-do items need to be accomplished individually, and the buck does have to stop somewhere. Nevertheless, the vast majority of corporate goals and objectives should be completed by choirs, not soloists. That way, the entire business can stay in tune.

Research suggests that companies boasting collaborative cultures were five times more apt to perform at high levels. In other words, promoting cross-pollination and communal engagement on the job isn’t just nice to do — it’s necessary to drive bottom-line results.

If you want to increase collaboration, start soon. The quicker you apply the following strategies, the faster you’ll reap the benefits.

1. Arrange team experiences.

Spend time together as a team after hours or during the workday. Either way, that out-of-office or away-from-your-desk time is vital to establishing the trust and rapport that a collaborative work environment demands. “Companies participate in offsite team-building activities all the time — because they actually work. These kinds of situations allow people to experience colleagues as humans instead of simply co-workers, uncovering life details that aren’t revealed during a normal workday,” observes Lisa M. Aldisert, speaker, author, and business adviser. It’s these personal connections that grease collaboration’s wheels.

Improv workshops, cooking classes, and numerous other events offer fresh chances for colleagues to learn about one another. Consider heading to your nearest escape room, where everyone’s contributions are needed to succeed. Or establish monthly lunch potlucks where one worker teaches a mini-class on anything from knitting to trading penny stocks. One caveat: Always make sure the team-building experience is meant for connectivity alone. Your employees will see through your attempts to turn happy hour into a professional development workshop. Handled correctly, though, away-from-the-office activities will help your team gel.

2. Set collaboration as an expectation.

Never assume team members will automatically know when they should work together. Often, employees believe they need to forge ahead without “bothering” anyone else. Again, that might be accurate part of the time — but not all the time. See to it that everyone understands his or her role’s responsibilities and knows when collaboration is expected on certain tasks or projects. Encourage your team to work together to meet team goals. As collaboration becomes the norm, your employees will naturally begin to congregate.

When someone new joins the team, be sure the employee’s job description and onboarding plan encompass teamwork expectations. And be sure to make bringing on a new team member a collaborative effort as well. Studies say that feeling socially accepted is a key determinant of a new hire’s long-term success at your company. With that in mind, bring a number of different co-workers into the training process.

You can make it easy for your people to collaborate with proven tools like Loomio and Cobudget, which facilitate group decision-making. Don’t overlook the real-time value of Google Docs, either, or the fluid communications Google Hangouts can enable. Without the tools to support it, your employees may find teamwork too cumbersome or clunky — with them, collaboration can thrive. How much of an ROI could you see from your investment? Seventy percent of small business owners agree that their collaborative communication tools benefit productivity.

Of course, don’t invest in tons of tech without a game plan. Cory Treffiletti, global head of marketing at virtual collaboration platform Cisco Webex, urges careful vetting of work-together tools: “The ultimate goal with collaborative technology is to streamline the ways people work together, not just to add another tool to the mix,” he explains. “Ask yourself, ‘Does the technology simplify day-to-day operations? Or, does it just slap a meaningless task on the to-do list?'” You’ll want to ensure the tools you adopt will help team collaboration, not hinder it.

Published on: Jan 24, 2020

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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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