A Deloitte survey a few years back found that when employees collaborate, 73% produce better work, 60% are more innovative, and 56% are more satisfied with their output. Even the mere perception of collaboration drives better performance, with researchers concluding that “simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges.”
Everywhere you look, studies show collaboration is a must for companies. But what exactly is it? Why is collaboration important? And how do you get it right? Let’s take a closer look.
What is collaboration?
The term ‘collaboration’ is tossed around in board meetings, coffee chats, KPI meetings, and pretty much everywhere in between, but what does it actually mean?
In its simplest terms, collaboration is just working together with someone else. Everyone is doing a different thing, but like the players in an orchestra, they’re operating as one to ensure the performance (or project) is a success.
Three defining features of collaboration:
- Collaboration can be between two people, or larger groups.
- It can take place within a team, between different teams, or between different organizations.
- In the workplace, collaboration is when everyone brings their own unique skills and perspectives to the table, willingly sharing knowledge and resources to reach a common goal.
It’s not always plain sailing. True collaboration requires trust and a fair bit of patience. It’s all about knowing that every individual — from the top boss to the newest intern — has something valuable to add, and that the best results come from working together. The payoff is well worth the effort: improved problem-solving, increased productivity, and a happier, more engaged team are yours for the taking.
Why is collaboration important?
Let’s take a closer look at why teamwork is a must for every organization.
- It gives employees a broader perspective
First on the list: variety. Collaboration brings a range of perspectives to the table. When you work in silos, you miss the broader picture or get overly tied to your own blinkered view. Conversely, when you work together, you have a unique opportunity to see things from different angles, get insight into other parts of the organization, access new ways of thinking, benefit from others’ experience, and generally come up with more comprehensive solutions because of this broader perspective.
- It fuels creativity and innovation
There’s also the creativity factor. As we mentioned above, when team members collaborate, they also bring together a wide spectrum of experiences, skills, and perspectives. It’s in this collective intellectual environment that creativity flourishes, and innovation becomes the norm. In fact, studies show that when we work together, we spark ideas off each other, which helps us explore concepts we might not have thought up alone.
- It builds connection between remote teams
Disconnect and loneliness was a big problem during the pandemic, with a whopping 40% of remote workers listing loneliness and struggles with collaboration as their biggest challenges during the pandemic. Things have improved, but loneliness is still an issue — and successful collaboration can help.
Loneliness, collaboration and communication are still significant challenges among remote workers in 2023 (Image source)
As remote working becomes the new normal, fostering a sense of connection is more important than ever. Effective collaboration can bridge the geographical distance between team members, creating a shared sense of purpose and identity. Collaboration tools provide opportunities for online teamwork, which can be a big help in overcoming the challenges posed by remote working.
- It strengthens company culture and fosters inclusivity
Collaboration also plays a big role in fostering a sense of inclusivity in the workplace. Projects and tasks are shared, meaning everyone has a stake in the outcome and feels their contributions matter.
This can do wonders for team morale and job satisfaction. But it also helps those from diverse backgrounds feel heard and valued. It’s an opportunity for everyone (not just a select few) to share their insights, challenge the status quo, and really make a difference. Plus, in a truly collaborative environment, everyone’s ideas get equal airtime. That means each individual feels included and respected — a big win for team harmony.
- It empowers employees to share their ideas
When it’s done right, collaboration creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable and confident to voice their thoughts, no matter what their status in the company. This means not just the big, game-changing ideas, but also the smaller suggestions that can lead to incremental improvements. It’s in this sharing environment that creative solutions are found.
- It improves employee engagement
Collaboration goes hand-in-hand with engagement. When employees see their work contributing to a shared goal, they’re likely to be more invested in both their day-to-day tasks, and the success of the organization as a whole. Collaboration can also make work feel more meaningful, both in terms of its company-wide importance, as well as its role in helping others on the team do their job.
- It boosts retention
Feeling like you’re part of a bigger thing does wonders for motivation — and 33% of employees say the ability to collaborate makes them more loyal. Employee loyalty and retention are directly linked to the feeling of being part of a collective team. A culture of collaboration sends the message that every team member’s contribution is valued, boosting job satisfaction and loyalty. By encouraging a culture of teamwork, you can boost employee retention. It’s that simple!
- It builds trust
Trust is the backbone of effective collaboration. By working together and sharing ideas, team members learn to depend on each other and build professional relationships. This trust becomes the foundation for open communication, shared risk-taking, and, ultimately, successful teamwork.
- It helps the team solve problems
More heads are often better than one when it comes to problem-solving. Collaboration encourages team members to bring their perspectives and expertise to tackle challenges. This collective approach can lead to more creative solutions and faster resolution of issues. From brainstorming games (yes you can do them remotely), to wandering over to a colleague’s desk and asking for help — a problem shared is a problem halved, or so the saying goes.
How top performing employees spend their time (image source)
- It fuels growth
One Avenger? Good. All of them together? Dream team! Collaboration can be a powerful driver for growth. By bringing together a diverse mix of skills, experiences, and perspectives, organizations can foster creative thinking and achieve objectives faster and more efficiently.
- It’s (usually) better for efficiency
Speaking of efficiency — collaboration can give your productivity a boost. By sharing tasks, resources, and synchronizing efforts, teams can achieve more together than they could individually.
That said, there’s a reason the saying ‘too many cooks spoils the broth’ exists. Throw too many people into the mix and you’ll slow things down rather than speed them up. To minimize your chances of this happening, invest in good quality project management software. That way, you can assign tasks to just enough people, fall back on automatic tracking, and parse data for insights that will help you make smarter decisions. Like a conductor, a good project manager knows collaboration requires careful orchestration.
- It results in better products
A study by Verizon found that good collaboration positively improves product quality by 34% and product development by 30%. Ultimately, effective collaboration can lead to superior products or services. With everyone’s input and expertise contributing to the end result, you can ensure that your offering is the best it can be.
What happens if you don’t collaborate (or do it badly)?
When collaboration is absent or ineffective, it can lead to all kinds of miscommunication. Without a solid platform for sharing ideas and information, things can get lost in translation, leading to confusion, mistakes, and inefficiencies like duplicates. Not exactly a plan for success.
Additionally, a lack of collaboration can hinder creativity. If everyone’s working in their own silos, it’s hard to benefit from the collective brainpower of the team. And when new ideas aren’t sparked, the organization can risk becoming stagnant.
Then there’s the team dynamics to consider. Without collaboration, team members may feel isolated or like their work is pointless, leading to low morale and decreased job satisfaction. It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re not part of the team’s collective wins.
Finally, when collaboration is done poorly, conflict flourishes. If people feel unheard or if there’s a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities, tension can quickly escalate. Nobody wants to work in a pressure cooker!
Different types of collaborative working
Collaboration isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, so let’s take a closer look at its different iterations.
This is what first springs to mind when people hear the word ‘collaboration.’ It’s all about a group of people, each with their own skills and perspectives, working together to achieve a common goal. This could be a departmental team working on a project or a cross-functional team pooling their talents to solve a more complicated problem.
Here, we’re talking about a larger scale of collaboration. This could involve different organizations, businesses, or individuals within a community working together for a shared purpose. For example, businesses in a neighborhood could collaborate on a street fair or community improvement initiative.
This type of collaboration involves different departments within an organization working together. For example, the marketing department might work with the sales team to develop a new promotional campaign. This type of collaboration can break down departmental silos, improve understanding of different roles within the organization, and lead to more integrated processes. It also leads to better customer service, with each department knowing exactly what the product/service is and how each department contributes.
This is especially useful across product and sales teams: sales reps report customer queries back to the product team, who then offer detailed answers or implement changes based on that feedback.
Collaboration isn’t limited by geography. Networked collaboration involves individuals or teams working together from different locations, often leveraging digital tools to communicate and coordinate. This is particularly common in remote teams, but it’s also useful for organizations with multiple offices or for projects involving external partners in different locations.
This one’s all about the big picture. It involves collaboration between an organization and external entities such as suppliers, customers, or even competitors. The aim is to create productive outcomes that benefit all parties involved. For instance, two companies might collaborate on a joint product development project to tap into each other’s strengths and reach new markets. Or, like the McWhopperr, collabs can even work as a publicity stunt.
Best practices for effective collaboration in the workplace
Here are some best practices for effective collaboration in the workplace:
- Set clear goals and roles: If you want a symphony, not just noise, everyone needs to know what they’re doing and why. Clearly defining the project goals, individual roles, and expected outcomes gives your team a roadmap to follow. It helps eliminate confusion and makes sure everyone is on the same page from the get-go.
- Encourage open communication: Collaboration and communication go together like sunshine and ice cream. It’s important to create a space where everyone feels confident voicing their ideas and thoughts. This not only encourages creativity but also helps nip any potential issues in the bud.
- Foster a culture of respect: Collaboration means working with people having different skills, ideas, viewpoints, and communication styles. Respecting these differences is key. It’s about appreciating what each person brings to the table and understanding that every contribution is important.
- Embrace diversity: As we’ve discussed, diverse perspectives can lead to creativity. So, promote a culture that values diversity. Recognize the value different experiences, skills, and perspectives bring to the mix, as well as their potential to fire up creativity and problem-solving.
- Promote active listening: This isn’t just about hearing what’s being said; it’s about understanding it and helpfully engaging with it too. Encourage team members to practice active listening. This leads to better understanding, reduces misunderstandings, and strengthens team and interpersonal relationships.
- Provide feedback: Constructive feedback is crucial in a collaborative environment. It helps team members learn, grow, and improve. Create a culture where feedback is viewed as a tool for growth, not as criticism.
- Celebrate success together: Finally, when the team hits a home run, celebrate together! Recognizing the hard work of the team not only boosts morale but also reinforces the value of collaboration.
- Use collaboration tools: Let’s face it, we’re not in ‘90s any more. Fax, email, and phone just won’t cut it, especially now more and more people want remote and hybrid work. With numerous team collaboration tools available, working together has never been easier. Tools like shared documents, project management apps, and virtual communication platforms can streamline the collaboration process, keeping everyone connected and on track.