Teamwork and collaboration. We all know they’re important, but what exactly are they? And how can we make sure we’re doing them right?
At their most basic level, both teamwork and collaboration are simply ways of working together with others towards a common goal. This could be anything from completing a project at work to cooking lunch for friends. But whatever task lies ahead, there are a few things you need to have in place for teams to truly be effective.
It’s also helpful — especially in a work environment — to fully understand what each one means and what they look like in action. So, without further ado, let’s discuss some strategies for fostering teamwork and collaboration.
What is teamwork?
In order to answer this, let’s first look at what a team is.
A team is a group of people working together towards a common goal. But, ideally, you want it to be more than that. A good team is made up of people with complementary skill sets, who are able to rely on and support each other.
Having a shared sense of purpose is one of the most important elements of a team. Each member needs to know what their role is and how it fits into the bigger picture. Teams also need trust. Without it, it’s hard to get anything done (plus, it’s a breeding ground for micromanagement and the frustration and resentment it brings).
With that in mind, teamwork is broadly defined as the abilities, qualities, expertise, and processes different people bring to a project to accomplish a common goal.
Good teamwork involves being able to define roles, share resources, organize people according to their skills, communicate well, and understand how different people collaborate.
What are some examples of teamwork skills?
- Listening: good listeners are worth more than their weight in gold. To be a good team member, you need to listen to others and truly hear what they’re saying. This means being respectful, paying attention, and not interrupting.
- Communication: learning to share information clearly and evaluate new ideas objectively are essential skills. To communicate well, team members must welcome contributions from others, even when they disagree. (Browse our Barriers to Communication series for more tips.)
- Interpersonal skills: the ability to interact with others in a helpful and constructive way is valuable in any environment. The willingness to compromise, show empathy, and resolve conflict are all crucial interpersonal skills.
- Leadership: a good team needs people who can take charge when necessary and provide direction. Being a leader doesn’t mean bossing people around, but rather, being able to motivate and inspire others to do their best work.
- Flexibility: being flexible and adaptable is important in any team dynamic. Things will inevitably change, and being able to roll with the punches while still working towards the common goal is key.
- Problem-solving: all projects have moments when things don’t go as planned. Having the ability to come up with creative solutions to problems is essential.
- Time management: being able to manage personal time, team progress, and project timelines is an important skill. This includes the ability to plan ahead, set deadlines, and stay organized.
- A positive attitude: positivity can go a long way in any team setting. Being enthusiastic, helpful, and optimistic even when things are tough can help teams successfully navigate a range of challenges.
- Reliability: team members have to count on each other when collaborating. To be a reliable person, it’s important to foster punctuality, consistency, and commitment.
- Conflict management: conflict is bound to happen among teammates, and being able to manage it constructively is a vital skill. By communicating openly, compromising, and respecting different opinions, you can improve conflict management.
What does teamwork look like in action?
Here are three examples:
- Each member of the team has a clear understanding of their role and knows how it contributes to the overall goal.
- The team is able to rely on each other for support and assistance when needed.
- There is a strong sense of communication within the team, and everyone is up to date on progress.
What is collaboration?
Next up, collaboration!
This much-used word is similar to teamwork, in that it involves working together with others towards a common goal. However, where teamwork generally refers to a group of people with similar skills working together, collaboration often refers to people who have different areas of expertise working together.
For example, a designer might collaborate with a developer to create a new website. A marketing team might collaborate with a sales team to position a new product.
What are some examples of collaboration skills?
- Creativity: thinking creatively allows you to combine skills and resources in the most effective manner to foster innovation. After all, you’ll be working with different disciplines, and figuring out how their roles fit in with yours.
- Communication: whether you’re working in the same room or on different continents, it’s important to be able to communicate respectfully, respond punctually, and listen thoughtfully. How you communicate sets the tone for entire projects.
- Soft skills: soft skills like compromise, patience, compassion, and conflict resolution are a necessity when collaborating with people who have different areas of expertise.
- Forgiveness: mistakes and setbacks can happen at any time. Having the ability to give others the benefit of the doubt, focus on solutions, and move on is essential.
- Resource management: effective resource management (time, money, people, etc.) enables flexibility, so you aren’t left fighting over scraps or panicking as deadlines approach.
- A sense of purpose: everyone needs to remember the common goal you’re working towards. This will help your team stay focused and motivated, despite your varying disciplines, roles, and priorities.
- Collaboration tools: mastering collaboration is much easier when you have the right tools, such as project management software, chat apps, and file-sharing platforms.
- Accountability: taking responsibility for your actions can help resolve (or prevent) conflicts. To foster accountability, it’s important to clarify team roles, hard and soft deadlines, and task assignments.
What does collaboration look like in action?
Here are three quick examples of collaborative work:
- A group of people with different skills and knowledge come together to develop a product from different angles.
- Each person brings their own expertise to the table and shares data/visuals to explain why each project element matters.
- Collaborators in different roles offer fresh perspectives on a problem. As a result, other team members come up with creative solutions they couldn’t have developed on their own.
The benefits of collaborative teamwork
Collaboration is good; teamwork is good. But when you bring them both together? That’s when the magic happens. Here are some of the advantages of improving teamwork and collaboration:
- It improves diversity: when you’re working with others, you’re exposed to a greater diversity of ideas and perspectives. This can help you come up with more creative solutions and find new ways to look at problems.
- It improves motivation and productivity: staying motivated and productive is easier when teammates work towards a common goal. With everyone pulling in the same direction, you each have a sense of accountability to your team and don’t want to let others down.
- It increases understanding: collaboration creates the opportunity to learn about different areas of expertise. This is helpful in your own work, but it can also help you build a better understanding of the world around you.
- It boosts communication and interpersonal skills: you learn to hone your communication skills because you’re suddenly having to work with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. The broader your experience, the better your communication skills become.
- It lowers employee turnover: a happy team is a productive team. When employees feel appreciated and have good relationships with their colleagues, they’re more likely to stick around.
- It reduces toxic work cultures: when team members are engaged in their work, they’re less likely to engage in office politics, which can lead to office cliques.
The three pillars of collaborative teamwork
Everything you do should be underpinned by these three values: trust, tolerance, and self-awareness. Let’s look at what each of these means in a little more detail.
In order for a team to be effective, its members need to trust each other. This means everyone can rely on each other to do their fair share of the work (no social loafers here, thank you very much). It also means feeling comfortable sharing ideas and suggestions. Innovation depends on having a culture of trust.
How to promote trust
- Team-building games: these are fun activities that can help promote trust within a team. And yes, you can do team-building remotely, too.
- Encourage transparency: make sure everyone on the team is aware of what’s going on. Do they feel like they can ask questions if they’re unsure about something? Project management software can be a big help here because it lets everyone access project progress reports from one central hub. They don’t need to rely on sporadic progress updates or track someone down to get a file. PM software also works well for project managers. Instead of chasing people for updates, you can simply set up automatic notifications!
- Lead by example: as the leader of the team, it’s important to set the tone by being reliable and trustworthy yourself. Be empathetic and give people the benefit of the doubt, instead of leading with distrust and suspicion.
- Hold each other accountable: as we mentioned earlier on, it’s important to hold each other accountable. This could mean setting up a progress reporting system or simply making sure everyone is aware of deadlines.
- Focus on your workplace culture: the way you treat your team will have a big impact on how they treat each other. Make sure you’re promoting a culture of respect, trust, and bonding, where everyone feels valued.
- Reward teamwork: don’t overlook the efforts of your team. Reward them for hard work, whether it involves giving out bonuses, granting extra PTO, or hosting appreciation events.
- Be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a great team or an award-winning project. It takes time to see progress and build trust and rapport. Just be patient, and don’t give up.
- Be open to new ideas: listen to new ideas, and don’t be afraid to change course if something isn’t working. You could benefit from trying a new approach or experimenting. The more receptive you are to different ideas, the more people will feel comfortable sharing.
- Encourage positive reinforcement: getting praise for hard work can be a great motivator, so be generous with it. This could mean giving out awards or simply offering words of encouragement. Above all, encourage your team to share positive reinforcement as well, and cultivate this mentality throughout the company.
Tolerance is essential for being a decent human being — and the same goes for being a good teammate. There will always be times when people disagree with each other. It’s important to be tolerant of these differences and remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
How to promote tolerance
- Educate through exposure: oftentimes, people lack tolerance because they haven’t been exposed to other cultures, ideas, or values before. This unfamiliarity can lead to hostilities and defensiveness. Ensuring you have a diverse team can help people feel more comfortable around the unfamiliar and learn to engage with it in a productive way.
- Work on your empathy: it can be helpful to try and see things from the other person’s perspective. This doesn’t mean that you need to agree with them, but it does mean understanding where they’re coming from. When we practice empathy, we learn to act with kindness when faced with different decisions or mistakes.
- Celebrate individuality: each person on your team brings something unique to the table. It’s important to celebrate this diversity — and not just use it to your advantage. Talk about why it’s essential.
- Let different people lead: rotating who’s in charge can keep everyone on their toes, and it gives everyone a chance to shine. It also means people with different skills and priorities get a platform, which aids understanding — the foundation of tolerance.
- Give everyone a voice: feelings of resentment and powerlessness often fuel intolerance. One way to counter this is to give everyone a voice. This could mean holding regular meetings where people can share their ideas or finding other ways to make sure everyone’s opinion is heard.
Team members need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses for the team to work successfully. This means being honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do, as well as being willing to ask for help when you need it.
How to promote self-awareness
- Encourage reflection: at the end of each day, week, or project, take some time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Ongoing reflection will help you become more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas of improvement.
- Give (and receive) feedback: both positive and constructive feedback can be helpful in promoting self-awareness. Consider setting up a system where people can give feedback anonymously, and ask for general input at regular intervals. The more people get used to critiques, the more they’ll be in touch with their strengths and weaknesses. When giving feedback, try to focus on specific examples, and avoid making generalizations.
- Model self-awareness: as the leader of the team, it’s important to model self-awareness for others. Be honest about your mistakes, take responsibility for resolving issues, and be willing to ask for help when you need it.
- Promote a sense of ownership: ownership of a task or project really forces you to think about your skills and be realistic about your limitations — so encourage accountability. Everyone on the team should feel like they have a stake in the project and know exactly what they bring to the proceedings. For instance, give everyone a specific task to focus on, or let them take charge of a certain aspect of the project.
While it’s important to promote teamwork and collaboration in the workplace, it can be difficult to get everyone on board, logistically speaking. People work in different offices, not everyone likes talking on the phone, emails get missed, updates become annoying, and so on. In short, finding a way to work together that’s both effective and inclusive is no easy task. This is where collaboration tools come in.
Collaboration tools help to break down communication barriers and promote teamwork because everyone is working from one unified place, in a way that works for them.
With PM tools like Backlog, project managers can establish clear roles and responsibilities, thanks to easy task management and workflow planning. Diagramming tools like Cacoo make it simple for team members to share ideas and feedback with each other in real-time via a virtual whiteboard. And chat apps like Typetalk offer a less formal way to message others, whether they’re sitting next to you or in a different country entirely.
Set up groups, spruce up your message with a GIF, or simply drop a teammate a note to let them know they’re doing a great job. When it comes to collaborative teamwork, the more communicative and flexible you can be, the better!