Group work in school was always a hit-or-miss experience, especially since students may not have the greatest collaboration skills. Miscommunication, unreliable teammates and different work ethics would often lead to just one person completing the whole project.
As working adults, we still struggle to figure out how to work together and deal with conflict in the workplace. Yet the answer might be making sure you treat your team like they’re your friends as well as your coworkers. In its study “Creating Collaborative Spaces That Work,” Knoll determined that “employees increasingly desire social connection and engagement as part of their collaborative experience.”
How to create workplace collaboration skills that foster connection
The good news is, you probably already know how to structure your team’s work in a way that builds that connection. Because the same tactics you use to organize a dinner party with your friends can be applied to handing over a task to a group of coworkers.
1. Know your team and how they communicate
Come into the project with a sense of what each person has to offer. “That way the team gets the best from everyone,” says technical communications specialist Molly K. Gregas, “which usually leads to better outcomes.”
In addition to knowing members’ talents, it’s also helpful to know their preferred communication styles. In team collaboration situations, what seems like a difference of opinion may just be a difference in approach. Conflict-resolution facilitator Margeaux Feldman recommends asking a lot of questions and paying close attention to the answers.
“We’ll often find that people have the same aim but different ways of getting there,” Feldman says. “If you don’t love what someone has suggested or don’t understand, ask questions to better understand where they’re coming from.”
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2. Be realistic about timing
What we sometimes forget is that one of the most important collaboration skills is knowing where you’re coming from, too, and how long it will take you to get there.
“Self-awareness is so helpful to collaboration,” says Rebecca Faria, the communication coordinator at the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. “This includes knowing what you can reasonably accomplish in a given amount of time.”
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall victim to the planning fallacy. This makes us “underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task, despite knowledge that previous tasks have generally taken longer than planned.”
To more accurately estimate how long tasks will take, adopt time-tracking apps that will let you see patterns over time. Make sure you build in time for even worst-case scenarios. Incorporate some team collaboration on this topic as well by asking everyone on the project how long they think their part will take.
3. Make room for mistakes (and praise)
If you do find yourself behind schedule, it’s important to flag it straight away (rather than hope no one notices). In a positive work environment, everyone knows they don’t have to be perfect.
“We’re all allowed to make mistakes,” says digital strategist Suraya Casey. “But we need to acknowledge when we do.”
You don’t have to go into a ton of detail when offering a mea culpa. Business researchers determined that, when apologizing, “acknowledgement of responsibility was viewed as most important, offer of repair second, and explanation third.”
Along with making space for mistakes, a key collaboration skill is giving positive feedback. Marketing manager Lana Leprich says there is huge value in “pointing out areas where people are excelling and pumping them up about it, giving praise where it’s due. It’s incredible how much more productive, upbeat and smooth collaboration goes when people feel heard and valued.”
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4. Keep in touch
To make sure your teammates know your perspective, training and education specialist Steph Guthrie suggests writing it all up in a document or message “that concisely but comprehensively and clearly sums up what is happening and what you need.” That way your coworkers have a point of reference they can check before they throw out a question to the group.
Game developer Jonna Pedersen advises using that message to also give out some compliments. In addition to its boosting morale, she says, “a team that’s generous with validation is a team that will get more updates, because it will feel good to share where you’re at in your process.”
Remember: teams are made up of people
“At every stage of a team collaboration project, it is important to look around the room and remember that everyone there is bringing their own context, needs and even collaboration skills to the table—including you,” says Jordan Trout, the government relations coordinator at PeopleForBikes. “Ego is the death of collaboration.”
A collection of humans will always have some imperfect moments along the way. But what happens between those imperfect moments can add up to something amazing.
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