In good company: How to create a culture of collaboration at work

High-performing teams need more than the latest tools to do their best work—they need to know that their managers value teamwork too

Image Credit: Kelsey Wroten

Many managers assume that the key to leading high-performing teams is to hire talented individuals and then do whatever you can to keep them happy. But that’s only part of the puzzle. According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, “Happiness is a great starting point, but just measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels and catering to their wants often fails to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement: improved business outcomes.”

In other words, it’s not just important that you keep employees happy; you have to pay attention to how you’re keeping them happy. Often, high-performing teams respond less to perks (though those are nice too) than to a workplace culture that offers them the best tools to work with, meaningful connections, a collaborative workplace culture, and leaders who are transparent and value teamwork.

Invest in tech that brings teams together

Technology is making it easier than ever for high-performing employees to collaborate. “Social applications allow people to work not just faster and cheaper, but also in ways they simply couldn’t have before,” Heidi Gardner, author of Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, told the Harvard Business Review.

Gardner also praises technology’s ability to promote collaboration across organizations, since digital tools—messaging apps, employee experience hubs, survey platforms—have the power to boost productivity, streamline processes, and open up lines of communication (the lack of which, according to a Harvard survey, is what 67% of workers say is the largest obstacle to collaboration).

And interestingly, it’s not just traditional offices that can benefit from introducing these new technologies into the workplace. Leaders in every industry—from food service to wildlife tourism—can leverage digital communication tools to create a culture of collaboration at work, whether by facilitating instant connections between teams and team members or giving employees access to a searchable archive of information that can be called up at any time by employees new and old.

collaboration in the workplace image of people working together in different spaces
Manage large, complex teams with Slack’s Enterprise Grid

Unlimited workspaces give every group a place to organize their work.

Get started

Make collaboration a priority  

But companies need more than new technology to create a collaborative work environment where high-performing teams can thrive. At a tactical level, providing team members with tools for collaboration can improve communication and make companies feel more transparent. But no single app or platform can fix a workplace culture that’s fundamentally broken.

Before turning to tech for solutions, it’s worth considering whether company leaders prioritize teamwork. If managers don’t communicate with employees or listen to their ideas, meaningful collaboration between coworkers is unlikely, and the introduction of a new tool might have little effect.  

According to Jim Clifton, the chairman and CEO of Gallup, employees are most likely to quit because of poor leadership. “Employees everywhere don’t necessarily hate the company or organization they work for as much as they do their boss,” he writes. “Employees—especially the stars—join a company and then quit their manager.”

Something as simple as asking employees for their opinions could be the invitation they need to offer up their own contributions. If you want employees to collaborate, start by leading by example.

Help team members build bonds  

At its heart, building a culture of collaboration means creating a work environment gives workers space to communicate openly and honestly and to form meaningful bonds with one another. “When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business,” writes Annamarie Mann, a former workplace analytics practice manager at Gallup.

And the research supports this: 75% of people who report having a best friend at work also say they’re ready to take on new challenges and initiatives. Comparatively, only 58% of those who don’t have a close bond with coworkers say they feel the same way.

High-performing teams are often the result of employees feeling safe to voice their opinions and share their ideas, so implementing a basic no-idea-is-a-bad-idea policy is a good place to start. Regular offsite meetings and specific opportunities for learning and experimentation can also help employees feel like their contributions are valued.

working on projects
Slack-Powered HR

Learn how Slack-powered HR departments accelerate change, save time, and strengthen relationships across their organizations.

Learn More

Make room for remote team members  

Just because your team may prefer to send messages, don’t underestimate the value of in-person meetings or simple one-on-one interactions. Personal connection is one of the things employees, especially those working remotely, need most. “Having people travel to the location of their other team members really helps to provide that contextual knowledge that’s missing [from digital communication],” says Stanford University professor Pamela Hinds. “And the benefits accrue for a long period of time—that knowledge stays with people after they go home.”

Engaging with employees doesn’t always have to happen under such elaborate circumstances, but it’s still important to make time for regular face-to-face teamwork with in-office employees. Whether you choose to host weekly check-ins or a monthly virtual brainstorming session. There are also plenty of simple ways to connect with dispersed team members on a daily basis:

  • Use collaboration tools for accessible two-way conversation
  • Schedule video conferences for informal check-ins and feedback
  • Celebrate contributions and achievements with the team, whether with gifts or a parade of emoji

When employees are given the tools to efficiently work with each other—remotely or otherwise—heightened team performance follows.

Give good feedback often  

It’s part of a leader’s job to celebrate and encourage employees who do great work, but it doesn’t always have to happen in formal reviews. “People think that this whole ‘feedback thing’ has to take a whole lot of time, when in the best working relationships, where people really do learn and grow and support each other, feedback is just woven into their workflow a few minutes at a time,” says Sheila Heen, a Harvard Law School lecturer and co-founder of Triad Consulting Group.

Send your employees a quick email, use clever apps to share praise, or better yet, provide feedback in the moment. According to Heen, short interactions like this—just a few minutes at a time—open the door to ongoing communication and collaboration between team members and present more frequent opportunities for them to learn and improve as a unit.

What’s clear is that creating a collaborative work environment requires more than simply dividing employees into groups. Collaboration, facilitated both through technology and in-person gatherings, is the result of many individuals coming together as one. Leadership included.

The cover of an ebook by Slack featuring results from a custom survey about what employees really want and the value of trust, teamwork, and transparency
What Employees Want

Communication at work? It's complicated. In this study of knowledge workers, commissioned by Slack, we shed light on how enterprises can help employees collaborate more efficiently.

Learn more

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.