No doubt you’ve heard it too – the idea that successful team collaboration depends on us working “side-by-side” on spontaneous water cooler moments. The need to be co-located (working together in-person) to improve collaboration is instilled by executives as a prime reason to return to the office.
As a fully remote team, we question this assumption. So, we did a deep dive into collaboration to find out what really drives success. We discovered six elements of successful team collaboration – and surprise! Co-location isn’t one of them.
What is Collaboration and Why Is It Important?
The Cambridge dictionary defines collaboration as “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.”
Humans have an inner need to collaborate. Turns out we are genetically programmed to join groups and work together on a shared task, just as we are programmed to run or fight if threatened or find food if we’re hungry. Groups of humans who learned how to come together to hunt and gather food, divide up the labour, protect the young and vulnerable and increase the size of the group simply survived longer.
In the modern world, not only is collaboration important for meeting our current-day challenges, we have a natural urge to collaborate.
Six Elements of Successful Team Collaboration
|Successful team collaborations have six elements in common:|
1. Trust: Team members have a tacit trust in each other.
They trust their colleagues to have the needed skills and knowledge and to share a commitment to the goal. Team members also trust their leader has hired the right people with the needed skills and experience. Healthy relationships between team members build on that trust.
Trust is one of the most important elements of successful team collaboration. A dysfunctional team that doesn’t trust each other, work well together, have the required skill set or knowledge or is not committed to the mission will be a disaster for the collaboration’s outcomes. The people who are the most passionate and knowledgeable about the mission and who have the necessary commitment, relevant skills and background will end up carrying the workload of those who don’t, and people will quickly become disengaged.
2. A common goal: Successful team collaboration requires that everyone understands and aligns with the goal to be achieved.
The team should share a passion and commitment to the mission, even if the final outcomes are not yet clear.
3. Clear benefits: For successful team collaboration, people need to see a benefit to themselves and know that the collaboration is a good use of their time.
Benefits could include financial reward, being seen as successful by management, the satisfaction of being part of something bigger than themselves, deriving meaning and purpose from participation, and the chance to fulfill a mission.
4. Resources: An under-funded or under-resourced project is doomed at the outset.
Struggling for funds, operating without the right tools and training, and not being able to staff the collaboration properly makes it difficult to achieve the end goal. Beyond that, under-resourcing a project gives the impression that the project is not considered important, which can impact the team’s motivation and commitment to the project.
For successful team collaboration, leaders must ensure the required resources are available and approved. Leaders must also ensure team members have the clearance to commit time to the project.
5. Skilled leadership: The leader of a successful team collaboration must have the skills to ensure the factors for success are working—and be accountable if something goes wrong!
Equally important, the leader must take a human-centric approach to leadership, which will go a long way toward keeping people engaged and contributing their best to the team. Human-centric leadership skills include:
• Motivating the team
• Providing appropriate feedback
• Listening to and evaluating ideas
• Being approachable
• Welcoming input from the team
• Showing appreciation and celebrating achievements.
6. A plan: Successful team collaboration is a journey, and like any journey, you need plans for how to get from A to B.
Your plan should:
• Add a process, structure and accountability to your collaboration
• Outline the scope and timeframe of the collaboration
• Include the required tools and resources
• Identify processes for brainstorming and evaluating ideas, converging on solutions and making decisions
• Define team member roles and responsibilities
• Include co-created group guidelines of how to work together.
Make sure to get important workshop dates on everyone’s calendars, and come up with some contingencies in case of significant changes in conditions during the collaboration (e.g., changes in resources or team make-up). Include a communication plan to update everyone, including stakeholders!
When to Get the Team Together (and how to make the most of your time together)
As you can see, successful team collaboration depends on many factors. Bringing everyone together in the office does not automatically guarantee success, and the six factors of success can be addressed by leaders who do so with intention even while working remotely.
Having said that, the most important success factor – trust – requires that team members spend time together and develop relationships that reinforce and build on the trust already present. Getting everyone together is a great way to build trust, but simply asking people to come back to the office only to go to their cubicles and log onto Zoom will not create the desired results!
A team retreat, also known as an offsite, allows dedicated time for teams to focus on getting to know each other better. Team retreats can be fun and productive. Whether one day or three, include activities that build relationships alongside collaborative work that furthers your objectives, along with an adequate amount of time for informal social activities.
Leaders who call everyone back to the office in the name of improving collaboration may be disappointed to find that serendipitous “water cooler” moments and working side-by-side don’t improve collaboration. Successful team collaboration depends on a leader intentionally addressing the six elements of successful team collaboration, with a focus on relationship building, trust, a common mission and adequate resources. Bringing everyone together can reinforce relationships and build trust. Team retreats are a great way to make the most of the time teams do spend together, while allowing for the flexibility to work remotely that everyone desires.
For a deep dive into the six elements of successful team collaboration, along with best practices and tips and tools for leading remote collaboration, download the white paper, Collaboration 2.0: The Myth of Co-location.
By Laura Bowley, Chief of Opportunity Neolé Inc.