How to Build a Collaborative Team
In the life of a company, there are an increasingly large number of circumstances where it is suddenly necessary to assemble a team of people with special skills who can come together to get a major project done.
Whether your company is acquiring another, engaging in a full information technology overhaul, planning massive layoff or hirings, rolling out a new product or service, fixing a major service problem or even expanding to a new country, you need the best talent that you have in-house and on a contract basis.
The trouble is, as many human resources specialists can attest, just putting people together doesn’t mean that they will work well together.
Sometimes the experts don’t want to share their knowledge so the benefit of shared learning doesn’t happen. Sometimes the philosophy of everyone pitching in together doesn’t fly because skill does not necessarily mean flexibility. You hope that team members will help each other through each project phase, but optimism doesn’t make it so and some team members may instead engage in conflict. Diversity, long considered a strength, can also be a weakness if the workers are too different from each other and have no common base from which to start their relationship.
Today’s workplace circumstances bring other unique challenges. For example, because of the complexity of the challenges, teams often have to be much larger than the optimal 20 members traditionally considered a team. They are also created from people who have no history of working with each other. When contract workers are involved, they may not even share the same corporate vision and intent.
How can you take all these factors into consideration and still build a collaborative work team?
Here are 12 steps to success:
- Ensure that the team has full support from the top even before it starts. The first meeting must have the CEO present to explain the vision of the project and its importance. Key executives need to be present to give sincere affirmations of support, and they have to be willing to follow through on those promises.
- If the team is working in the same physical workspace, ensure that is has an open layout for easy communication, as well as some private “think rooms.” Be creative about finding ways to get the team members to interact with each other. Build a running track around the building. Establish a really good cafeteria that encourages sitting and mingling. Put a couch and some comfortable chairs in the coffee lounge.
- When you know that a big project is in the long-term outlook, start assembling some of the team members on smaller projects so they will develop a comfort level of working together.
- Build flexibility into your team by trying to get people who can substitute for each other should one member become ill or get tied up on some aspect of the project. As a great example, consider the Standard Chartered Bank which formed in 1969 through a merger of two banks and now operates in 57 companies. It has a policy that all key executives can substitute for each other in any place at any time, since everyone on the team is so familiar with the policies and vision of the company.
- Bring back face-to-face meetings. While communication through messaging systems and email is efficient, bringing your team members into the same room is not the waste of time you might think it is. That is how people start to grow comfortable with each other.
- Establish a strong monitoring culture within your firm as a means of training potential team members to be comfortable helping others.
- Before the project starts, work in a few sessions on skills in collaborative work methods.
- Before the project begins, ensure that every team member is clear on the overall end game and the corporate intent. This needs to be known by every team member regardless of whether or not they are a full-time employee, a contract worker, or whether they are support staff or have an expert skill set.
- Focus on letting the team members know they are appreciated. When you build a culture of gratitude, it spreads.
- Select the right team leaders who value a collaborative approach. In the movies, it’s great to pick the lone wolf and put them in charge, but in real life, it works much better if the leader knows how to work collaboratively.
- When possible, include in your team some workers who have pre-existing histories of working well together. Their comradery will be contagious and will set the stage for how others work.
- Make sure that each of your highly skilled workers also has time and space to work independently when necessary. A collaborative workplace does not mean a chatty one where people throw out ideas to each other all day long. People with highly-developed skill sets often prefer to work quietly on their part of a project until it is time to present their results to the team. Respect their right to quiet creativity.
There is no one size fits all solution to creating a more collaborative team. Depending on your industry, the scope of the project and the overall culture of your workplace, the solution will change. Just remember there are a lot of tools out there that fosters team collaboration such as BoostHQ. BoostHQ allows you to share links, files, and thoughts on topics that matter with your team, and allows everyone to discuss and share findings they think will be beneficial and useful to the team as well.