Check Yourself...Four simple checks to make sure your collaboration is working

80% of employees surveyed said internal/external collaboration was important to the company’s success

80% of employees surveyed said internal/external collaboration was important to the company’s success

You know the emails you keep getting from HR and the executive team about increasing collaboration only to see ZERO ideas or examples on how to accomplish this? Or maybe you find yourself in collaboration overload where you bounce from one meeting to another. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

In a HBR article, the majority of employees surveyed spent 80% of their time in meetings, phone calls, and responding to emails, leaving little time for real collaboration. Effective communication in the workplace is essential for the bottom line and, more importantly, your general well-being (it’s like networking at a function).  

So, what can we do to improve collaboration at work? Here are 4 points that we can apply tomorrow.

Data Spot: If you're kind of person who needs some data before diving in, look no further...

  • According to another HBR article, over 80% of employees surveyed said internal/external collaboration was important to the company’s success (better yet…how about this nugget: “Organizations reporting 10% growth or more in the past two years were more likely to give high priority to collaboration compared with those who were neutral or gave low priority.)
  • Another nice point…3 out of 4 employees surveyed on collaboration cited leadership and organizational culture as the two things “that would improve collaboration in their organization.” 
  • “In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” WHAT?! This isn't rocket science, right?

So, in reality, what can we do if our bosses aren’t taking initiative or we work remotely or we’re on different continents and time zones impede communication? 

1st Tip - Size Doesn’t Matter

For starters, let’s agree that collaboration is NOT CC’ing a huge number of people on a lengthy 4-page email. There are no points for having the most employees on a message. If you’re the person who isn’t comfortable sending something to other departments without checking with your boss and your boss’ boss first, you might have trouble collaborating. People don’t want to see a bunch of managers on an email when they’re being asked for their feedback. There’s a lot of implied judgement in these cases that detracts (statistically) from what you really want: good advice.

Instead, collaboration IS sending a brief email explaining the problem and solution AND asking for feedback that you will actually take onboard. If co-workers find that they take the time to provide feedback only to never hear if it was useful or to see how that advice was used, you can expect the quality of responses to decrease over time.

So, as a starter, let’s send more emails that go to the smallest group of people necessary who can ACTUALLY provide the best advice for your situation and without CC’ing their bosses to keep the interaction more informal. Let’s make those emails brief and to-the-point while laying out a problem, a proposed solution, and a clear request for feedback. Boom! Step 1, done.

2nd Tip - Leaders and Followers (we can be both)

3 out of 4 employees surveyed on collaboration cited leadership and organizational culture as the two things “that would improve collaboration in their organization.”

3 out of 4 employees surveyed on collaboration cited leadership and organizational culture as the two things “that would improve collaboration in their organization.”

Next, let’s agree that collaboration is also NOT telling others what to do. We’ve all had the overzealous peer who seems to feel comfortable giving directions without any authority. Over time, trust with people like this erodes and while they may feel like they’re accomplishing their goals, they’re increasingly isolating themselves (we can ALL think of a few of these people). 

Look, every team or project can benefit from a leader. The truth, however, is that collaboration breaks down if people don’t feel they have a REAL voice. If you think acting like they have a voice only to later not take their comments to heart will go unnoticed…think again.

Instead, let’s make our peers and colleagues feel secure in providing feedback. This can be REALLY hard if you take criticism too hard. There are so many examples of people in this world who have failed in their job only to rebound back better than ever (we need look no further than Hollywood). For some reason, we don’t think we can recover if someone is kind of critical of our (likely) insignificant weekly project. We have to learn to be easier on ourselves so we can make ourselves and our results better.

Something we need to remember here is that our peers can tell when we’re putting on a show about taking criticism well as opposed to really internalizing (without judgement) their feedback. Because of that, we need to make sure how we act is commensurate with what we say. If we can do that…problem solved.

These are the lessons almost all of us learn the hard way when we’re younger in the work force. Those who master these skills earliest will often be the most successful in the long run.

3rd Tip - Houses and Electricians

What if you’re working on a project that requires coordination and input from other business units, departments, or customers? As you’re collaborating on these efforts, are you including key people from those other departments or are you stove-piped in your own world? You can’t build a house with just an electrician, even if the electrician's work is critical to the final product. In the same regard, we can’t expect to have an airtight project completed if we don’t have input from the right stakeholders in all the affected departments. This is one of the times where a failure to communicate early on to save time leads to serious setbacks down the road.

Let’s remember here, though, that we don’t need to flood those other departments. It might take some heavy lifting on our part before we send the email to MAKE SURE we’re sending our messages to the right people who can make the decisions at their level and who are willing to provide solid feedback in a timely manner. Phone calls can get this done and make your email land in a more receptive inbox.

Share the success. You trade short-term credit for longer-term success.

Share the success. You trade short-term credit for longer-term success.

4th Tip - Don’t be stingy…

Lastly, AND THIS IS CRITICAL, let’s not forget to give credit where credit is due. If you’re the one who gets credit for the final product but you got solid feedback and advice along the way, be SURE to share your praise with others (and when we say that, we of course are talking about sending those positive messages to the bosses of those people who helped you along the way).

What have you seen at work that could be useful for positive collaboration? 

For more tips on how communication can make our lives better and more interesting, check out Convers8.