What Effective Collaboration Looks Like (and Doesn’t)

What Effective Collaboration Looks Like (and Doesn’t)

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Collaboration is one of the best ways to harness an organization’s talent and foster innovation. But for all of its benefits, collaboration is sometimes hard to achieve. There are telltale signs that your efforts at collaboration aren’t working — and surefire ways to fix them.

Signs of Effective Collaboration

Things are working well when you can see the results you expect from good collaboration. Everyone has a sense of shared goals and objectives. The company is moving ahead with new and promising ideas. There’s collective celebration over successes, including those of individual team members and the company. So how do you get here? These are some precursors to effective collaboration.

Healthy Exchange of Ideas

Sometimes conflict isn’t a bad idea. In business collaboration, respectful dialogue about different perspectives can lead to new solutions. Team members and representatives across departments should feel welcome to discuss points of view. This healthy exchange is what collaboration should achieve, as it leads to out-of-the-box thinking, and overall awareness of crucial elements of decision-making.

Perhaps leadership plans to shift its customer support resources to online forms of communication and reduce the number of live agents available. Sales and marketing might have data that shows their target demographic prefers telephone communication, so getting rid of live agents could lead to a decline in sales. These debates help teams find out new important facts and plan appropriately.

Multi-Discipline Projects

Successful collaboration is part of the workflow, as people from distinct divisions must come together to achieve a common goal. This not only leads to mutual respect, but a more successful outcome. Participants in multi-discipline projects use each other’s strengths and experiences to achieve an end goal that benefits all segments of the company.

Often it takes multiple departments to achieve a goal. For example, to increase add-on revenue for a telecommunications company, a project might involve sales and marketing to get the new product to consumers, with operations onboard to strategize how to handle additional customer support queries and call volume.

Aligned Goals Across Divisions

Many organizations fall into a trap of believing all departments share the same goal. But if they are not measurable and well-defined, those goals can get lost in translation. Goal alignment means everyone in on the same page about what the company’s trying to do, and what particular role each division plays.

Signs of Poor Collaboration

The flip-side of good collaboration is poor collaboration. This might occur even if an organization has done its best to encourage people to work together. But teamwork is not the same as collaboration. It is not enough that everyone feels connected to the company and respects their fellow employees and leadership. Collaboration means active participation across divisions, in order to advance the company’s goals in a thoughtful and innovative way. So, when is innovation not in the cards? Here are a few red flags.

Silent Team Members During Meetings

Healthy debate and discussion are essential. That doesn’t mean everyone has to talk over everyone else during every team gathering. But if employees are reluctant to speak up or show little enthusiasm during brainstorming sessions, the culture of collaboration likely isn’t present. Some people will talk more than others, but a general feeling that team members are waiting to be told what to do often shows a lack of healthy collaboration.

Redundant Tasks and Projects

One benefit of collaboration is the reduction of wasted resources, as teams work together to achieve common goals. When there’s clear evidence of redundancy, collaboration has not occurred or didn’t occur in the right context. It’s easy to spot redundancy. If the adage “great minds think alike” describes individual team members or objectives in distinct divisions, something has gone wrong.

For example, if both sales and marketing asked the data team to produce a similar report, there’s been a failure to collaborate. Collaboration would have produced one report the teams could share and likely could have made it sufficiently comprehensive with the addition of data points from each team.

Poor Communication Between Teams

When teams operate independently, it’s often a case of “siloing,” where teams know their own role and objectives but are oblivious to the work of others. In a collaborative environment, silos don’t exist. At a minimum, there’s formal, regular communication between teams in order to develop comprehensive approaches to company goals.

If an organization relies on informal communication — popping into an office to see what’s going on in another department — it isn’t enough. Leaders should integrate collaboration into the company structure, by envisioning pathways between divisions as part of the organizational chart.

Forging the Path to Effective Collaboration

If you see some signs that collaboration is not working at your organization, there’s good news. You can move ahead with a plan to foster communication between teams and encourage open discussion and debate. Over time, you can create an environment when all parts of the company work together toward common goals.

Check out our top tips to building a strategic alignment plan for your business.

Catherine Lovering
About the Author
Catherine Lovering

Catherine Lovering has written on personal finance and careers for the past 10 years. She has been published on Interest.com, Healthline, and Paste.

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