Increasing Collaboration on Your Team

Author: Britt Andreatta
Posted On: July 28, 2020

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Did you know that the amount of time employees spend engaged in collaborative work has increased by roughly 50%? For many people, collaborating on teams routinely takes up 80% or more of their time! 

Collaboration is so important and yet many people don’t do it well. When you get collaboration right, you generate all kinds of positive results, not only for you, but for the teams you lead and the organization you serve. 

Three Types of Teamwork

Think about your own experiences working on teams. At one minute, you might be engaging with teammates in a deep conversation about how to solve a problem. The next moment, you might be updating another group about the status of a project. And a day later you might be stalled out because you cannot proceed until a colleague hands-off something to you. 

These examples actually represent 3 different types of teamwork.

First, Coordination is defined as the orchestrated efforts of individuals or groups to align or synchronize their separate actions. 

This means that they exchange relevant information and resources in support of each other’s distinct goals but they remain independent. 

An example would be when the IT department communicates to Facilities that they plan on changing out computers during a certain week. 

Secondly, Cooperation is the coordinated efforts of a group of two or more people to perform their assigned portion of a shared process or task. 

They are dependent on each other to execute a mutual objective. 

For example, IT relies on Finance and Shipping to ensure that new computers are purchased and delivered on time for installation. 

Thirdly, Collaboration is the mutual engagement of a group of two or more in a co-creative effort that achieves a shared goal or vision. They are interdependent, with each person’s unique contribution essential to the whole. 

Collaboration is a special act of co-creation, and the outcomes are often both unpredictable and impossible to achieve without the contributions of every member. Collaboration is a unique form of working where there is a synergy and shared influence by the members of the group. 

An example would be several people working together to redesign the product, or shift aspects of the organization’s culture.

These three types of teamwork live on a continuum from simple to complex. So, ask yourself: How well do your teams move across the teamwork continuum? And are you assigning collaborative work to the right teams?

As a leader, you can help teams succeed by communicating clear expectations about the type of teamwork expected of them and making sure team members have the skills to do their part well.

The Conditions for Collaboration 

As you can imagine, the term “collaboration” is overused in today’s workplaces with people saying that they are collaborating when really, they are coordinating or cooperating. 

Collaboration requires building trust, engaging in creativity and innovation, and having a mindful process for resolving the inevitable conflict that arises from this most complex form of work.

True collaboration also requires special conditions, ones that are more difficult to create than you might think. So how do we create the right conditions for collaboration?  

First, the task or project must truly be collaborative in nature. It has to have a shared vision that all the members care about but the way forward or solution is not clear and could potentially go many different ways.

Second, the team members must have the skills to engage in collaboration. They need the ability to build relationships with others, developing trust even when they don’t see eye to eye. They have to be willing to create or innovate and not just stick with the tried and true or status quo. They also must be comfortable with conflict and skilled at working through it while preserving relationships.

Did you know that conflict about a task can increase creativity, but interpersonal conflict can decrease it? Conflict resolution skills are vital to team health because they help the members wrestle with the diverse ideas and work styles each brings to the team without harming the trust necessary to perform at their best.

Team members also need to have what is called collaborative intelligence or CQ. 

CQ was discovered by Dr. Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur, authors of Collaborative Intelligence. They say that CQ is the ability to think with others, valuing the diverse ways people frame questions, process information, and innovate new ideas.

Third, team members need to be able to co-create an environment where they feel safe enough to tussle with ideas, take risks and make mistakes. This is also known as psychological safety. First identified by Harvard’s Dr. Amy Edmondson, several studies have shown that psychological safety is a key element of thriving teams.

It is not the mere absence of intimidation or harassment, but rather the climate for teams to do their best work. She defines psychological safety as

“a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. It is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” 

Obviously, psychological safety is the foundation from which true collaboration can grow. Team members need to have it with each other and also with the team leader.

If you want to create collaboration in your organization, consider how you can put these ideas into action. 

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