Make the most of collaboration and avoid common mistakes

Collaboration is vital to an agile business, plus it is one of the best ways to be effectively creative.

July 30, 2013

By Frank Reinelt, Senior Director for Northern Europe & Emerging Markets at Mindjet

Collaboration is vital to an agile business, plus it is one of the best ways to be effectively creative. That is, by bringing together limited resources, people and great ideas, collaboration plays an important role in companies rising above the rest and remaining ahead of their game.

To help teams to capitalise on collaboration on their way to the top, the following four tips are offered:

1. Every cell needs a nucleus

Collaboration works because it makes the most of the resources at hand by aggregating them and abandoning traditional hierarchies — but that’s not to say that form and leadership should be tossed out the window. Think of collaborative teams as cells. Every part has a function, but none of the pieces can get much done without the nucleus. Team leaders matter, even if they’re more of a mediator than a commander. Putting someone at the core of the group doesn’t diminish collaborative efforts; instead, it focuses them and provides support for the team.

2. One bad apple

Because collaboration is such an interdependent activity, it doesn’t take much to trip it up. If a problem can be eradicated, it needs to be. Issues like unnecessary paperwork or a team member that’s not really invested in outcomes, can cause dissension and delays. Finding the weaknesses in a team or process and weeding them out as they’re discovered isn’t going to waste nearly as much time as re-doing work.

3. Not everyone is created equal

Another misconception about collaboration: everyone involved has to put forward the same time and effort, and produce a commensurate number of deliverables, as everyone else. Truth is, collaboration is more about balance and working in unity in order to achieve milestones.

4. Two heads at first might be better than 12 at once

Collaboration is more of an evolving process that starts with one or two people, eventually swelling out to include others or, when one person’s role is complete, releasing them. And that’s totally okay — in fact, it’s smart to utilise collaboration’s pliability. Reprioritisation, turnover and disruption become much less impactful when the structure of your partnership or team isn’t entirely dependent on a fixed foundation.

As you put these tips into play, it is also important to focus on the following four collaboration mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Hearing what you want is not collaboration

All it takes to kill cohesion is willfully ignoring ideas that don’t precisely fit stakeholder agendas. Remember, there are no stupid ideas. Which means the team can’t shut down or shut out suggestions. Rather collect all information and prioritise it. This way it acknowledges everyone’s contribution to the effort.

2. We are not all on the same (web) page

Not everyone uses the same tools when they work together on a project. But often, people make the cavalier assumption that everyone they’re collaborating with is already making use of the same stuff. The immediate solution could be to lay down an edict about which devices or programs are “allowed,” and that might work for a minute. But beware — people generally work the way that they do because it’s the most effective way for them to get things done, and you could simply be asking them to disrupt their processes or duplicate them. That definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage the team to at least perform project-specific tasks using one method, but be prepared to train individuals, answer questions, and most importantly, demonstrate the value of the tools you’ve chosen.

3. Don’t wash your hands of the project entirely until the deadline hits

People need motivation and reassurance, and in fact, recognition for a great idea or a job well done is often cited as the number one driver behind effective, passionate employees. Peer support is important, but endorsement from stakeholders is validating and fuels ambition.

4. Lastly, don’t be anti-social

The untapped possibilities are surprising. A 2012 McKinsey & Company report states, “The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information.”

In terms of collaboration, that means more time spent doing and a lot less time figuring out what you should be doing.