The importance of team collaboration cannot be understated. Business is about bottom lines, and metrics, but team dynamics form the foundation of every successful venture. A good business plan is only as successful as the team that constructs it. However, in a data-driven society that seeks results and the immediacy of returns on investments, oftentimes, building team camaraderie falls through the cracks.
Keys to Successful Team Collaboration
NBA Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each individual member is the team”. Being part of a team requires personal egos and agendas to be checked at the door. Collaboration is about inviting new ideas into the room and challenging our positions. It requires each individual to show humility and accept a role for a larger cause. Often, our personal positions invite complacency into our thinking. This creates stagnant behavior patterns and limits the evolution of ideas. Diversity is the spice of life, and teams are melting pots of cultural diversity and ideologies. Ideas are like plants; they have to be planted and watered. When colleagues sow the seeds of new solutions during collaborative meetings, allow the ideas to permeate for a while before taking a position. Take notes during meetings to highlight points you would like to explore further.
Track the strengths and weaknesses. When you follow up on your points, discuss the strengths first to show support or their proposal, and provide as much positive reinforcement as possible. Teamwork requires trust, and that eventually entails providing constructive criticism. However, rapports have to be formed, and providing some preferred feedback first will build a point of positive experience to work from. When addressing the negative feedback to your colleague, attempt to expand on the weaker points of their solution, and how they plan to address it but connect it to the positive feedback you provided.
When It is your turn to take similar feedback, welcome the ideas without hesitation. Not every idea has to be implemented, but by inviting your colleagues to share their opinions in an open forum demonstrates to the group that you are a team player. If someone is providing you aversive feedback, ‘don’t become physically anxious or become defensive in verbal responses. Write down rebuttals to suggestions you disagree with as an alternative to verbal jousting. Avoid scribbling or defensive writing such as xing out words. If typing notes, refrain from slamming keys or dramatic keystrokes. Positive body language and a calm composure tells the room a lot about your team-first mentality. Even when you disagree with the feedback, open it up to the room for collaboration. Someone may offer a different vantage point, that may change your position. Or, one of your teammates may defend your position for you, without you having to come off as defensive. It is important to demonstrate the same degree of trust you expect from your team.
Inject functional ideas not opinions
Objectivity is an integral part of the feedback process because it allows the proposed idea to exist individually. Teamwork is not about creating multiple versions of you; it is about you supporting someone else being the best version of themselves. Their ideas are no different. When workshopping ideas on a team, it is not about hijacking them as you see them best through your lens, but how to make them the best versions of your ‘ ‘colleague’s vision. Your position on a subject can influence your feedback, but it ‘shouldn’t affect your teammates’ goal. Construct your criticism around if it propels your colleague toward the goal they hope to accomplish. Remain objective and support the goal your teammate hopes to accomplish by offering functional solutions rather than opinions and personal preferences.
If your colleague’s goal is not clear, attempt to guide them to the problem they are attempting to solve. Ask open-ended questions to evoke broader responses, and refrain from using phrases like “I would”, or “If it were me”. Use soft vocal tones and avoid inflections in your voice that sound judgemental, and avoid long-winded responses. Keep your responses as concise as possible, and always inject positive reinforcement when able.
Be a Cheerleader as much as a player
The business world is not different than the sports field in that it rewards individual accomplishments. It also requires a great deal of individual sacrifice for the advancement of the team. The success of the team means everyone advances, but the failure of the team means no one gets rewarded. Being a cheerleader as much as a player is crucial for the success of your colleagues and your personal mission to advance your own ideas and missions. Collaboration with a team is not limited to providing feedback on their proposals; it is building up their confidence.
Provide as much positive reinforcement to your team as possible. ‘Don’t provide empty compliments or platitudes, but rather provide specific positive feedback on their goals, their teamwork, or their role on the team. Let them know how valuable they are by investing positive energy into the room as often as you can. This builds trust with your team through support and selflessness. The business world is competitive enough; having a common goal of your team succeeding is the type of altruistic attitude the corporate world needs more of. This type of camaraderie is contagious and will spread amongst the team. You ‘don’t have to use pom-poms and sing songs, but cheerleading for your team will push a unified message that “our success” means more than “my success.”
Plan team-building exercises or games
Most people spend more time each day at work than at home with their family. Work can feel arduous. There is commuting time to travel to the office, often a sea of traffic to navigate through, and the natural elements that can make any 10-minute trips take an hour. Employees also have personal lives with real problems that have to be stoically managed throughout the workday to avoid conflicting with their duty to their employer. It is difficult to feel this way and project positivity when all of these variables are working against you. It may also feel impossible to wrap your arms around supporting others’ success as much as your own.
Planning team-building exercises or games is a great way to inject fun into the workday and build a positive rapport with teammates. Having fun at work ‘shouldn’t be taboo, and employers should value the investment of creating a positive work culture. After all, the ‘ ‘team’s success benefits the organization, and toxic work environments negatively impact bottom lines through productivity issues and turnover. Providing employees a chance to enhance skills while on the clock can demonstrate their value to the organization, which perpetuates the team-first attitude organizations should hope to achieve. A few ways to implement some skill-building during work hours could include.
There are many sites online that offer a variety of work specific team-building exercises for employees to participate in. Most sites offer detailed explanations for the activities and all the items necessary to participate for planning purposes.
Planning a lunch does not have to include catering or a large investment of money. It may be hosting a potluck lunch, where employees can prepare and bring a dish that defines a bit about their culture and personality. Everyone can go around the table describe their dish, why they chose to bring it, and any other backstory that may provide more insight into their personality so the team can get to know them a bit better. Food can spark some great conversations and highlight the cultural diversity of the group.
Renting out a few bowling lanes and blocking off time for employees to congregate ‘shouldn’t be limited to the holiday season. This is a great way to partner up with colleagues and inject some valuable time to get to know each other while waiting between turns. Teams can be compiled to represent various departments competing against one another or shuffle the deck to mix up departments that generally ‘don’t mingle as much to introduce company-wide inclusion. Consider awarding the winners of each round of games with vouchers for 2 hours worth of flexible paid time off to be taken at the ‘ ’employee’s discretion. This demonstrates to the team that the company values their time beyond just the hours on the payroll, and increases positive work culture.
Rally around a unified message
American Industrialist Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork is the ability to work toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”. When supporting your teammate, it is important to nurture the best version of their goals. But it is also imperative the team has a unified vision, and that everyone works toward the same mission. Developing a team mission statement and including a list of guidelines can be an effective way to provide a developmental structure and a blueprint for how to achieve success. The mission statement is the north star that the team will follow to arrive at their destination. Providing guidelines provides some ground rules for how to avoid pitfalls that jeopardize the team’s momentum, without specifically calling them rules.
This should be developed democratically with all members of the team, providing input into the mission statement and the guidelines to preserve the integrity of the collaborative process. This should not be a rigid list of regulations handed down from corporate administrators, but rather a designed game plan for how all members of the team contribute to successfully fulfill the goals of the mission ahead. Anticipate diversity and develop solutions before they are needed as extra practice for solving problems as a group. Guidelines should be amenable as real-life contingencies come up, and necessary changes need to be made as they arise. Each member of the team should hold each other accountable and not by one designated person. This provides a supportive, collaborative environment, rather than one person tasked with playing the vice principal over the rest of the group. If all parts of the team are running toward a unified mission, and everyone is holding each other accountable, the team should run like a well-oiled machine.
Charles Darwin said, “It is a long history of humankind ( and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” When collaborating as a team, looking forward determines the direction the team is headed and defines the terrain that must be traveled to get there. As previously mentioned, when enacting a list of guidelines, anticipating problems before they arise is imperative to a successful gameplan. Being forward-thinking also allows the team to evolve with a gradual plan rather than forced adaptation, which can be chaotic. Chaos can inject conflict when it is abrupt, and although life is full of curveballs, forward-thinking solutions can provide a compass to weather ‘ ‘life’s unexpected storms.
As Darwin stated, history is filled with examples of successful collaborations who masterfully adapted in life, but there plenty of failures who used a myopic lens to dictate their directions. Every project is linked in a chain that sets up the next project. Having access to a team allows for multiple sets of eyes to foresee where the next link join with the previous link, and so forth until a successful chain completes. Incorporate visual aids and diagrams to map out how projects can impact movement in the future. The tech team should have a vivid picture painted for how extraneous variables affect the trajectory of the current goals or plans put in place. Accept feedback from the team on how to remedy any issues and how to create new ventures or networking opportunities out of contingencies that may arise. Use the resources of the group to maximize the product that can be created and assign roles to team members about developing new ideas. Reach out to other companies and partner with their teams to improve self-interest on both sides.
Life is about partnerships. Empiricist David Hume said, “Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both I should labor with you today, and you should aid me tomorrow”. With that much corn, everyone can eat, especially when everyone is working together.
Austin Hill M.A MFA
February 26, 2020