Originally published on CIO.com.
Collaboration is not just a business buzzword, it’s what drives successful businesses.
And yet, many executives confuse collaboration with communication. They are not the same thing. Communication is the exchange of information between people. Collaboration happens when teams work together to generate work product that’s greater than the sum of each individual’s contributions.
While collaboration needs seamless, continuous communication, those two things shouldn’t be considered synonymous. With that distinction made, let’s get into the importance—some would even say necessity—of collaboration.
Did you know that Charles Darwin credited collaboration with mankind’s success? “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” It’s tough to argue with Darwin. So, I won’t. In fact, as it relates to business, I agree that collaboration is essential.
Which is why, at Four Winds Interactive, we adhere to a five-step process to ensure our teams have everything they need to collaborate with ease.1. Build trust
Before teams can collaborate, they need to have trust in each other and feel comfortable with the credentials and qualifications of others on the team. Without a foundation of trust, collaboration will last about as long as a sandcastle in a hurricane. However, by fostering trust between team members from the outset, true collaboration can take place, yielding better results, faster. At FWI, we do a few different things to help build trust, but one of the most effective things we do is surprisingly passive. Using our office’s digital signs, we display an employee’s name and picture along with a list of three areas of expertise and three things they want to learn about. We’ve gotten so much positive feedback from our employees about that application and have seen an increase in cross-departmental collaboration. Similarly, using screens to recognize such things as work anniversaries and exceptional performance helps build trust in the experience and effectiveness of colleagues.2. Get together
The start of a project should kick off with an in-person meeting with all members of the team, setting out clear goals, timetables and individual responsibilities. People at the office should gather in a meeting room equipped with collaborative tools while employees working remotely should be able to join virtually through video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting or Zoom. Being face-to-face—or via video for remote workers—for these initial meetings is crucial for team dynamics.3. Use collaborative tools
Having kicked off a project with an in-person session, teams can use collaborative tools to communicate throughout the project. Our teams rely on Slack and InVision, as well as a few others, to stay connected. These tools let us communicate quickly and share feedback in an open, constructive way. And what’s interesting about today’s collaboration tools is that they don’t do just one thing. Most platforms allow you to integrate other technologies and data sources. In fact, I was able to create an integration which enables me to use Slack to post directly on the signs around our office. Plus, tools like Slack are building fun into their platforms, which makes collaborating more enjoyable. So, in addition to being able to create closed conversation channels where interested parties can really get into the weeds of a topic and easily share files, Slack makes it easy to “react” with emojis and even generate silly giphs using the “/giphy” functionality. It’s the little things that make work fun, and it’s those fun-based features I find myself using all the time.4. Get together again
Once a project reaches its conclusion, get together for an in-person debrief to learn what worked best for everyone and what can be improved next time. Did the team meet its goal within the agreed timetable and were individual responsibilities met? Like the kick-off meetings, being in a room or video conferencing makes these meetings more collaborative and effective.5. Track and share results
The results of every project should be tracked and then shared with the team. And if the project is larger in scope or impacts multiple departments, the results need to be socialized across the company. Again, we use our digital signs to push the results out to our workforce and ensure everyone has access to the same information. Remember, if you don’t share the results of your collaborative projects, you not only rob your organization of valuable information, you minimize the impact of the collaboration itself.
Interestingly, these days executives don’t have to angst over which tools staff will work best with — the right tools for the job tend to find their way into the workplace organically. As workers bring their favorite apps to the office or seek out workplace apps that mimic consumer-facing designs and functionality, executives can simply observe which apps are popular among their tech-savvy workforce. After assessing each app’s effectiveness, you can subscribe to the ones you want, gaining added functionality while also ensuring the selected apps meet internal security standards.Be sure you have the right tools
Once those tools are officially adopted, they can be integrated with the company’s other collaborative tools. As a business leader, I’m always looking for something to improve collaboration, because with the democratization of technology, good ideas can come from just about anywhere.
Effective collaboration in the modern office requires the right blend of technology. These days, the best offices also allow workers to move to different spaces for various aspects of their work: employees need spaces that encourage collaboration but also areas where people can put their heads down and work, uninterrupted.
Companies with the right spaces and tools for collaboration have higher revenues and profits, better staff retention rates, attract top talent easier and can develop and get products to market faster, according to an academic study by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
And from my own experience, working within a collaborative environment is just better—hands down—than working in a siloed office.