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Collaboration and communication: The dynamic duo behind productive teams
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Collaboration and communication: The dynamic duo behind productive teams

Find out how effective communication and collaboration can help your team reach your goals faster and spread change across your organization.

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In 1978, two men launched a new brand of ice cream at a gas station in Burlington, Vermont, USA. Their names? Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. 

In such a competitive market, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream needed to stand out. It was their close collaboration and communication that helped them do this. 

If they hadn’t been such a good team, they might never have been open to each other’s ideas—and that’s exactly what makes their product a success. Ben was adamant that their frozen desserts should have a unique, chunky texture, while Jerry was laser-focused on the rich and complex flavors. The result? Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is a household name, bringing in over $450 million in annual revenue, and growing every day.

Strong collaborative communication is key to the success of any team. If team members are separately working on their own projects without regular touchpoints with each other, they’re more likely to feel isolated and unmotivated, allowing tasks to slip through the cracks.

All teams communicate, and most teams collaborate. But true collaborative communication is a unique and powerful blend of the two, just like a great Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Here's how you can weave it into the way your teams operate. 

Want to improve collaboration and communication for your teams?
With Switchboard’s digital workspace, you can share information and work together as if you’re in the same room.
Learn more

What is collaborative communication?

Collaborative communication is a way of working as a team that involves open, honest, and respectful dialogue between all parties. It means implementing methods of communication that actually help your workplace collaboration, such as openly sharing ideas, listening to feedback, and working towards a common goal.

Office workers spend around 57% of the day in online meetings, emails, and chats, according to new Microsoft data. Why does it matter? All that extra admin can make us feel bogged down. 60% of leaders say they’re already feeling the effects of all those distractions, noting the impact on innovation in their teams.

When we get stuck in ineffective routines, these communication channels can actually discourage teamwork and leave employees feeling isolated. 

Simply sending emails back and forth about a project might count as communicating, but are employees truly engaged and collaborating with those types of methods? Probably not. That’s why it’s important to instead seek out tools and processes that can help your team members truly connect with each other and the work that they’re doing—i.e. collaborative communication. 

Let’s take a look at some of those next. 

How to create a company culture of collaborative communication

While it may seem obvious that working in a group can improve performance and results, many companies don’t have plans for improving internal communication. A lack of clear guidelines for employee communication can be frustrating to team members and even cause delays in project completion.

Let’s walk through a few strategies for encouraging your team to communicate and collaborate more efficiently.

Create the right environment

As a leader, creating an environment that encourages and rewards collaboration is the key to meeting your goals and supporting your staff. It’s important to establish a culture of trust and respect where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas or opinions. This is also known as psychological safety.

A strong culture of collaborative communication will help your team be more open and agile while achieving their goals. There are several ways you can foster collaboration as a manager, and it’s up to you to set an example. Here’s how:

Make everyone feel comfortable speaking up

When most team members are really excited about a project or idea, it can be difficult for employees with dissenting opinions to feel comfortable speaking up. No one wants to be seen as being too negative, but in reality, having people on your team who can provide “reality checks” is essential to the success of your projects. Don’t discount anyone’s ideas when they speak up, but practice listening actively and encouraging open dialogue.

Encourage open and honest feedback

Open and honest feedback should always be welcome, and make sure that you are always actively listening to what your team members have to say. If you like Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream, you’re already benefiting from the power of crowdsourced ideas: This flavor was designed and voted for by the public, making it instantly popular after launch. Just like your work initiatives, if you crowdsource ideas first, you’re more likely to get buy-in later.

To gather more honest and creative insights, consider having an anonymous feedback survey your team can use. You can also have a regular meeting where anyone can discuss what’s on their mind and ask questions about new projects or processes.

Provide communication tools and resources

Providing access to the tools and resources your team needs to work efficiently is a great way to improve collaboration. A platform like Switchboard can help your team feel engaged and connected, with features such as collaborative virtual rooms where all members can work on the same documents at once. 

Switchboard users can open up to 10 browsers and work together on any web-based app with no integrations necessary. For example, all team members can simultaneously view and interact with the same website or contribute to the same Google Doc or Sheet. This goes far beyond the typical one-way screen sharing and makes it easier to communicate—and collaborate.

You should also document your communication guidelines in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and encourage people to set boundaries about checking notifications out of hours. These ensure everyone is communicating in the right way and know what to expect from each other—and help you collaborate without burnout.

Celebrate successes

Be sure to celebrate your team’s successes and learn from failures together. For example, if you meet your targets for the quarter, celebrate with an outing or fun activity. If something needs improvement, schedule a time when you can brainstorm together. You can also use a dedicated Slack channel to shout out big and small wins so people’s achievements are recognized. 

Fostering an environment where efficiency and achievements are rewarded and celebrated is a great motivator for team collaboration.

Know which channels to use and when

There’s a time and a place for each communication method or platform. We’ve all been in situations where we think to ourselves, “This meeting definitely could have been an email.” If what you’re communicating is short and straightforward, and only requires input from one or two people, an email or a message could be sufficient. Otherwise, consider making a video walkthrough with a tool like Loom or Snagit so team members can watch it when it suits them.

A Loom video. The text reads, “Hey team – I know there’s a lot going on today so let’s do our project update via Loom and get some time back”.
Use an asynchronous communication tool like Loom to help your team save time and avoid unnecessary meetings. Source: Loom

If the information is more complex or requires active participation and brainstorming, holding a meeting might be the right call. Just ensure that you’re respectful of your team’s time and aren’t clogging their calendars with meetings that could have been replaced with other communication methods.

A Switchboard meeting room that shows multiple employees on a video call working on the same document at once.
Use a tool like Switchboard, which has engaging features such as virtual meeting rooms, to encourage engagement and collaboration during real-time meetings. Source: Switchboard

Additionally, the type of information that you’re conveying to your team should influence what channel you use. If it’s a short announcement or congratulatory message, a quick mention in your internal communication tool (Slack, Teams, etc.) might be perfect. However, that’s not the platform you should be using to inform your team of serious issues, where a real-time meeting is more appropriate.

Know your team’s communication and working styles

The communication methods that work best for one team or individual might not work for another. As a people manager, it’s your job to know your employees’ working styles and the processes that help them collaborate with each other and thrive. Some might prefer more rigid communication guidelines and consistent project management workflows, while others find these restrict their creativity and momentum. 

For example, if you’re working on a long-term project, you might consider using a digital workspace like Switchboard that can help your team pick up where they left off. Its persistent rooms mean anything team members add to the canvas stays there, so you can pick up where you left off next time.

It’s okay if it takes a bit of time to find the right collaboration tools and communication style for your team. Just remember to keep an open mind and encourage an environment where they feel comfortable giving constructive feedback and suggesting improvements. One of the fastest ways to hinder collaboration is by forcing your team to follow guidelines that clearly aren’t working for them, so be prepared to adapt as needed. 

Get buy-in from the team

Rather than trying to implement new communication tools and workflows without involving your team, consider asking for their suggestions and feedback from the very beginning. Asking your team for their opinions before creating new processes that impact them sets a great example of collaboration. After all, Ben wouldn’t change their best-selling Half Baked ice cream recipe without getting Jerry’s input first.

For example, if you want to change your team’s content publishing process to be more efficient, host a group brainstorm so your entire team can suggest improvements that benefit everyone.

Multiple team members on a video call collaborating on a brainstorming session.
Tools like Switchboard make it easier to collaborate and brainstorm ideas with your team. Source: Switchboard

It’s also important that your team knows the “why” behind any new elements you want to bring to your work or communication strategies. Take the time to walk them through the thought process behind your choices, and give them the opportunity to ask questions and push back. When your people don’t understand something, they should always feel comfortable asking for clarification.

If your team feels like the addition or change was truly a collaborative decision-making experience, they’re more likely to get on board and feel enthusiastic about it.

How to model collaborative communication as a leader

As a team leader, you set the standard for how your people should communicate and collaborate with each other. It’s essential for you to create a productive and positive environment and lead by example. This will build trust, encourage creativity, and ultimately drive success for your team and your organization as a whole. 

Let’s break down a few specific ways you can model collaborative communication as a leader.

Active listening

Active listening is a key part of collaborative communication that allows leaders to better understand team members’ perspectives and needs. To model active listening, it’s important to give team members your undivided attention and focus on what they’re saying without interruption. That means using attentive body language and avoiding multitasking during video calls.

Ask clarifying questions and summarize what team members are saying to ensure you’ve understood their message correctly. For example, if someone is frustrated with an aspect of a project, show empathy and provide support when needed. Paraphrase what they’ve told you and include affirmations such as, “I understand.”

By modeling active listening through techniques like mirroring and labeling where you repeat back to people what they said or summarize it, you can demonstrate the importance of valuing and respecting all team members’ opinions. It also makes them feel heard and establishes empathy, which leads to better collaboration.

Conflict management

Conflict management is another important aspect of collaborative communication that leaders should model to create a positive and productive work environment. Encourage your team members to express concerns while also providing guidance and support to help with problem-solving and conflict resolution. 

You can use Switchboard to set up dedicated, permanent 1:1 rooms for each person to privately come and discuss issues with you. Since the rooms save all your work, you can keep materials or sticky notes with what you discussed, so there’s always a record of the conversation. Remain as neutral and objective as possible, and avoid taking sides or showing bias. Everyone should feel seen and heard.

Additionally, work with your team members to find common ground, encourage team building, and develop solutions that benefit everyone involved. For example, if team members disagree on the best type of software to use for a new project, bring them together in the same room to discuss the pros and cons of each option. Hopefully, you’ll then be able to identify a solution that works for everyone.

When you model effective conflict management, you set a foundation of open communication, respect, and collaboration.

Set expectations

Setting clear expectations is an effective way for you to model collaborative communication as a leader. Convey your expectations for communication to your team, including how often you want to check in with them and what platforms of communication are appropriate for different situations. 

Set expectations that help work-life balance as well, such as staying off Slack when you’re on vacation, not sending messages after hours, etc. Encourage your team to ask questions and seek clarification when needed, and provide feedback on how they can improve their communication skills. 

Try to be as consistent as possible in your own communication and follow through on the processes you’ve outlined. If you set a rule that all scheduled meetings must have an agenda, ensure that you create one for each meeting that you put on the calendar. This demonstrates that you care about accountability and reliability.

If you set a clear example of effective communication for your team and remind individuals when they aren’t following guidelines, they’ll be able to fall into a rhythm more easily and boost effective teamwork. 

Open, honest, two-way feedback 

Giving and receiving feedback can be one of the toughest parts of managing a team. However, open, honest, two-way feedback is an essential component of fostering a collaborative environment. Encourage your team members to share their thoughts and opinions honestly while also providing your own thoughts in a respectful and constructive manner, a technique known as radical candor. 

Let’s say one of your team members has been forgetting to put links in your social media posts. You should be able to clearly communicate your expectations of them and outline what needs to be improved. On the flip side, they might have suggestions about how the social content review process and checklists could be updated to help them remember details like links. 

You should always be open to receiving feedback yourself, which shows your team members that you value their opinions and are committed to continuous improvement. Follow up on any feedback you receive, take action to address concerns, and implement changes if needed. 

When you model two-way feedback for your team, they’ll feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts to you and each other and working together to improve joint projects. Plus, their overall communication and collaboration skills will grow and improve over time.

Collaborative communication: The key to better teamwork 

Collaboration and communication are essential to every team, but they aren't always the same thing. Collaborative communication combines them both in an effective way that boosts team morale and helps you reach your goals—just like Ben and Jerry combine tasty fudge fish and marshmallow swirls in their iconic Phish Food ice cream.

Ben and Jerry’s collaborative, communicative partnership helped them become one of the most well-known ice cream brands in the world. And your team’s effective and enthusiastic collaboration could be the key to changing your entire organization—or even your industry. 

With the right tools and team culture, collaborative communication can drive significantly better project outcomes and reach goals faster, whether you’re remote, hybrid, or in-person.

Creating a culture of collaborative communication and modeling it as a leader will also get your team noticed and spread change throughout your organization. When other teams notice how well your processes work, they may well choose to implement communication changes that boost their collaboration as well. 

Follow our guidance to make your communication more collaborative: Create an environment where people feel they can speak up and contribute ideas, and that this is rewarded. Use the right communication tools, know your team’s working and communication styles, encourage open feedback, practice active listening, and get team buy-in on changes. 

Using a tool built for team collaboration is also a great first step. Switchboard provides teams with an interactive digital workspace where team members can communicate and work async or side-by-side as if they were in the same room for more effective collaboration in meetings and on projects—wherever they are.

Want to improve collaboration and communication for your teams?
With Switchboard’s digital workspace, you can share information and work together as if you’re in the same room.
Learn more.

Frequently asked questions about collaboration and communication 

Why are communication and collaboration important?

Communication and collaboration are important because they are essential for achieving common goals and objectives in any team or organization. They help team members work together more effectively and leverage each other’s strengths to produce better outcomes.

What are some tools for collaborative communication?

Tools that can improve your organization’s collaborative communication include Switchboard, Asana, Google Docs, Loom, and Zapier.

Who should be involved in the collaborative communication process?

Your entire team should be involved in the collaborative communication process. When you include all stakeholders in a project, you ensure everyone has a voice and that all perspectives can be considered. Additionally, it increases buy-in for the project, which ultimately can lead to a more successful outcome.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Want to improve collaboration and communication for your teams?

With Switchboard’s digital workspace, you can share information and work together as if you’re in the same room.