Learn how to get internal team members and external stakeholders to work together better for improved involvement, innovation, and results.
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At the beginning of the 1800s, in a Spanish town called Valls about 60 miles from Barcelona, the castellers tradition was born. Castells are essentially a human tower made up of hundreds of people, who are referred to as castellers.1 These towers can reach heights of almost 50 feet, seemingly defying the laws of physics.2
If there’s anything we can learn from these groups (known as colles), it’s just how important collaboration is. Assembling a castell is an extremely delicate act, and even the tiniest movements in one of these towers can significantly increase the pressure on the castellers supporting the base. And, yes, sometimes these towers come crashing down (don’t worry, they know how to fall).
While the stakes aren’t so high in an office setting, it quickly becomes clear how difficult it is to achieve a goal when you don’t engage everyone involved.
Collaboration with stakeholders is at the center of a successful castell, and it should also be at the center of your workplace. Because, simply put, teams that know how to work together perform better.3
But to get everyone working together, you need to communicate the benefits of involvement and alignment from day one. Also, to define clear roles and responsibilities for both internal and external stakeholders.
In this article, we outline the benefits of stakeholder collaboration and list five ways to make it a success in your organization.
Get everyone on the same page and working better together.
Switchboard’s digital workspace helps companies collaborate, both with internal team members and external clients.
What is stakeholder collaboration?
Stakeholder collaboration, sometimes referred to as stakeholder engagement, is about including everyone affected by a decision or project. In a castell, stakeholders start at the base of the tower (the pinya) and include everyone who forms part of it, until the smallest child (the enxaneta) climbs up to the very top.
In business, both internal team members and external contributors can be your stakeholders. Internal collaborators are anyone who owns, runs, or is employed by your company. That includes everyone from the CEO to summer interns.
Examples of external collaborators include investors and shareholders, vendors and suppliers, freelance contractors, and clients and customers.
The benefits of collaborating with stakeholders
The castellers’ ability to work together means they can achieve seriously impressive feats. These towers wouldn’t be possible without the coordination and concentration of everyone who participates.
When it comes to your business, collaborating with stakeholder groups can have real benefits, both for team morale and project results. The Harvard Business Review references case studies that show collaboration can improve financial results by 17% and annual revenue by 34%.
From the process to the results, here’s how getting everyone to work together can help your business.
Better involvement and alignment
Ashley Russo, Founder and President of ASR Media, states that “Teams are more invested in the outcome when they have a voice, and everyone remains much more solution-focused because they understand that the entire team is looking for the best outcomes by collaborating.”
Because teamwork requires everyone to lend a hand, stakeholders feel they have some say in the end result. Plus, when everyone participates in the decision-making process, you get better alignment from the start, making it easier to find common ground.
Think of alignment as a product of involvement: Keeping everyone on the same page ensures that, come time to make decisions, no one is surprised or dissatisfied.
And while these are clear benefits of collaborating with internal stakeholders, involving clients or investors also helps you get quick buy-in. That’s because different stakeholders aren’t being brought in to share their feedback at the last minute, but have been a part of the process all along.
More innovation and creativity
When you have everyone working in silos, they’re limited to their own strengths, perspectives, and ideas. But when all key stakeholders collaborate, you get a mix of diverse ideas and viewpoints, which creates a better end result.
A collaborative environment encourages new ideas and creative thinking. Ashley Russo says, “Collaboration at ASR Media has been the driving force in our growth. Without everyone brainstorming and sharing their creativity we would not have expanded our services to include a podcast, virtual events, or a magazine.”
This is true for both internal and external stakeholders. Involving everyone on your team means you get the unique insights of the seasoned manager and the new hire. And working together with external stakeholders means you get your client’s expertise—no one knows their product or market better than them.
“As the saying goes, ‘two heads are better than one,’ and we couldn’t agree more. Group collaboration can only bring in new ideas, perspectives, and approaches to solving problems. This allows the team to build upon one another to create an end result better than the sum of its parts.”
-Alex Melone and Andrei Marin, Co-founders of Code Crew
Improved retention rates
If you want your employees and your clients to stick around, get them to work together.
For Andrei Marin, the single most important benefit of being able to foster collaborative approaches at Code Crew is the impact on employee retention rate. “We’ve been in business for roughly five years,” he says. “We still have between 60% and 80% of the folks we started out with. And with everyone that joins the team, we have people staying with us for at least two and a half to three years.”
Studies back up this claim: New hires who work on other team members’ projects and receive support on theirs are at least 65% more likely than less engaged coworkers to stick around long enough to become productive and profitable at their company.
And when it comes to external stakeholders, collaboration can do wonders. Involving clients in your processes, whether it’s reviewing article outlines together or sharing frequent project updates, helps you build trust and create a relationship where everyone knows their needs will be met.
How to collaborate with stakeholders: 5 essential steps
Now you know why it’s so important to collaborate with stakeholders, take a look at how to do that. Our suggestions center on open communication, addressing expectations and barriers, and using the right tools for engaging stakeholders.
1. Get clarity on stakeholder roles, responsibilities, and motivations
When creating a castell, you have the pinya, which make up the massive base of the tower; the tronc, which is the main vertical part of the castle; and the pom de dalt, the children that climb up to form the highest stories of the tower.
Finally, the enxaneta, the tiniest casteller of all, stands at the very top and waves their arm in the air to signify that the tower is complete.
Without everyone’s cooperation, the tower would never rise, and the same can be said of organizations. Just like with these collas, it’s essential to get clarity on what role each stakeholder plays. Because a little enxaneta kid certainly couldn’t form the base of the pinya, and a large man couldn’t climb to the top of the tower without crushing everyone beneath him.
So when creating a collaborative team or client relationship, set out to determine the following things:
- Who’s involved and why? It’s not enough to just tell your entry-level employees they’ll be a part of the project. Explain everyone’s specific role and outline how their skills are valuable so everyone is aware of what they need to be doing.
- What does everyone want to get out of this collaboration? This will vary significantly, with your intern hoping to gain experience and your client hoping you’ll exceed their expectations. Determine everyone’s motivations beforehand so you’re clear on the reasons behind their participation.
- What are everyone’s potential barriers? Whether it’s a lack of time or lack of resources, identify what may potentially hold stakeholders back so these issues don’t get in the way of your goals.
Having clarity on each stakeholder’s role and motivations isn’t just good for your project goals: It’s good for each and every employee and client involved. People want to understand their purpose, so clarifying these details is essential to smooth collaboration.
2. Understand and set expectations
Without clear communication, your expectations as an internal team can look very different from what your clients expect out of your relationship. But even on your internal team, your employees need to know what’s expected from them for everyone to be able to work well together.
So create a RACI chart (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) or something similar to define everyone’s roles within a project. The key is to have one source of truth everyone can align around and refer back to if they aren’t sure whether something is their responsibility or not.
You can also use a project management or workflow system like Asana or ClickUp to assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress. That way, both internal team members and external stakeholders know when they’re expected to turn in their work or give their feedback.
Finally, set realistic expectations, especially with external stakeholders, to avoid disappointment and misalignment. If you tell your client their app prototype will be done by the end of the week, then they’ll expect to see it before Friday at 5:00. If they don’t, you’ve just broken a little bit of trust.
Rather than overselling, be honest and realistic about what you can and can’t achieve. It’ll help you build a better, more sustainable working relationship.
3. Address barriers to collaboration
We briefly mentioned identifying barriers above, but after pointing them out, you need to take things a step further and address them. Some common barriers to collaboration include:
- Different time zones
- Work habits
- Communication styles
- Cultural differences
These traits and variables don’t necessarily need to be barriers, but they can be if they go ignored. To address factors like time zones and availability, find tools that help your team work both in real-time and async.
For example, Switchboard is a collaborative digital workspace with persistent meeting and project work rooms. So once you create a room, it’s always there for people to jump in and out of.
Plus, the tool lets you open up any browser-based document, file, or website within rooms. And even when you leave a room, all your materials remain there for the next person who hops in to work on your wireframe or bug tracking tool, even if they’re in a completely different time zone or are more available in the evenings. You can also communicate through sticky notes, polls, and surveys, as well as leave videos in the room for visual learners.
And when it comes to managing work habits, communication styles, and cultural differences, create team member profiles where all your employees explain how they like to work and collaborate. You can also ask these types of questions when onboarding new clients to address these barriers with external stakeholders. For example, you might ask a new client to specify how long they need to reply to Slack messages or approve work. This means you won’t bug them with follow-up messages before time.
4. Ask for and give honest feedback
Even if you think everything’s going great, you won’t know unless you ask. A team member may be unsatisfied with their role, or a client may be disappointed with the way a project is playing out.
So be sure to consistently ask for feedback and make it easy for stakeholders to share their opinions, doubts, and concerns. For employees, that can be an anonymous survey form or quarterly eNPS (employee net promoter score) questionnaires. Questions you can ask include “Are you satisfied with project progress so far?” or “Are you facing any barriers to collaboration on your team?”
When it comes to clients, give them frequent opportunities to share their feedback on your workflows and processes. Use tools like Typeform to send out an online survey when you reach certain milestones in a project, and ask specific questions about how they feel your team communicates, coordinates, and performs.
And don’t forget to give feedback yourself—if an employee isn’t quite meeting their responsibilities, reach out and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them do their job better. Or if a client is uncommunicative, share your hopes for a more collaborative and cooperative relationship.
Just remember, everyone has different communication styles, so be intentional about how you share your feedback (especially when dealing with client or investor relationships). And make sure it comes from a place of caring and curiosity, not blame.
5. Use the right collaboration tools
Castellers depend on the right tools to create their towers. They wear a faja, a thick belt they wrap around their lower back to protect their lumbar and help other castellers climb up over them. Also essential to the creation of a castell is the traditional music, Toc de Castells, that marks the rhythm of the tower’s creation and helps the colla coordinate their movements.
You also need to be using the right team collaboration tools at your organization to keep everyone in the loop and let them actively participate. Here are a few of the resources you should use:
- Digital workspace: With so much of our work happening online, having a digital hub where your team can meet and communicate in real time is essential to virtual collaboration, whether you’re fully remote or just in different locations. Switchboard, for example, helps foster team connection and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms that let you communicate in real time or async with video, audio, chat, and notes. You can also work side-by-side allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time.
- Project management tool: As we mentioned, managing expectations is key to successful stakeholder collaboration. There are a number of project management tools you can use to assign tasks, define responsibilities, and establish deadlines, including monday.com, Asana, ClickUp, Notion, and Airtable.
- Communication platform: Collaboration centers on communication, so you need a tool that helps you stay in touch with both internal and external stakeholders, even if you’re working in different time zones or schedules. Slack is great for async communication, while Switchboard can help you run engaging real-time meetings and project work sessions with team members and clients.
Collaboration with stakeholders: The key to better results
In 2010, the Catalan castells tradition of building human towers was added to Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If they didn’t communicate and cooperate, castellers could never achieve their common goal and reach such great heights (literally and figuratively).
As a whole, cohesive groups perform better. So for your company, both in-person and remote productivity hinge on your team’s ability to collaborate effectively. This is true with internal team members and external contributors.
So be sure to show your stakeholders the benefits of working together and empower them to work together with the right support and guidance. Set clear expectations and understand roles and barriers to working together. Finally, give everyone the tools they need to get more done together, such as a digital hub like Switchboard with “always-open” rooms where internal and external stakeholders can meet and work together as if they were sitting next to each other.
Get everyone on the same page and working better together.
Switchboard’s digital workspace helps companies collaborate, both with internal team members and external clients.
Frequently asked questions about collaboration with stakeholders
How do you effectively collaborate with stakeholders?
To effectively collaborate with stakeholders, it’s important to follow certain best practices. These include:
- Get clarity on stakeholder roles, responsibilities, and motivations
- Understand and set expectations
- Address common barriers
- Ask for and give honest feedback
- Use the right tools, such as a digital workspace like Switchboard
Why is it important to collaborate with stakeholders?
Collaborating with stakeholders is important for a number of reasons. It impacts the success of a project, as well as improves creativity and innovation levels. That’s because when you get people to work together, you benefit from the ideas and viewpoints of multiple team members or external collaborators who all have varying viewpoints, perspectives, and expertise.
What impact does collaboration have on stakeholders?
Collaboration ultimately has a positive impact on stakeholders and makes individuals feel more engaged, involved, and invested when working towards a shared goal. Additionally, working together makes people want to stick around. When they feel they form an active part of something, retention rates are higher among stakeholders, whether they’re internal team members or external clients or collaborators.