Learn how to improve your collaboration skills for stronger, more resilient teams—and even better results.
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The Renaissance was a period of cultural and intellectual growth in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It took collaboration to the next level: Artists shadowed doctors to improve their depiction of the human form and sculptors studied engineers to improve their carving techniques.
The rapid exchange of ideas and working together across fields resulted in some of the most celebrated works of art, architecture, medical breakthroughs, and inventions we still use today. For example, the discovery of blood circulation and the invention of the telescope.
It’s clear that collaborative teams perform better—and can bring about revolutionary ideas—but people don’t always instinctively know the best way to work together. To foster teamwork, leaders need to identify and continually develop these skills—in themselves as well as team members. You also need to use tools that make it easier and more natural to work together in real time or async.
In this piece, you'll learn the benefits of working together as a team, as well as the skills needed to improve collaboration, and how to develop them with help from the right tools.
Want better teamwork?
Switchboard's persistent meeting rooms make it easy to work together and co-create.
How your team benefits from better collaboration
Collaboration is the process of working together with others towards a common goal. Done right, you get a variety of new ideas, perspectives, and resources to help achieve your objectives—and can build stronger relationships.
Ashley Russo, Founder and President of ASR Media states that: "Individuals are much more likely to speak up and be honest with each other when it isn't about their singular idea or viewpoint but rather, finding the best solution. This also leads to people letting go of their defensiveness if their idea is not the chosen outcome. Collaboration helps you lead without resentment which, in turn, creates better relationships and trust on the team."
Here are some other ways teamwork can benefit your team:
More creativity and innovation
With more eyes on the same project, you get access to more original ideas and a diversity of experiences and perspectives. This helps reduce silos, where people work based on their own strengths and ideas. When people work in silos, it allows important details and viewpoints to slip through the cracks.
Stronger, more united teams
When everyone's empowered to lend a hand, they're more likely to respect the contributions of their team members and build stronger relationships. Employees with close bonds at work are also more productive, engaged, and happier. This makes them more resilient and able to adapt to unexpected challenges as individuals and as a team.
Work thrash is when you interrupt an employee's work before it's complete and redirect their attention to another task. For example, asking an employee to stop working on a sales presentation to help out with the monthly newsletter. This can cause frustration, burnout, and an unpredictable schedule. Working with your team and communicating well and often can help break up these tasks and focus everyone's attention on a common goal, causing less thrash.
Faster decision making
Team members working together can share their experiences and come up with solutions faster than they might on their own. This also prevents setbacks because one person can spot key details another might have overlooked. For example, a product team can work with sales when developing a new product concept to understand customer needs and pain points. This lets the product team make decisions about which features to include faster than if they’d had to go out and research it.
Clear roles and responsibilities
If you work together from the beginning of a project, you'll have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, what's available to you, and where problems might arise. This increases your chances of success because everyone knows what is expected of them and what they can expect in return.
Sense of ownership
Team members are more invested in the outcome of a project when you give them a voice. For example, involving your marketing team in employee recruitment can lead to a better pool of candidates for every department rather than simply posting the job on your website. By understanding the unique characteristics and requirements of each department and their ability to target specific audiences, marketing can work with HR to create targeted job advertisements that reach the right candidates.
Now that you know the benefits of collaboration for your team and business, you need to understand which skills are necessary to improve it. Let’s take a look at those next.
What are the top skills to improve collaboration?
Leonardo Da Vinci didn't paint the Mona Lisa overnight—he spent years honing his technique and improving his masterpiece. Here are the skills you can sharpen to work better with your team:
Ashley says: "When teams feel their ideas are truly heard and considered, a culture of collaboration happens. This safe space is instrumental in coming up with innovations, new ideas, improved processes, and success."
According to research by Gallup, communicating expectations is the most important thing you need to master. The quicker and more clearly you can communicate these to team members, the more likely they are to get on board with your project and show up ready to contribute.
To facilitate joint working, you need to learn how to communicate with every team member. This involves understanding their preferred learning, working, and communication styles.
For example, one person on your team might learn best through direct feedback and visual aids. Another person might prefer working async and getting their information through communication channels like Slack.
Knowing what makes your people tick, and communicating in a way that makes sense to them, can improve how you work together—and your chances of success.
Part of strong communication is having the organizational skills to back it up. Why? Because you need to provide clarity around who's responsible for certain tasks and expertise. You also need a process to document and delegate everything, in addition to clearly outlining the project scope, timelines, and deliverables.
Individual organizational skills are also crucial to keep everything on track. These include knowing how to prioritize tasks, manage your time, and adapt to changes. This makes it easier to articulate your ideas, goals, and progress—which facilitates teamwork.
When everyone's on the same page, you can collaborate more effectively and avoid duplicated effort or confusion. And with an organized system in place, everyone knows where to find what they need. This means they’re less likely to waste time or distract others by asking team members for information or access to key documents.
Pro tip: Use Switchboard as the central digital workspace for all your collaborative projects and keep everyone up to speed with persistent project rooms that save your work.
For example, you can create a room for your new marketing campaign and fill it with meeting action items, customer feedback forms, your marketing CMS, market research, and design specs. This way, everyone has what they need to work together, and there's no confusion about where things are or what's expected of each person.
Working with others means you need to understand their perspectives and trust them to understand yours. Empathy plays a critical role in building that trust because it enables you to truly put yourself in your team members’ shoes and learn from their experiences. Eighty-seven percent of employees believe it’s essential to fostering an inclusive and collaborative workplace.
Turns out, they’re right—mutual empathy between employees and leaders increases idea sharing by 86%, efficiency by 88%, creativity by 87%, and job satisfaction by 87%.
Collaboration creates resilient and adaptable teams as it builds empathy and the ability to resolve conflict. Empathetic teams approach situations with compassion and understanding, which helps promote encouraging dialogue and proactive problem solving. This makes working together more rewarding and engaging.
Setting goals helps define what success looks like and provides benchmarks for evaluating progress. This helps you engage in collaboration without burnout and sets everyone's sights on the same target, which keeps people motivated and committed to working together.
When goals are challenging yet attainable, they inspire individuals to stretch their capabilities and work towards shared results. Also, regular progress reviews against the goals help you identify areas of improvement, celebrate achievements, and make informed adjustments if needed.
“Our team comes together and collaborates on what its goals are based on the organizational goals. As a leader, you have to push them to make sure they're the right numbers, but then that creates commitment across the set of stakeholders, not just in your team but with other teams that they have to collaborate with.” Andrea Galvez, Vice President of Client Success and Membership at Financial Health Network.
How to develop collaboration skills
When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, he relied on help from other artists, assistants, and builders to (literally) aspire to such great heights.
Like the great masters, you also need to know how to work with others to make the impossible possible. For leaders of highly collaborative teams, this means actively developing how you and your people work together. Here are some team collaboration best practices you can use to develop the right skills:
Practice active listening
Allowing people to be heard—and giving them your undivided attention—can increase job satisfaction and willingness to contribute to a project. Sadly, only one in ten employees feel their voice is heard in their workplace, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Here's how you can get those numbers up:
Show people you care. Maintain eye contact, face the speaker, and display engaged and attentive body language. On a screen, this means you need to keep cameras on during meetings and sit upright, making eye contact with the camera.
Practice active listening techniques. Try to understand the speaker's perspective and acknowledge their emotions and feelings. Two techniques include mirroring and labeling, which work like this:
- Mirror the speaker. Do this by paraphrasing or repeating what they said in a slightly different way. This makes them feel heard and validated and lets you clarify your understanding of their message. For example, if a client voices concerns about a new workflow, you can say “What I’m hearing is that you’re not sure how this is going to work. Is that right?”
- Label the speaker's emotions or experiences. For example, if an employee says "I've been having trouble sleeping lately. I'm feeling anxious most nights," you can label this by saying "It sounds like you're experiencing anxiety, and it's affecting your sleep."
Use verbal and nonverbal communication. Provide feedback to the speaker through nodding, smiling, or using brief verbal affirmations like "I see" or "I understand."
Ask clarifying questions. Show people you're listening by asking questions or summarizing their main points to confirm your understanding.
Be patient. Avoid interrupting and let the speaker communicate at their own pace without rushing them.
Create opportunities to practice collaboration
Collaboration doesn't happen in a vacuum so you need to create opportunities for people to work together. Two ways to do this are through team-building games and activities and by building collaboration into daily work.
Team-building games and activities you can enjoy to improve teamwork include:
- Ice-breaker questions
- Escape rooms
- Scavenger hunts
- Trivia nights or quizzes
- Two truths and a lie
All of these can work in person or online. They help your people practice teamwork and build team cohesion while developing shared memories and a sense of belonging. Also, by observing how each team member contributes to an activity, you can gain insight into individual strengths and collaboration styles, which helps you know how to better support each other and work together.
Pro tip: Use Switchboard icebreakers during meetings to generate random questions for your team to answer and break the ice in a fun way—and pave the way for better teamwork.
It's also vital to build collaboration into daily work: practicing these skills shouldn't be confined to team building activities or spaces "outside" the working environment. Here's how you can build collaboration into your daily workflow:
- Use team collaboration tools that enable joint working and communication. For example, document-sharing tools like Google Docs, instant messaging tools like Slack, and project management tools like Asana. Collaborative digital workspaces like Switchboard also let you keep all your web-based tools and files in your persistent room, so you can pick up where you left off.
- Encourage everyday teamwork. Assign team projects, cross-functional tasks, or brainstorming sessions and facilitate teamwork between individuals from different departments or with diverse skill sets. For example, you might assign members of your sales team to work with customer support to improve your client onboarding experience. Sales can shed light on common questions and pain points during onboarding and customer support can provide insights into common concerns and suggest ways to address them proactively.
- Lead by example. Model collaborative behavior by demonstrating active listening, open communication, and a willingness to seek input and involve others. For example, by voicing your concerns during a challenging project and actively seeking input from members of your team.
Employees increasingly expect to get a strong sense of purpose from their work. Eighty-one percent of them want their role to contribute to a bigger organizational impact. People want to know more than simply what they're working on: They also want to know what their work is contributing to and how it impacts company goals.
Here's how you can foster more transparency and teamwork:
- Be transparent about decision-making. Whenever possible, involve employees in decision-making processes and communicate the rationale behind decisions. Explain how decisions align with organizational goals and values. For example, communicating with employees about changes to roles and responsibilities and how they might affect them. When decisions are made that affect employees, provide clear and honest explanations.
- Share information across teams. Promote cross-functional collaboration by sharing information and insights across different teams and departments. Encourage employees to collaborate, learn from each other, and share best practices—and give them the tools to do that, like using a digital workspace where they can always find each other.
- Share regular updates. For example, on company performance, goals, and initiatives. Use team meetings, newsletters, email updates, or collaboration tools to keep employees informed about relevant news, changes, and progress. For example, you might leave sticky notes in your shared Switchboard room to remind people of your upcoming project review. This helps create a shared understanding of priorities and where your organization and team are going.
When leaders show vulnerability, aren’t afraid to ask for help, and can admit they don’t know something, it encourages employees to take risks themselves, share opinions, and make more valuable contributions.
Here's how you can show vulnerability as a leader and encourage teamwork:
- Share personal stories and experiences. Open up about personal experiences, challenges, and lessons learned to humanize yourself and be relatable. This creates a safe space for others to share their own stories and concerns. For example, you might share the story of the time your dog was barking outside the door during an important meeting, and how you handled it. Then, ask your team if they experience any challenges staying focused during meetings.
- Admit mistakes and take responsibility. This involves acknowledging when you make errors or poor decisions. Also, taking responsibility for your actions and being transparent about the consequences. For example, admitting to signing a non-profitable client and the impact on the company. This demonstrates humility and encourages a culture of learning from mistakes.
- Seek feedback and input. Invite feedback from your team members and genuinely listen to their perspectives. Show a willingness to receive constructive criticism and be open to different ideas.
- Ask for help and support. Recognize that you don't have to have all the answers and be willing to ask for help or guidance when needed. For example, asking for solutions to meet an impossible deadline. It shows that you trust your team members and value their expertise.
- Be authentic and genuine. Be yourself and let your true personality shine through. Authenticity builds trust and allows others to connect with you on a deeper level.
Create the right environment
You need to set the stage for a positive and productive work environment to unlock your team's full potential. This involves creating psychological safety and using the right tools.
Establishing trust, empathy, and a psychologically safe workplace lays the foundation for positive interactions between team members and the ability to truly join forces. It also means people are more likely to contribute ideas, opinions, and solutions—and ask for help when they’re struggling. To establish psychological safety, remember that there are no bad ideas. People should be able to contribute without fear of ridicule, reprisals, or being shut down.
You also need to consider your working environment. Use the right tools that make collaboration easy and suit your team's working and communication styles. For example, you can use Slack for instant messaging, Loom for video creation, and Asana to keep things on track.
If you prioritize collaborating both in real time and async, you need an always-open workspace like Switchboard as the base of your tech stack. Its persistent rooms and multiplayer browsers mean teams and individuals can work together–or apart–on apps, documents, and files. This allows everyone to move projects forward when it makes sense for them. You can also save all your materials in the same room. This lets you keep things organized by project and means all your communication in that room is in context. Best of all, it works with all your favorite collaboration tools with no need for integrations: Just pull up a multiplayer browser and get working.
Collaboration skills: The foundations for your next masterpiece
The Renaissance involved great collaborations among artists, scientists, philosophers, and scholars. They shared ideas, exchanged knowledge, and worked together on masterpieces that shaped the modern world. But this level of collaboration isn't only reserved for great minds: You can achieve the same level of teamwork for your own people.
Collaborative teams perform better, but you need to show them how first. To encourage teamwork, identify and continually develop the right skills in yourself and your team. Practice active listening, create opportunities to work together, encourage transparency, show vulnerability, and create the right environment where everyone feels supported and safe to contribute.
You also need tools that make teamwork the best part of work—in real time or async. When you use Switchboard as your platform for co-creation and project work, you get always-open persistent rooms that save your work. This saves time and means all your communication is in context—so you can focus on creating your next collaborative masterpiece.
Want better teamwork?
Switchboard's persistent meeting rooms make it easy to work together and co-create.
Frequently asked questions about how to improve collaboration skills
How can I be a better collaborator?
For effective collaboration, you need to develop the right skills. For example, you need communication skills and empathy to enable successful collaboration. You also need to:
- Practice active listening
- Create opportunities to practice collaboration
- Encourage transparency
- Show vulnerability
- Create the right environment
Keep in mind that collaborative work requires adaptability and the ability to be a team player, which can take time to develop.
What are the advantages of collaboration?
Workplace collaboration has many advantages for team members and for your business. For example:
- Increased conflict resolution
- More creativity and innovation
- Stronger, more united teams
- Less thrash
- Faster decision making
- Clear roles and responsibilities
- Increased sense of ownership