Team collaboration is a lot like pizza night.
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Like the perfect pizza, every team needs the right mix of ingredients. Maybe you’re a play-it-safe, classic topping kind of person, or maybe you’re the adventurous type (pineapple and jalapenos, anyone?). Either way, each topping contributes its unique flavor to a (hopefully) harmonious whole.
In the same way, each of your team members brings unique skills, perspectives, and experiences that can complement each other and contribute to success.
But great team collaboration doesn’t just happen—just like randomly throwing toppings on a pizza doesn’t instantly create a great dinner. To achieve it, you need to develop collaboration based on solid guiding principles, such as established shared values and a strong company culture.
That’s why, in this post, we’ll cover:
- Six essential team collaboration principles
- Seven ways to put those principles in place with actionable techniques
We’ll also show you how a collaborative digital workspace like Switchboard makes for more engaged teams and successful projects (with or without the pizza).
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6 crucial principles for better team collaboration
Healthy, effective collaboration is based on six guiding principles of collaboration, which we’ll take a look at now.
1. Clear, healthy communication
To collaborate, people need to feel that their voice has equal weight and that they can share their suggestions without fear of reprisal or ridicule. This creates psychological safety (more on this below) and means people feel safe making suggestions and offering ideas.
Similarly, letting your people know what’s expected of them, what the end goal is, and why they’re being asked to collaborate creates clarity. This helps keep everyone on the same page and avoid remote work burnout.
Open, transparent communication–whether top-down or between team members–helps establish trust. Strong leadership also shows team members that you have their back and have things under control. This lets them feel safe asking questions, sharing concerns, or voicing doubts.
When you establish trust, it encourages people to work together to achieve shared goals—rather than competing or working in silos.
Collaboration works best when everyone knows what they need to do and where to quickly find the materials they need. Team collaboration tools like Switchboard can help here: Its persistent meeting rooms save all your work and let you always find each other and get work done—whether you’re in a meeting or working async.
Successful teams establish empathy by creating a space where people feel safe to share and be vulnerable. When you do this, it’s easier for people to understand what their team members are going through and jump in to support them when needed. They’ll also seek to understand their suggestions, ideas, or experience, and be more likely to throw ideas into the mix.
In remote or hybrid teams, people may come from a range of backgrounds or places. This can mean they have very different working or communication styles, so empathy is even more important. It can even improve innovation and problem-solving, as diverse members benefit and learn from a variety of experiences.
Strong teams take responsibility for their actions, which means each team member is accountable for their ideas or decision-making. This is sometimes also known as “extreme ownership,” where everyone takes responsibility for their work, takes ownership of an idea, and commits to making it happen.
When everyone–including you–is accountable, your team members know they can rely on each other, which helps build trust and avoid remote work burnout.
6. Creativity and positivity
Trust, empathy, and accountability create a space where ideas can grow. When everyone feels they can make suggestions, throw in germs of ideas for others to build on, and entertain more “out there” trains of thought without fear of ridicule, it leads to greater creativity and innovation.
Bottom line, there are no wrong answers or bad ideas in a creative, positive space–just suggestions and ideas that may or may not work out. In such a space, even a setback or less-than-perfect idea can give you a starting point for problem-solving and for new ideas to emerge.
How to put team collaboration principles into practice
Now you know the guiding principles for team collaboration, let’s look at the techniques you can use to put them into practice.
1. Connect your team
Connected teams build stronger relationships, which means they work better together. As well as creating opportunities for connections and spontaneous interactions, one of the best ways to do this is to use a collaborative working space like Switchboard. When everyone can work on files, documents, and apps together at the same time, they’re empowered to take part in meetings equally and contribute–rather than passively watching someone share their screen. They also have a permanent space to find each other and get work done anytime.
With Switchboard, you can set up permanent, dedicated project rooms so everyone on a particular project can work together in real time or async. Or you can create a “water cooler” or games room for some fun bonding. Either way, team members can chat with each other easily and spontaneously in 1-to-1s or group get-togethers. This encourages more idea generation, knowledge-sharing, and closer team discussion—and helps build more cohesive, connected teams.
2. Ensure psychological safety
Psychological safety means creating a space where everyone feels safe to express themselves, suggest ideas, and share feedback and experiences honestly. Workplaces with strong psychological safety see 76% more engagement and 50% more productivity, so it’s well worth taking the time to establish this.
Create a culture where all your people know they will be heard, with no reprisals for pushing back. Commit to listening to ideas and feedback and act on them where possible (and let people know why if you can’t).
It helps to always assume the best in people and give them a chance to explain if something goes wrong rather than getting angry. For example, if they miss a deadline, perhaps they’re struggling to meet their workload rather than being disorganized.
3. Establish strong shared values
When your people share the same values–and can see that you, as a leader, also live those values–it helps unite them and creates a space for healthy collaboration to flourish.
Some strong company values might include “radical candor” (giving the feedback that’s needed from a place of caring), “extreme ownership,” or “being kind and respectful.” These extend both to your teams and customers.
Document how these values should be reflected in people’s actions and interactions and build them into performance reviews. Take some time to remind people of your values in company-wide meetings, or shout out anyone who particularly embodies them. Be sure to outline why you have these values and how they contribute to better team collaboration and cohesion. Oh, and be sure to practice what you preach and lead by example (more on this below).
4. Set up an environment where collaboration can flourish
For collaboration to flourish, you need to create the right conditions. As well as putting guiding principles into practice, this means using the right tools and clearly documenting your processes in standard operating procedures (SOPs). This way, everyone can get work done when they’re online rather than waiting for others to become available.
Some tools you can use include project management platforms like Asana or communications tools like Slack so people can stay on track and share updates. If you’re struggling to get much done in meetings because you can’t share more than your screen, switch to a collaborative workspace like Switchboard. By letting you work side-by-side on a range of web-based apps, files, and documents, your people can get more done together or asynchronously. This turns people from passive spectators into active collaborators in every meeting or co-working session.
5. Lead by example
Collaboration isn’t a “do as I say, not as I do” thing, so you need to lead by example. Model collaboration for your people by owning your ideas, tasks, and mistakes, rather than expecting others to make them happen (or disappear).
Someone waiting on you to finish a report? Be sure to provide them with what they need on time. Messed up on forecasting? Own up to your team and tell them what you’re doing to fix it. They’ll trust you all the more for it. Similarly, volunteer your own ideas or experiences to encourage others to do so, and be transparent about your goals and motivations, which helps establish trust.
Living your values and embodying strong collaboration shows everyone on your team what the principles of effective collaboration look like in action, so it’s easier for them to follow your lead.
6. Practice active listening
Active listening is a powerful technique that helps people feel heard and respected. Practice it by using techniques like labeling, mirroring, or summarizing what people have said during a conversation. For example, you can repeat (mirror) the last few words they said, identify (label) the problem they’re having, or summarize what they said to check you understood. These techniques help establish trust and empathy and ensure you’re fully focused on the other person and what they have to say—rather than jumping in with your own opinions at the first opportunity.
Create opportunities for people to share ideas privately if they feel more comfortable as well. For example, you can use anonymous online feedback forms to gather input people aren’t comfortable sharing publicly.
7. Plan consistent training, games, and exercises to develop and practice skills
Like we said, effective team collaboration doesn’t just happen—you need to create opportunities to learn and practice the techniques that allow it to flourish.
Regular training, games, and exercises help your team develop and practice their collaboration skills and learn new ones. For example, team–building exercises where people work to solve a puzzle or overcome a challenge together foster camaraderie and team cohesion. As a bonus, they also create opportunities for the kind of spontaneous interactions that bring people together and establish empathy and trust.
Make training and practice a regular thing to keep everyone’s skills sharp and your people engaged and motivated. Don’t forget, though, to also build team collaboration activities into your day-to-day work to make them most effective. Collaboration doesn’t happen in a vacuum–or solely in a team-building activity.
If you’re using Switchboard, you can set up a dedicated room for team-building games and activities for your people to hop into any time.
Effective team collaboration starts with strong guiding principles
Collaboration builds stronger, more engaged teams and contributes to better outcomes. But establishing a collaborative culture isn’t a given in any organization: it takes intention, planning, and practice and should be based on strong guiding principles, like clear, effective communication.
Effective collaboration also requires giving your team the tools they need to get more done together async or in real time. That’s why Switchboard is ideal for collaboration in small remote companies. Its persistent rooms and engaging multiplayer experience give every team member a chance to take part—so they all own a piece of the pizza pie.