Ever had one of those days when you thought to yourself, “Wow, today would be easier if I could just do it by myself?” I know I sure have, and I’m usually a fan of people! As humans, we were made to be in community, and it’s unreasonable to imagine we can do everything by ourselves – there just aren’t enough hours in the day! Even so, I still sometimes find myself trying to take too much on by myself. I imagine I’m not alone in this, so I figured someone else might benefit along with me in this reminder of the positive effects of collaborating. Here are five tips on how to make the most of collaboration opportunities.
1. Brainstorming is Easier in a Group!Here’s an easy one! We can all think of examples where “two heads are better than one,” right? It’s easy to imagine that if we have to come up with ideas, reasons, problems, solutions – it’ll be easier to do that in a group. In short: Brainstorming in a group is easy!
What to do about it?
Get a group of people together in a room (virtually or in-person), put the topic or subject on the board, and then give them a finite amount of time to think independently to generate ideas. Use round-robin tools to get a single idea from each person and have everyone cross out their duplicates until all ideas have surfaced. Alternatively, collect the ideas on (virtual) sticky notes to get all the ideas at once, to speed up the collection time, rather than having each person share all their ideas one at a time. Caution: letting each person share all their ideas one by one could be a snooze-fest. Once you have all your options, you can determine what comes next!
2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!
Whether you’re working on separate tasks or working together on the same task, working side by side and having shared experiences can make labor less laborious. We have two snow shovels at our house because our long driveway can be discouraging if one person must shovel it alone. At Grandma’s house over the holidays recently, I bet you pitched in with drying dishes while someone else washed them and someone else put them away. If you didn’t know where they went, and someone else did, the division of labor made that easier! Same concept in business! Everyone can handle their part of the process.
What to do about it?
Two people can lift heavier things than one person can lift by themselves. Pair programming and partner work on design projects or other things allows us to use two sets of eyes to see the same inputs and create solutions that might be better than either of us could have done independently. With two sets of eyes working in tandem, they can each pick up the tiny details that the other person might miss. Be careful though! We’ve all heard the one about the two people trying to move the couch through a doorway from opposite sides…both pushed as hard as they could…but they got nowhere, got frustrated, and gave up. Build a team that can work together to produce better results than anyone could do individually, and then make sure they have clear expectations about who is doing what and what direction they should be going! With everyone moving in the same direction, momentum will build quickly towards the goal.
3. Accountability Improves with Visibility.
Group accountability, such as team report-outs and team meetings help improve individual accountability and follow-through on individual action items. In my experience, an individual is more likely to complete their actions when they’ve committed to others that they will do them; they’re also more likely to take action to get caught up if they’ve had to say more than once in front of a group that they’re behind. Remember: Whenever possible, we praise publicly and correct privately, so be sure to make even group accountability settings places where we can hold each other accountable without throwing people under buses.
What to do about it?
When working on a project team, schedule your check-ins as far apart as you’re willing to fall behind. If your project can fall a week behind, then check-ins that are a week apart should be okay. If your project can’t fall more than a day behind, then check-ins that are a day apart will be the right pace. Asking questions like “is this task complete?” with a simple yes or no answer, and then, if the answer is “no” a follow-up question like “How can I (or we) help you get it complete?” can help move the task closer to completion when asked in a group setting with a team that fosters a supportive and accountable environment. Depending on the pace or type of tasks, asking follow-ups about what steps come next to a “yes” answer might also be beneficial.
4. Communication is Not About Me!
When we collaborate with others, we get the opportunity to improve our communication skills, which is something that most of us need to do on a regular basis. Working with a team helps hone our skills by helping us get real about expectations for communication. When, how, how often, and in what format do we need to communicate? How do we talk to each other about urgent issues or emergencies? How do we stay connected about things that are in flight? How and when do we connect as humans? What communication tools do we use, and how do we use visuals/verbal updates/meetings, etc? Let’s face it, we’ve all got preferences for how we stay in touch, and when we work with teams, we get the opportunity to get outside our own comfort zones, learn about tools other people use, stretch our skills, and practice things we may not be good at. We also get to put others first, and that’s good practice.
What to do about it?
While it may be tempting to stick to our own preferences, making the most of team collaboration involves asking an assembled team to share their preferences for communications modes, tools, methods, times, etc. Let everyone share their favorites and why they love them. As a team, seek to find something that works for as many people as possible, something that’s new for as many people as possible, something that will help us as efficiently as possible, and something that gives us a chance to connect as effectively as possible given our circumstances. Heads up: You may not be able to please everyone, but you may be able to get everyone to give a little and get us all to learn something! If you’ve already done that, maybe take some time to learn about your communication styles as a team, and use that to help grow your relationships.
5. We’re Better Together!
When we collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds, skills, experiences, cultures, ages, expertise, etc, we see different perspectives that help make the world a richer, better place. You’ve likely picked up on our bias around here for making sure that we celebrate and respectfully acknowledge our differences, and I’m a big fan of working with a team that doesn’t all think the same. If we’ve come from different life experiences, then that diversity of experiences will help us see our project work and its risks from different angles, thereby helping us produce a better result in the end. Heads up: a great benefit of working with a diverse team is the opportunity to learn, so be prepared to close your mouth, open your ears, and listen.
What to do about it?
When you have a chance to build a team, try to build a team that has a variety of perspectives. The ideal team (and I once read that the perfect sized team is seven, plus or minus two), has an environment where they feel safe to express and leverage their diverse set of skills, experiences, and perspectives, and they feel valued for doing so. Creating spaces where people listen, people express gratitude for different perspectives, people value others, and people ask questions with genuine curiosity to seek understanding, and where people seek to include others and create spaces of belonging where each member of the team has access to the tools and resources they need to do the work they do to contribute best to the team. And that starts with you! It’s pretty easy to do, really, it starts with valuing others as valuable human beings, being curious about what they need to be their best selves, setting the bar with great expectations, then watching them meet them!
This week in particular, I had a chance to see some team members really shine, and I remembered how grateful I am for the chance to work with a wonderful team! Because this week simply wouldn’t have been possible if I’d tried it on my own. How about you – what do you see as some of the great benefits of working together, and how do you make that work?