Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can shift our focus towards how to make collaboration happen in organizations. After all, it generally doesn’t take root on its own. You’ll find that many collaborative working environments are that way by design; and making them succeed often requires some creative solutions.
In this article we’ll look at five ideas to help encourage collaboration in your organization. Let’s get started.
5 collaboration ideas for the workplace
1. Office design
We’ll start with office design because it’s one of the most immediate ways to promote collaboration across an entire organization. How so? Office architecture can dictate how and when people meet and interact throughout a typical work day. Do you see the same five people throughout the day or are you constantly bumping into people from different departments? Does your office isolate employees in clusters and cells (read: cubicle farms) or does it encourage movement, flexibility, and conversation?
A creative office layout compels colleagues to bump into each other, provides spaces to gather and discuss projects, and helps knock down silos by bridging departments under the same roof. Ideally, your office layout reflects your company culture somehow: you might incorporate “break-out areas” or “overlap zones” or a central common space to get people from different departments into the same spaces.
Before you start knocking down walls, though, think about where departments are situated, the type of interior design that makes the most sense for your organization, and how various layouts might relate to your organizational hierarchy (or lack thereof).
For more on creative office design, check out Lindsay Kolowich’s helpful article for HubSpot, which lists seven ways companies are using interior design to help facilitate collaboration.
2. Collaboration tools
Creative office design encourages collaboration when everyone’s in the same physical space, but what happens when your organization consists of multiple satellite offices and a cadre of remote workers? A creative solution in this case will typically involve adopting an org-wide tool to encourage cross-departmental communication and help foster healthy working relationships.
The term “collaboration tools” refers to a category of software which, without getting too deep in the weeds here, helps people work together when they’re not all in the same room (or building). These tools range in complexity from very straightforward and intuitive to ultra-sophisticated bespoke intranets.
No matter which collaboration tool you choose, the way you use it can do wonders to connect people across your organization. If silos exist in your workplace, your collaboration tool should find ways around that, either by creating open discussion channels or delivering departmental news to anyone who wants or needs to be informed.
3. Team-building exercises
I’m generally not a huge proponent of team-building exercises, which so often have no bearing on the day-to-day reality of working life. (How does a three-legged relay race help one fix software bugs?) However, a real team-building event—that incorporates actual work-related tasks—can bring people together to solve a common problem or help build a wider strategy.
What does this look like? According to Kate Mercer, cofounder of the Leaders Lab consultancy, the best type of team-building activities are those that your team should be doing anyway. One of the best (and most productive) team-building events I’ve been a part of involved members from every department getting in a room together and systematically hashing out the business strategy for the coming quarter.
Something like this can be directly related to collaboration itself. Put 20 people into a room together, feed them copious amounts of sushi, and have them take a crack at solving your collaboration challenges.
4. Random coffees
Sometimes the boundaries between teams (either real or imagined) lead to an information gap that could create project setbacks, or worse. Say, for instance, the product design team spends a week outlining a new feature, only to find out at the end of the week that it’s not technically feasible. It’s a setback and also a week’s work completely wasted.
Avoiding this requires opening up the flow of information between departments in a way that benefits everyone. Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, implemented something he calls #randomcoffee, a series of 1:1 coffee meetings between randomly selected employees. Holmes explains:
“We wrote a quick-and-dirty algorithm to ensure each pairing brought together people from a different department, then blasted out emails to the lucky duos. And it worked. Participants gained new insight into the workings of other departments, and brought new perspectives to problems. Ideas for future collaborations and projects took root.”
Another way to create in-roads into other departments is to host inter-departmental meetings. A member from Marketing can sit in on a Sales meeting, and vice versa. Learning about how different departments function, the challenges they face, and the ways in which they tackle them is vital information. Plus, it gets everyone on the same page.
5. Informal chats
Probably the greatest roadblock to effective collaboration is a lack of open and clear communication, and finding creative ways around that is a challenge many organizations continue to struggle with. But improving communication can be as simple as saying hello to one another every now and again. Mind-blowing, I know.
Don’t underestimate the power of saying hello to colleagues as you pass them in the hall; or better yet, stopping to chat as you drink your morning coffee. Somewhat less structured than the random coffees, casual, impromptu conversations are perhaps the most effective way of building meaningful relationships between colleagues. It’s also a great way to learn about areas of the business outside of your team, expertise, and skill set.
Creating opportunities for these types of conversations doesn’t have to be awkward or forced (or algorithmically-generated). Scheduling an optional weekly ‘conversation break’ in everyone’s calendar provides a mechanism for getting groups of people together in the same common area for informal, non-work-related chats. Making this recurring event a cornerstone of your company culture ensures that people actively participate and chat with new people, rather than stick around those they know best.
The goal of something like this is to make face-to-face conversation with people, in different departments, part of everyone’s routine. That way, there’s no reluctance to walk over to another department and ask someone for help. Again, collaboration is all about connecting people and building from there. Getting to know one another is a crucial first step to help break the ice.
Breaking down silos and creating collaborative relationships isn’t going to happen overnight. But making collaboration a core value and implementing the five ideas above can certainly help foster cross-departmental interaction. Collaboration is a skill, remember, so it’s all about helping your people hone theirs.