As people’s skill sets get increasingly specialized, collaboration as a practice becomes more important than ever. But what does that mean exactly? What is collaboration?
Although “collaboration” has become a bit of a corporate buzzword, that doesn’t mean that it’s an empty cliche. On the contrary, collaboration in the workplace is what makes teamwork successful. It’s really that simple.
Collaboration is when a group of people come together and contribute their expertise for the benefit of a shared objective, project, or mission. It’s a photographer working with a designer to create a cover image, or a technology department regularly convening with the marketing team to plug away at quarterly goals. In other words, collaboration is the process of group work. But it’s also a learned skill. How well you collaborate with others will greatly impact the outcome of the group project.
However your organization collaborates, it does so all the time, constantly (even now). In fact, collaboration is so ingrained in the way people work nowadays that we rarely even notice when we’re doing it.
That said, it’s worth taking a step back to evaluate how you and your people collaborate. Why? Because organizations that collaborate well are likely to be more financially successful, more culturally aligned, and have higher engagement rates.
Let’s take a look at seven reasons why collaboration is important.
7 reasons why collaboration is important
1. It helps us problem-solve
What do you do when you’re stumped? Say you’ve made a lot of progress on your project, but you’ve encountered a roadblock which seems to withstand everything you throw at it. You’re out of ideas, progress has screeched to a grinding halt, and your deadline is rapidly approaching. Do you give up?
No, of course not; you ask for help or find another perspective. You might schedule a brain-storm/whiteboarding session with your team or ask a colleague for their take. In short, you collaborate with your team to solve the problem at hand. When a group of people pool their knowledge, skills, and expertise, then talk problems out and debate potential solutions, projects that were stalled will begin to move forward once again.
But collaboration doesn’t have to be a last resort. Collaboration ought to inform the way your team works—it should be baked in. The more eyes on a given project from the get-go, the easier it becomes to spot problems (and solve them).
2. Collaboration brings people (and organizations) closer together
If you’re finding that certain teams in your organization rarely interact with each other, that teams and departments are operating in isolated silos, you might want to try putting together a mixed-skills team. These are generally ad hoc teams that tackle projects which require people with diverse skill sets and areas of expertise.
For instance, a mixed-skills team might include a product designer, a user experience designer, a developer, and a content writer. It’s essentially a new team set up to collaborate for a period on a shared project. In doing so, you’ve brought together members from three (or four) different teams, created a common purpose between them, and set up connections which will serve all of you in the future.
In short, you’ve used collaboration to break down some walls in your organization, and tighten up connections between departments.
3. Collaboration helps people learn from each other
One of the best things about working collaboratively with people who bring different skill sets and backgrounds to the table is learning from their experience. Collaborating with team members or even different teams should be thought of as a learning experience, and you should try to make the most of it.
This means asking for feedback and opinions, sharing knowledge, finding out how your collaborators approach their side of the project, and gaining a better sense of how they work. Learning from colleagues is not just a benefit of collaboration, it’s the first step towards building a workplace culture centered around learning and development.
Teams that collaborate not only have an opportunity to learn from each other—their mistakes, successes, failures, workflow, etc.—they’ll also gain an understanding of the other team’s perspective. You get a chance to hear their side of things: their pain points, priorities, even the way they think. Which can be extremely valuable as you work together going forward.
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4. It opens up new channels for communication
Working with new people from different areas of your business also opens up channels that would otherwise remain closed. Finding new ways to communicate and share information is hugely important to the success of any business, which is why collaboration should be utilized whenever possible to form bonds between departments.
Creating a more cohesive, open workplace benefits everyone because, according to David Hassel, “maintaining regular, direct communication with team members, helps you gain valuable insights into the operations of each department and be able to resolve issues quickly.” On top of that, it brings everyone a little closer to each other and hones the overall mission of your organization.
A lot of collaboration tools, like an intranet for example, do just that. They’re designed to essentially open up your business so that all areas of the organization can communicate with each other and keep tabs on what other teams are working on through news updates, announcements, events, discussions channels, you name it.
5. Collaboration boosts morale across your organization
As connections are made between teams and departments, people will naturally trust each other more, which can gradually boost the morale of your entire organization. After all, organizations aren’t going to be successful if there’s a lack of trust and low morale. Regularly working together with people outside of your own team or department is one of the most effective ways to build trust.
This also works in reverse: the higher your company’s morale, the higher the likelihood that your people will feel comfortable working alongside team members from other departments. This is also attractive to top performing candidates who are increasingly looking for more open, engaged workplaces.
6. It leads to higher retention rates
Because collaboration lays the foundation for a more open, connected, and engaged workplace, it’s appealing to future and current employees—perhaps more-so than organizations that’re siloed and disconnected. An atmosphere where collaboration is front and center is important to your people, and it’ll go a long way toward preventing them from looking for work elsewhere.
Connection matters to people, especially in the workplace. We want to work with people we trust, who understand and respect our points of view, and who work well with others, especially those who come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Simply put, working collaboratively makes this possible.
7. Collaboration makes us more efficient workers
Working independently has its advantages. We can focus entirely on one project without having to factor in how much time we’ll lose if we get distracted, or how to wrangle a team together in time to meet a short deadline. If the task at hand requires independence, then by all means, go for it.
But for many types of projects, collaboration is just more efficient. When the project is complex and demanding, we have to be able to admit to ourselves that we’ll need help. It’ll have to be a group effort. And that’s where collaboration comes in. It helps us divide up a heavy workload, find creative solutions to tough problems, and wrap our heads around the big picture.
An organization that makes collaboration a big part of its culture is bound to normalize this style of working, thereby creating a more efficient (and more appealing) workplace.
If this doesn’t describe your organization, don’t fret! Creating a collaborative workplace takes time and effort, but the payoff is well worth it. To kick-off the process at your workplace, start with new hires. Find ways to get them out of their team, their comfort zone, and give them a chance to connect with others. Give them projects that demand collaborative solutions. Gradually, your organization will begin to see firsthand why collaboration is important.