Collaboration drives so much in a workplace. Collaborative teams have a deeper sense of trust, are more willing to take risks, and are supportive of each other more consistently.

It’s a powerful trait to infuse into any work team. 

How best to collaborate depends on many factors: the teams, the work, the need and the project. Yet there are common traits every effective collaborative workplace shows. 

Business Strategy and Types of Collaborations

In a recent book, Heidi K. Gardner, a distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School, describes “smart collaborations” as falling into one of three categories:

  1. Employees use individual and specialized expertise to solve specific problems or issues
  2. Teams of employees collectively create a solution.
  3. An outside expert brings best practices to bear on an issue, rather than asking employees to reinvent the wheel.

In each case, Gardner argues, smart collaborations are not successful unless they are given time to grow and thrive. These smart collaborations need to gel over multiple projects. This repeated success drives the creation of a culture that embraces collaboration.

So how does a manager bring these smart collaborations together? Here are a few tips.

  • Supportive Leadership. Organizations become collaborative when the highest levels of those organizations demonstrate the right behaviors. Executives should invest time in building their own social networks within an organization and looking for opportunities to create mutually beneficial wins.
  • Focused HR Practices. Human resources programs need to encourage, recognize and celebrate a collaborative culture. Mentorship programs, for example, should include mentors who ask about and encourage collaborations. Training programs need to build and nurture the key skills that drive collaboration, including conflict resolution, having difficult conversations, diversity and inclusion and team and leadership development.
  • Affinity Groups and Communities. Collaboration happens best when there are layered, overlapping and complex community organizations within a company. Whether designed around identity characteristics (gender, generation, culture), job role or non-work related components (shared educational background, hobby or interest), these groups allow employees to come together organically and foster relationships that can lead to future collaborations.
  • Leadership Development. There is some debate about the leadership that’s best for overseeing teams – relationship-oriented or task-oriented. While it may not be possible to have both, creating “ambidextrous” leaders who can accomplish both are ideal.
  • Heritage Relationships.  Building teams that leverage preexisting, or heritage, relationships, gives those employee groups a head start in reaching successful outcomes. If there are some core trusting relationships embedded in the team, it can help other team members reach that trust level faster.
  • Reducing Ambiguity. Teams will be more successful, more trusting and more collaborative when roles are clearly defined for each team member. Further, those team members should understand the role each one will play in achieving the task’s success. On a macro level, each team member should be able to see how their work contributes to overall organizational successful outcomes.

Today’s business climate forces organizations to react quickly to information, technology news, situations, and opportunities. Businesses today are also increasingly fragmented, with employees, consultants and team members located in different locations and time zones.  These factors make it even more critical that teams are collaborative.