Why is collaboration so important now more than ever?
When the world closed in March 2020, working from home was not new to me. I had been working remotely since 2018 and it was almost as if nothing changed; in fact, I could swear that it got busier. What did change, though, was the recognition of the human need for company and the connections that we all seek amongst one another. Suddenly, collaborating took priority. Prior to 2020, I could go days without really connecting to any colleagues and if someone called a Zoom meeting, you would almost feel the outrage through the computer screen. Move on to now, and it seems that people are calling online meetings for everything. But is having a meeting a meaningful interaction or a form of collaboration?
“Companies have mastered the art of unnecessary interactions. Winning in the next normal requires much more focus on true collaboration.” – Mckinsey & company
A meeting called for the sake of a meeting is an example of an unnecessary interaction. I strongly feel that any calendar should have a built-in popup whenever someone starts to organise a meeting: “Can you achieve this meeting through an email?” If the answer is yes, then the meeting is entirely unnecessary. So, what would constitute collaboration if not two or more people engaging on something together?
Collaboration is not just two or more people cooperating on a project. For it to be collaboration, the parties involved need to share the risks, responsibilities, and rewards. True collaboration means that all have something to gain and something to lose. Take, for example, 3 people working together to build a house: if person A does not properly lay the foundation, the boards that person B is hammering won’t be attached to anything and will fall. When that happens, the windows that person C was installing will all shatter as they hit the ground. But, when each of these processes are done properly, they will have worked together to build a stable house.
“Organizations need to pull together experts with unique, cross-functional perspectives to solve rapidly changing, complex problems that have long-term implications.” – Harvard Business Review
I am sure you have heard this before: collaboration is critical to any team’s success. So why is collaboration so important now more than ever?
A team that collaborates communicates with one another and when your teams potentially could be situated in different cities, it is more important than ever that open communication is occurring. When your team is collaborating, they are comfortable with sharing their ideas and working on processes together. This means that they can communicate with one another clearly and directly and this can, in turn, streamline work.
I work from South Africa with a small team who are based in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Singapore. Not only do we all function in different time zones but some of us have never met physically. This means that we have had to work hard at our communication, and collaboration has helped to develop this bond. Before I collaborated on projects with my colleagues, they were just a face on a Teams call. Yes, we chatted about our weekends and what we were working on, but it was only once I was thrown into a project with someone that I truly learnt to understand them. Through that collaboration I learnt how they work; I learnt what was important to them; and I learnt to understand them more clearly. To put it simply, collaborating meant that we were truly communicating.
We are working in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world and that means every team needs to be adaptable. When a team is collaborating, being adaptable becomes natural. Why is this? Well, a team that can collaborate will be aligned and understand their function – when they’re able to do that, no matter what you throw at them, they will be able to adapt.
For me, that meant knowing what I am skilled in to best see how I can collaborate within my team. For example, I come from a pure education background and do not have knowledge about business management and leadership – Roffey Park’s bread and butter. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer. Knowing and communicating my strengths to my team means that, when we’re thrown together on a project, I know exactly where my skill set can fit, and I am able to collaborate meaningfully with the team.
Once your team is communicating well and adapting to change, the exchange of knowledge becomes second nature. With all team members bringing their expertise, we are all able to learn new skills and coach one another. What can come from that form of collaboration can truly elevate your team.
A few months ago, my colleague decide to call a workshop on presentation design to make sure that all the team were on the same page. He decided to invite members of a couple of different teams to share our knowledge. What came out of that workshop demonstrated how important general collaboration is across departments as knowledge sharing can bring organisations closer. Sales had more of an idea of what our team did, client services had more of an insight into how we work, and we had a better understanding of the struggles of their teams. Whilst we were not collaborating on presentation design, the conversations that came out of those sessions have led to more cross-department collaboration since.
Collaboration boosts morale
Through collaboration, teams will develop connections and these connections lead to trust in one another. That trust naturally can boost the morale of the whole organisation. Higher morale leads to a higher retention rate, and that trust amongst colleagues across departments will also make your organisation an appealing place to work.
For me, that moment came from a throw-away comment to a colleague in one of our collaboration sessions that she should come and visit me in South Africa. A few weeks later and she had booked a flight. Over her 2-week visit, we worked together on multiple projects but also developed a level of trust that has given me confidence in my role and what I can offer to my team.
“One problem is that leaders think about collaboration too narrowly: as a value to cultivate but not a skill to teach.” – Harvard Business Review.
Collaboration is not a skill that comes innately to people. Yes, we are living in a time where colleagues are seeking out that connection across the distance that COVID has created, but this doesn’t mean that we are naturally going to move from cooperating with one another to collaborating. Your organisation really needs to focus on teaching this skill so that teams across all areas are not only collaborating internally but throughout the business. Ask yourself the following:
- How can we make sure that the culture at the organisation focuses on collaboration instead of solitary silo work?
- In what ways do our current structures give space for colleagues to collaborate?
- What training can we provide so that teams move past cooperating and start to engage in true collaboration?
Give your teams the training and the space to engage in true collaboration and you will change the performance of your organisation as a whole.