How to Foster Teamwork and Collaboration

By Canadian Management Centre

Whether team members work in close proximity in the same physical space or remotely from different locations, effective collaboration is crucial for achieving good results. However, establishing strong collaboration requires intentional effort. The foundation for successful collaboration includes several key elements: a shared understanding of goals, deliverables, products, or services; agreement on guiding values, principles, or norms; structured processes, roles, and responsibilities; and adequate resources. Despite having these essential building blocks in place, some teams may still struggle due to individuals who are not naturally inclined to collaborate.

How can you get buy-in for more collaboration at work? Here are some ways to motivate tentative collaborators and improve collaboration team wide: 

1. Be an ally. Don’t be a naysayer or, worse, an adversary. To foster collaboration, welcome input from all collaborators, regardless of their experience or comfort level. Simple statements, such as “I like your suggestions” or “That sounds like an interesting idea,” often speak volumes, letting team members know that you value their opinions.

2. Say what you see or sense. If you observe or pick up on something troubling, say something. For instance, you might say, “You seem a little reluctant to share your opinions.” Do this in a way that’s genuine, caring, and without criticism to avoid making the reluctant collaborator feel singled out and even more uncomfortable.

3. Ask and listen. When someone is having trouble collaborating, take the time to find out why. Ask them to share their concerns or feelings, perhaps starting with, “What can you tell me about that issue?” Then, listen to their response.

4. Reinforce the benefits of collaboration. Talk up collaboration until it becomes a shared value and an everyday best practice. Offer ongoing encouragement, such as, “The team seems to be getting closer to an answer. Let’s keep going.”

5. Seek out suggestions for improvement. Your team members are the ones working together after all. You might be missing something. “What would make this whole process work better for you?” might be a question to ask everyone on the team—weak and strong collaborators alike.

6. Offer choices, not demands. Managers should hold team members accountable when they refuse to collaborate. But when dealing with a person who isn’t a natural collaborator, threats and punitive consequences tend to be counterproductive. Instead, try asking, “Could you give me two or three ideas tomorrow morning?”

With the right approach, anyone can be a valued collaborator. Everyone has good ideas. All it takes is a little time and care to ensure that your team makes the most of them.

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