Solid teams are the backbone of great companies.
They step up to challenges as they arise and keep the wheels turning day in and day out.
Most teams aren’t the stuff of legend. In fact, you’ll often come across teams that have a hard time communicating and collaborating.
Internal politics, the fight for promotions, and petty squabbles derail them at every turn.
Work seems to be the least of their concerns.
What sets great teams apart from the mediocre ones?
There’s no universal strategy for running a team because what may work for one organization may not work for the next one. With that being said, there are a few things that can benefit almost every team.
1. Always share your expectations – then share again
One of the biggest roadblocks to building teams that collaborate often and well are the expectations that were set in the beginning. Have you ever sat your entire team down and told them what you expect from them when it comes to collaborating?
Are you clear on it yourself?
The first step on the road to better teamwork is making sure everyone knows what you expect from them. This isn’t something you say once and leave it at that.
The most successful leaders communicate with their team often and clearly. They don’t just talk at them, they talk with them to understand any issues. If an expectation isn’t realistic, their team has the opportunity to voice dissent and the leader will change course accordingly.
It’s important to note, it’s alright to bend a bit but you should have areas that are non-negotiable. For example, you may want everyone on your team to collaborate on projects but you don’t force them to do it in a specific way. This gives them room to figure things out on their own.
Once you’ve communicated your expectations to your team, do it again. You should be saying it so much that people memorize them. Amazon has adopted this way of thinking and it propelled them to a trillion-dollar valuation. Every employee at the company is intimately aware of the 14 leadership principles and apply it to every aspect of their work.
2. Make it easy to communicate and collaborate
After you’ve set expectations with your team, there needs to be a way for them to collaborate effectively. Sure, they could pull their desks together and work but that’s far from ideal. It’s impossible when you have a partially or fully remote team.
How would they share files, keep track of decisions, and make sure they’re on track. The correct team communication tools are no longer optional, they’re essential. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about selecting the right one.
In most organizations, someone is assigned the job of researching and vetting tools. They find one they like, get a subscription, and force everyone to use it. This may work in the short term but there’s bound to be dissatisfaction.
Instead of going that route, consider getting everyone involved in the process. Create a shortlist of tools you think will meet your needs and present them to your team. Ask them to come to a consensus about the one they’d like to use. This will ensure everyone is invested in the final choice.
Even if a few people are unhappy about it, they’ll quickly come around when they see everyone else is trying to make it work. This process may take a little longer but you’ll see quicker adoption and save yourself headaches later.
Once you’ve settled on a tool, ban all jargon & marketese. This doesn’t help anyone and can cause confusion. We were having a problem with this at my company and we decided to simplify and document the way we speak internally. It became easier to get work done because we didn’t need to spend extra time clarifying things.
3. Break down knowledge silos
One of the biggest problems growing organizations face is knowledge silos. A knowledge silo is when data or important documents aren’t shared between different groups in the same organization. This can be intentional or unintentional.
When a business is relatively small, most information is out in the open and knowledge silos aren’t as prevalent. When the business grows, specialists come on board and information isn’t shared between groups as often.
For example, the customer service team may know that people are having trouble understanding how a feature works in the software. They guide customers through it without relaying the challenges back to the development or design teams so the root problem can be solved.
This example focuses on teams with different disciplines but it can occur within the same team as well. For example, on the marketing team, the paid ad specialist may not relay important information to the content marketing specialist because they feel it’s irrelevant.
At the same time, there may be information that a key employee knows that they’ve not shared with anyone else. It may be the method they use for keyword research or the design methodology behind company products.
Whatever the case, knowledge silos kill collaboration before it starts and increases key man risk. Combat it by creating a system for knowledge management (KM). KM is the process of recording and sharing useful knowledge with others.
It sounds simple and, at its core, it is.
Your knowledge management system doesn’t have to be complex or elaborate in the beginning. Think of it as a set of SOPs. It can start as internal docs that detail things like:
- Onboarding processes (customer and employee)
- Internal goals
- Design guidelines
- Workflow protocols
- Process for specific activities (outreach, SEO, product development, ideation, etc.)
For team collaboration, it helps people get up to speed and stay on the same page reducing redundancies. At the same time, KM helps individual contributors understand how their efforts impact the entire organization.
4. Create team deliverables
KM goes a long way towards aligning everyone on your team. At the end of the day, people don’t work well together unless they have a shared goal. What are they in charge of? What can they take ownership of? This goes back to breaking down knowledge silos. Everyone understands what’s happening, when it’s happening, and why.
Set clear project deliverables for your teams and let them self-organize so individuals take ownership of specific aspects. There is a caveat here. If the process isn’t managed properly then little collaboration and even less work will get done.
Prevent this by adopting a simple Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). WBS is a project management technique that reduces larger projects to manageable chunks.
For example, if you want your team to think up a new product line and bring it to the market, there are many steps involved. WBS breaks it down into its component parts and shows how each part is dependent on another.
Individual contributors know what they’re responsible for and who they need to collaborate with to get it done. As the project progresses, the places they’re falling behind are also apparent and corrective action can be taken immediately.
Individual team members are crystal clear on what parts of the project they own. They’re also aware that they don’t succeed unless everyone does.
5. Give people room to fail
Great work doesn’t happen unless people are confident they won’t’ be penalized for failing. If they’re worried about job security or losing promotion opportunities, they’ll play it safe. Innovation suffers.
Your job as a team leader or even a member of the team is to communicate tolerance for failure. Don’t confuse this with encouraging people to take unnecessary risks.
Instead, give them room to try new things. Maybe you have a specific way of distributing content, let people try another technique. Do you have a specific product development process? Allow people to test and tweak it.
Unless you’re proactive with innovation, you’ll eventually hit a local maximum through optimization. At that point, the same strategy will only yield diminishing returns. It’s frustrating but hitting the global maximum requires you to lose before you can win.
Giving your team freedom to fail is what eventually allows you to get to the global maximum. They’ll come up with new ways to collaborate, share ideas, and work towards crazy goals more effectively.
Team collaboration doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you work on and strive to achieve in the long run. This article has shared a few strategies but it’s by no means the perfect blueprint for everyone.
Adopt the techniques that make the most sense for you and your team then continue to improve them over time. Eventually, you’ll develop a well-oiled collaboration machine. The only way you’ll fail is if you give up before you get there.