Collaboration in the Workplace: How to Solve 4 Common Problems

Kristen Craft
January 9, 2020
Collaboration Problems in the Workplace

This guest post comes to us from Erika Rykun. Erika is a content strategist and producer who believes in a high-quality link building, the power of networking and white hat SEO. She’s an avid reader, writer, and runner.

Do your employees work well together? Are your teams functioning smoothly … and do different teams communicate with (and adapt for) one another?

Sadly, in some companies, this kind of collaboration is sorely lacking. The reality is an “us vs them” culture where teams look out for themselves and only themselves.

This can lead to huge missed opportunities and a real hit to your financial bottom line: Deloitte, for instance, suggests that a lack of collaboration costs $1,660 per employee, per year.

In fact, one study indicates that as many as 86% of workplace failures are attributed to a lack of collaboration and poor communication.

Simple measures, like ensuring that employees sign a nondisclosure agreement so that information can be shared freely throughout the company, can make a big difference. But there’s a lot more you can do, and we’ll offer some specific suggestions momentarily.

First, though, let’s take a look at some key warning signs that your company might have a problem with collaboration.

Four Warning Signs of Poor Collaboration

#1: Teams Succumb to “Group-Think”

Do team members speak up (both in meetings and in day-to-day communication) if they have a different perspective or vital information to offer?

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As this Forbes article explains, some debate is a sign of a healthy team. If team members aren’t willing to disagree (including with their manager), this can result in poor decisions, as in this example:

Weeks later, it turned out that John had been missing key pieces of information that would have made a difference in his decision. “I don’t get it. They all sat there nodding their heads in agreement,” John explained. “Yet today I found out that a few people weren’t comfortable with my recommendation and had information that would have been helpful. Had I seen the information they had, I wouldn’t have made that decision.”

If members of the team have misgivings about a project or decision, the whole team benefits from hearing them. A reluctance to pushback or ask questions is a sign of poor collaboration and endangers the success of the team.

#2: There’s No Communication Between Teams

Do your teams work in their own silos, focusing on their work and only communicating with other teams when absolutely necessary?

While, inevitably, teams need to collaborate more internally than externally, it’s still important that different teams have an understanding of what others are doing. This might mean having short meetings regularly where different teams get together, or even physically changing the layout of your offices so that teams are in closer proximity.

Even something as simple as mindmap that shows the connections between different teams in the context of a particular project could help people to become more aware of how their own role fits in with others’ work.

#3: No Voluntary Collaboration Takes Place

While it’s good if teams collaborate through meetings, specific projects, and other structured processes, it’s even better if there’s voluntary, ad-hoc collaboration – where one person needs something and they are able to approach someone else to help.

On their blog, Quick Base explains:

There’s involuntary collaboration (like when two teammates work together to craft a sign), and there’s voluntary collaboration (when someone actively seeks another’s help). Voluntary collaboration is what boosts departments and companies to the next level.

#4: You Don’t Consider Collaboration When Hiring

When you’re hiring new employees, particularly those who’ll have management responsibilities, do you ask questions that help you figure out whether they’ll be good (or bad) collaborators?

If not, then there’s a good chance you’re hiring the wrong people – or at least focusing on the wrong things, as a company.

Questions like “Tell me about a time that a member of your team openly disagreed with your decision. What did you do?” or “What do you do if there was a disagreement within your team?” (both from this top 10 list of interview questions for managers) help you figure out how a manager will approach the times when good collaboration might be under threat.

If your company is showing some – or all! – of these symptoms of poor collaboration, don’t fret. There are actional approaches you can start using immediately.

How to Improve Collaboration Within Your Company

#1: Provide Teams With Vital Context

It’s hard for teams to work together if they don’t have a clear grasp of how their part of the work fits into the project as a whole. For instance, a creative design team might come up with a really fun concept for an ad – only to find that it doesn’t align with the strategic direction that the marketing team is planning on taking.

At the start of a project, make sure that everyone has a clear idea of how their work fits into the bigger picture. Document this context in a central place so that everyone can access the info they need to do their jobs well.

#2: Lead By Example

If employees see their managers collaborating, that really helps to foster a “team spirit” culture within your workplace. Make sure you, and anyone in a management position, models good collaboration for your employees. That might include:

  • Being careful not to say anything negative about other teams: avoid an “us vs them” attitude.
  • Encouraging dissent – and making your team a safe space to express alternative views.
  • Acknowledging your employees for their hard work as projects progress – and pointing out how what they’ve done fits into the project as a whole.
  • Inviting feedback from your employees at all stages of a project: asking what they felt went well and what could be improved.

#3: Use Technology to Help

If communication only really takes place in meetings and by email at your company, and if new hires are given a huge physical folder of information to wade through, it’s definitely time to look into some technological solutions.

Employees who don’t feel confident approaching others directly for help, or who rarely speak up in meetings, might find it easier to engage through a tool like Slack, for instance. This can really help foster the “voluntary” type of collaboration that’s so valuable for companies.

With company information – even for simple things like “how to fill out an expense report” – a knowledge base that everyone can update (and stay on top of) is a great solution. Tettra’s knowledge management tool integrates with Slack so that your team can see what you’ve created or updated.

Even if your coworkers already do a good job of collaborating within their team and with other teams, there’s almost certainly more that you could do to foster a supportive, collaborative environment at work. Pick one thing to change today – it could be something as simple as asking an extra question or two during your next meeting.