In its simplest form, collaboration means working together. When you look a bit closer, collaboration is also a chance to contribute to a project, learn how other people work, and develop a new skill. Collaboration is central to the workplace because it involves the diverse skills and experiences of two or more employees. When employees work together, they complete tasks faster and more efficiently. Thus, hiring managers value strong collaborators.
You can tell if you’re a strong collaborator if you:
Are open to hearing the thoughts and ideas of others
Enjoy learning from other people
Believe that everyone has something to offer
Value input from your coworkers
Although collaboration is valued by employers across industries and companies, some prioritize collaboration more than others. For example, shared workspaces—also called coworking spaces— originally served freelancers, consultants, and other gig workers. Recently, these open-concept spaces have become more popular as companies—most commonly small businesses and startups— have started to prioritize collaboration more.
Companies like WeWork and Your Alley have built their brands on making space for collaboration, but they’re not the only ones. In 2018, the Harvard Business Review reported on the increasing number of companies that were starting their own coworking spaces to promote collaboration. Sprint, IBM, and SAP all made the list, reinforcing the idea that tech is the leading industry that embraces collaboration.
5 steps to more effective collaboration
1. Know what you bring to the table.
Don’t spend half your time fighting imposter syndrome (although it’s common). You are part of the group because you add value. Perhaps you know the subject matter really well or you understand what the group’s needs are. Either way, you bring something important to the collaboration. Figure out what that is and use it for the good of the group.
2. Understand the task.
Don’t wait for someone else to bring you up to speed. Be clear on what you’re being asked to do. If you’re struggling to understand the task, ask questions to gain clarity. Examples include:
What is the end product for this collaboration/project?
Who is the end product for?
When is the task, assignment, or project due?
What is the timeline for this?
3. Keep an open mind.
Go into the collaboration with an open mind toward the people and the project. You may be teaming up with just one person or several others. Keep an open mind toward how they work and what they have to offer. Similarly, remain open to changes in the assignment. Maintain flexibility in case you need to fine-tune the goal, timeline, or entire project.
4. Be an active listener.
Active listening helps to reduce conflict, avoid misunderstandings, and build healthy rapport with your teammates.
According to Verywell Mind, you will know if you are practicing active listening if you:
Are being patient while others are speaking
Ask meaningful questions to understand what has been said
Ask for clarification
Give eye contact while listening
Read more: How to Listen Effectively (& Why You Should)
5. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
While it’s important to listen, it’s also important for you to make your voice heard when it truly counts. Examples include:
Calling out disrespect (toward you or another collaborator)
Sharing an idea that can help move the project forward
Commending a peer on a good idea or suggestion
Asking for clarity if you don't understand something
Making it clear that you’re open to collaborating more (if you are)
Skills and qualities you need to collaborate well
Key skills, such as written and oral communication, delegation, and relationship management, are sure to make for more efficient collaboration, regardless of industry or company. It also helps to know your way around some commonly used software programs, such as Microsoft Office, G Suite, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other technical tools that aid in organizing information and streamlining teamwork.
In addition, strong collaborators tend to have a good mix of skills and qualities. Qualities of a strong collaborator include:
Openness to learning
If you possess these qualities, you probably know how to make solid decisions, have a strong understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and can embrace other people’s ideas. Perhaps one of the greatest things about all of these skills and qualities is that they can be learned, provided that you are committed to learning new ways to collaborating well.
Overcoming common barriers to collaboration
Even the best collaborations are sometimes plagued by common barriers. Be prepared to tackle these so that you and your collaborator(s) don’t lose sight of the common goal.
How to overcome it: It never fails—one collaborator tries to outshine the others, turning the collaboration into a competition. If this happens, incorporate icebreakers into your meetings and consistently remind everyone of what they're doing well. These simple gestures can help each collaborator identify things they have in common, build rapport, and combat insecurity, which often breeds competitiveness.
Barrier: Knowledge hoarding
How to overcome it: So, what do you do about team members who keep information to themselves, even if it can benefit the group? Give them a central place to document their findings, such as a Google Doc, Zoho file, or Dropbox file. Gently remind anyone who’s not adding to the shared file that all sharing is vital to effective collaboration.
How to overcome it: We’ve established that some companies support collaboration more than others; if yours does not, (e.g., they micromanage often, discourage teamwork, or fail to prioritize relationship-building), overcome this by building a team around a high-priority project. If you’re not in a position to make this decision, pitch the idea to a supervisor or department head. Encourage collaboration on a project the company values, offer to coordinate details of the collaboration, and gather support from coworkers to collectively move the project forward.
Barrier: Lack of motivation
How to overcome it: You’re amped about working with the team, but you quickly find that others are not. Help your peers feel more energized about collaborating by asking what they hope to gain from the experience. For instance, if a member of the team wants to learn more about the subject matter, task them with researching the topic or interviewing a subject matter expert. This helps them clearly see what they can get out of the collaboration and motivate them to contribute more meaningfully.