While day-to-day life is much closer to what it was pre-pandemic, there’s been a seismic shift in how American knowledge workers do their jobs. Fifty-eight percent of Americans work from home at least once a week. It’s even more pronounced among tech workers, where 85% are fully remote or hybrid. In-person collaboration is no longer the default. At the beginning of the pandemic, teams overcame the hurdles of being fully remote thanks to tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack.
While it’s safer health-wise for team members to collaborate in-person again, it’s still not easy to get them together. Teams are more spread out than ever. In fact, Upwork indicates that more than 40 million Americans will hold fully remote jobs in the next five years. Finding ways to collaborate effectively in a hybrid work environment is paramount.
Collaboration benefits business
Collaboration enables a business to go further faster by bringing together diverse experience, viewpoints, and strengths. While it’s tempting for leaders to think they can get to their destination faster if they are unencumbered by competing points of view, collaboration forces teams to slow down. Faced with the common constraints of time, money, and energy, collaboration allows each team member to bring forward their greatest strengths while relying on others to complement their weaknesses to arrive at better outcomes.
In his book The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker said, “Effective executives make strength productive. They fill positions and promote based upon what a person can do — not to minimize weakness but to maximize strength.” A leader who has permission to lean into their natural strengths will yield a bigger return on their investment in time and energy. The only way they can do that is if their weaknesses aren’t holding them back. That’s why it’s beneficial to round out the team with others who excel at those weaknesses.
The Hogan Assessment, a leading personality assessment tool, identifies five key roles for team effectiveness: results, pragmatism, innovation, process, and relationships. A team in which the majority scores high on process might be effective at focusing on planning and execution, but may struggle with tactical agility. A team that’s built with members who are less homogenous in scoring on process will be better equipped to balance planning and execution with tactical agility.
Collaboration benefits employees
Collaboration doesn’t just benefit the business; it benefits employees. Collaboration decreases feelings of isolation in work. Amy Edmonson, a Harvard Business School professor who has researched psychological safety in teams for more than 30 years, identified Willingness to Help as one of the four most significant factors contributing to psychological safety. Psychological safety is the “secret sauce” for high-performing teams that click. When employees feel connected to others in their work, it increases the likelihood that they will ask for help when they need it, and offer it when others need it, rather than isolating themselves.
Collaboration reinforces that no one should be carrying the sole burden on their shoulders. In my work as an executive coach, I remind my clients that best-selling authors and award-winning journalists have editors that help them hone the expertise they are most known for. If it’s part of their winning process, leaders in other fields and industries can give themselves permission to receive support from a team, as well.
Employees help foster a collaborative approach
Feedback is a powerful tool to improve performance and business results. It takes a lot of courage to offer feedback when colleagues have not asked for it. Inviting feedback makes it much easier to overcome that hesitation, because the giver knows the recipient wants to hear it. Bullet-proofing, a process developed by Keith Ferrazzi, invites challenge and support from within the team by embracing the shared belief that the process will strengthen the ideas and results.
Early in a project, a team is more likely to be open to break frame ideas and divergent thinking. Closer to the deadline, the window for imaginative but non-essential ideas closes. The clearer the team is during a project’s early stages, the less likely they are to misinterpret what’s needed or welcome at any given point. Kaner’s Model brings this concept to life, and I encourage leaders to share this with their team and indicate where they are in the process.
Businesses encourage workplace collaboration
Effective collaboration balances attention to the end result with the relationships within the team. This comes down to companies that are committed to living their values and building a culture that places as much emphasis on the way the team achieves success as it does the results. For example, setting realistic expectations for workload will increase the likelihood that team members will be able to extend support when others need it – a key attribute of psychological safety. When teams complete a project where they’ve been operating over-capacity, giving them a recovery period before starting another intense project will increase their openness to extending themselves beyond their defined roles and responsibilities.
Results at the expense of relationships will make it harder to sustain or repeat results. Businesses need to make it clear that leaders who damage relationships on the path to results are not rewarded for their behavior. If, for example, a leader has consistently higher turnover within their group, it’s worth exploring the impact their leadership style has on relationships within the team. Also, double-check to make sure that leaders aren’t inadvertently rewarded for winning at the expense of relationships. One way to do this is through a 360-degree review process, either annually or in preparation for a promotion.
Conversely, prioritizing relationships over results will make it challenging to reach the business’ potential. Make the measures of success clear while also demonstrating empathy for both the individual experience and bigger external forces. A leader can be understanding of a short-term family emergency without needing to accept indefinite missed deadlines or enabling someone to habitually skirt their responsibilities.
Despite all the great resources to support virtual collaboration, many teams still place a premium on in-person collaboration. Prioritize the quality of the in-person gatherings over the quantity. For example, in April 2022, Airbnb released a plan that gave employees flexibility in working anywhere within their home country while also identifying select times when it was a priority for teams to convene in-person. The company suggested that teams would benefit from being physically together one week per quarter, which still extends enormous flexibility to their employees. A handful of in-person team sessions each year might provide the connection the team needs to continue working together effectively for months in between.
Effective collaboration is not achieved through a single act, but rather through a series of commitments and behaviors that create the conditions for team members to come together to accomplish more than they could independently.
Peter Gandolfo is a Professional Certified Coach at Evolution, a professional coaching and holistic leadership development firm.