The rock star developer. The lone wolf. The recluse. There’s a certain archetype of an employee who doesn’t play well with others, but who, nevertheless, are responsible for the big ideas that catapult a company from mediocrity to superstardom.
Hollywood may have reinforced this idea throughout the decades, but the truth is, these kinds of situations rarely play out well in a workplace setting. The employee might write powerful code for an app or close the largest deals, but when it comes time to maintain it, they lose interest, or they’ve already left the company. Their code isn’t commented, their sales strategy isn’t outlined, and it’s logical only to their particular way of thinking. You’re left in the lurch.
The lone wolf employee isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To quote Molly Owens from Truity:
“To the credit of lone wolves, research suggests that employees who do not work well on teams often devote greater energy to their work tasks than team players, since they are not wasting energy on interpersonal interactions with others on the team. These employees tend to be highly productive when left alone to prosper on the job. They contribute to their organizations through high levels of task completion, self-confidence, and drive.”
Lone wolves can be useful in circumstances where they can be pointed at a task and expected to complete it. For the rest of your organization, though, you need teamwork and collaboration.
Collaboration in the workplace is powerful. When your employees or departments work in isolation, communications issues and disorganized directives hurt productivity.
Conversely, if you have a highly collaborative environment, your team can work at a higher level of productivity. You minimize the disjointedness that comes with teams working in isolation. You can avoid issues and complications such as:
- Your sales team promises product features that your team doesn’t offer.
- Your support team believing something can’t be accomplished, when it can.
- Time wasted on data entry and manual conversions between different data systems.
The keyword is unification. A unified vision, a unified goal, a unified set of processes; help your organization work more fluidly and more effectively on whatever project is on deck.
The only question is, how do you foster this collaborative workplace?
The single best thing you can do to foster an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration in the workplace is cultivating a culture of transparency.
Which makes you want to play a part in an organization more?
- A job where your role is fixed, your directives come from on high with no explanation, and there’s little feedback beyond “meets expectations” during performance reviews.
- A job where your role is defined but fluid, every directive has explanations, and you understand the context of where you fit as part of a larger whole.
For most people, it’s that second option. Transparency in business processes, in directives, in goals; all bolster an individual’s ability to see where they fit as part of the larger whole. Rather than feeling like a nameless cog in a machine, they feel like a valuable part of the team.
The goal is to give everyone context for why things need to happen the way they do. This lets your team members understand their place in the team, the value they bring to the team, and the reason behind limitations placed on them.
It helps prevent restrictions from chafing and helps people understand that when they have a problem, there’s always someone they can talk to, to get it addressed or solved.
This kind of understanding of their place in the organization also helps with the second item on this list.
Establish Judgment-Free Idea Sharing
One key to collaborative teamwork in a transparent environment is accepting ideas from members of your team. A management policy might be developed amongst managers, but to employees, it might be off-track. Different perspectives arm different people with different knowledge; a management team might not see how a policy affects the employees on the ground.
An example: A large company learns that Bluetooth is an insecure communications protocol. As part of operational security, they talk to IT and get Bluetooth connectivity turned off organization-wide. Most people don’t need it and don’t care. The sales team, however, relies on Bluetooth-connected headsets to do their job. Suddenly bereft, they need to adapt to new machines for their workflow. Left out of the decision-making process, they feel unheard and ignored, hurting morale and lowering productivity.
By keeping a transparent environment, your teams can see and discuss the ramifications of a potential policy. Your sales team could speak up and say “hey, we need this” and shoot down the idea. Another team member, even someone outside of management or security, could offer a different solution to the problem.
The key to judgment-free idea sharing is the first bit: judgment-free. Allow everyone to speak up when they have an idea, and if the idea is off-base, explain why. Avoid snark, avoid sarcasm, and avoid anything that makes them feel bad for speaking up.
Present a Unified Vision and Leadership
The leader in the ivory tower is not a good business model. It’s the lone wolf writ large; the eccentric genius who seems like a powerful thought-leader from the outside, but whose policies are notoriously fickle and can damage you from the inside. One highly-visible example is Elon Musk. He makes big promises and makes sweeping changes within his businesses, but from the ground level, it rarely plays out well.
A truly collaborative workplace opens up communications channels between the highest leadership and the common office worker. Policies aren’t handed down, they’re collaboratively developed. Goals are shared by the staff and executives alike. Vision isn’t a corporate piece of ad copy; it’s a driving factor in how everyone works and works together.
A key piece of this is the buy-in for everything at all levels of leadership. It’s difficult to convince your staff to use office social networks and collaboration platforms if the management and executives don’t use them. In a tangible sense, getting your management to lead by example is an extremely powerful strategy. To quote Idea Drop:
“Visibility is key – If employees can see their managers and directors effectively collaborating then they will feel inspired to replicate this behavior, hence improving their productivity.”
This also means avoiding unnecessary special treatment. Accommodations (for employees with medical issues and special needs) are good. Special treatment for executives simply because they’re executives is not.
Encourage Cross-Department Collaboration (And Avoid Competition)
Healthy competition within the workplace can be a boon, but poorly organized competition can cut off any sense of collaboration.
An example: Your customer support team is ranked on the number of tickets they close successfully. A ticket comes up that your support team member doesn’t know how to solve. They could talk to a coworker and hand it off for them to solve – and they know their coworker could solve it – but that would hurt their metrics. Competition for a limited resource (tickets to solve) discourages collaboration and leads to worse outcomes for your customers.
From Kristi Hedges on Forbes:
“On the flip side, too much competition can be deadly – killing morale, causing stress, and fostering backstabbing. Most people wouldn’t request a job where they have to compete every day. That kind of constant vigilance is wearing.”
Competition of the right variety can breed creativity, but it can’t be individual versus the individual. Instead, grade metrics against past performance, against outside forces like other companies, or industry benchmarks. Don’t get your team competing against itself; get them collaborating as a team to compete against others.
Cross-department collaboration can be fostered by making sure everyone knows what responsibilities belong to which departments. If a problem comes up that one team can’t solve, they should know who they need to talk to for the solution. Keeping communications channels open at all times is also critical.
Make One Success Everyone’s Success
Part of fostering collaboration is rewarding not individuals, but teams. Reaching milestones, completing objectives, and navigating a product launch successfully are all worthy rewards. The idea of the employee of the month getting the reward is off-target. Instead, reward the team or the organization responsible, even if that means the entire company.
“How you measure the success of your team will send out signals about what kind of company you are. If you reward effective teamwork and successful collaboration then you are communicating the values that underpin your business.”
This helps cultivate a positive and successful team. Small wins for your company become wins for your entire team.
Use Collaborative Software and Tools
We’ve mentioned collaborative tools and platforms a few times, but what tools, specifically, can you use? There are hundreds on the market, ranging from simple communications apps to robust platforms your entire organization can use to manage task distribution. Some good examples include:
- Loom – A tool that offers video recording, so a team member can record their screen while narrating how to complete a task or solve a problem, and deliver that video to the employee in need of assistance.
- Asana – A board-style task organization and project management platform, best used by small to mid-sized teams for collaboration.
- Slack – The number one go-to workplace instant messenger and chat program for easy, voice-free communication between individuals and teams.
- Samepage – A platform for setting up a dedicated intranet for your organization, to organize, track work, assign tasks, and manage projects all from a central space.
- Monday – Formerly Dapulse, this is a project management platform with features for marketing, construction, sales, HR, IT, software, and more.
- ProofHub – A comprehensive project management and collaboration suite with features for organizing files, planning projects, monitoring progress, and discussing projects with team members and stakeholders.
- Redbooth – A project management platform with support for Gantt charts, Kanban boards, calendars, and transparency features to keep everyone on the same page.
- Igloo – Another platform for collaboration through a branded company or team intranet.
Try to make sure your platforms and tools are available to everyone in your organization, not just people with easy access to the intranet. Make sure contractors, work-from-home employees, and remote workers are all able to collaborate as if they were in the office.
Regardless of what platform, tool, or a combination thereof you use, the key is to pick and stick. Pick a single tool or set of tools, and make sure everyone from the highest executives to the newest intern is using them. The biggest roadblock to collaboration in the workplace is different teams using different tools that don’t place nice together. When everyone is on the same platform, using the same tools (with some allowance for team-specific needs, like dev environments or HR-only platforms), it becomes much easier to collaborate as a transparent team.
Hire Team Players
Everything we’ve written above can help foster an environment of teamwork and collaboration within your organization, but none of it does any good if you’re not hiring the right people.
One of the key qualities necessary for success in a collaborative environment is the ability to work and thrive as part of a team. Not everyone seeking a job is going to handle that kind of environment.
As mentioned at the start, the lone wolf archetype can be a valuable asset to your company, but they need to be managed properly, and they can’t make up the bulk of your workforce.
When hiring, you need to filter for people most likely to succeed in a team. Look for people who are dependable, adaptable, and who motivate others to assist with problems or solve their own. During the application process, look for prospective candidates who talk about team successes rather than individual accomplishments. During the interview process, ask questions aimed at assessing teamwork skills. Be wary of using basic personality testing, as these are easy to game.
Hiring team players is not necessarily enough on its own, of course. You need to foster the right kind of environment to help them succeed once they’re in place within your organization. Still, all of the collaborative tools in the world won’t help loners work as a team, particularly if your management doesn’t buy-in and collaborate as well. Fostering a collaborative environment requires buy-in from the top-down and the ground up.
Did any of these tips give you any ideas? Did we leave anything out? Have you been having issues with your team collaboration? Share with us in the comments below! We respond to every comment and would love to hear from you.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.