Effective collaboration is easier said than done. While we all have an innate need to connect and cooperate with our colleagues, there are a ton of obstacles that stop us from doing so. And investing in collaboration tools alone is not enough to solve the problem. So why does collaboration fail? And what can we practically do to protect against it?
1. Poor relationships
You don’t have to be best friends to collaborate well, but you do need to have mutual respect and be able to communicate. If this is the first time a team has worked together, it may take a while for the different personalities to gel. It’s normal to have teething problems, but to succeed you must recognize them – and resolve them – early. If you’re panicking about deadlines and juggling different tasks, it’s easy to forget how important your team’s connection is… but do this at your peril!
So how do you keep relationships warm? Try to bring the team together as much as you can, so long as it’s actually helpful (nothing is more annoying than too many check-in meetings!). As long as you’re meeting frequently and sharing the latest developments, you won’t run the risk of communication breakdowns – and morale will remain high, too. Team members should see each other as collaborators and not competitors, so take time to build up relationships before work starts, if that’s possible.
2. Lack of clarity
Lack of clarity is a big one, because it can involve so many different variables. Let’s look at two of the most common issues that stem from a lack of clarity:
Goal uncertainty: To succeed in their objectives, a group working collaboratively needs to share the same vision and aim. If you have a group of people and everyone wants a different result, the collaboration will fail. You need to ensure everyone’s individual goals align with the team’s overarching aim. This means getting rid of any egos that might influence the end goal! A good way of getting your team on board is ensuring they’re involved when you first set these goals; then they’re invested and following the vision from day one.
Uncertain leadership: Lack of clear coordination and ownership is another killer. Large projects often have several team leads, and it’s not uncommon for each leader to have their own agenda and objectives. As long as the end goal is shared by all, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but an indistinct allocation of responsibilities between leaders can result in dissatisfaction and dysfunction. Yet again, it’s super important to be clear from the beginning: set roles, give ownership and establish workflows. You can’t collaborate effectively without this structure.
3. Tech overload
Tools are an essential part of the job, but too many of them is overwhelming and disruptive. If you’re using Buffer for social media, Slack for interaction, Trello for project management and Zoom for video, it’s easy to see how communication can become chaotic – and without effective communication, you can’t achieve effective collaboration.
So choose a select amount of simple, lightweight tools. Use only one project management or collaboration tool, and ensure everyone knows how to use it. Cut out what you don’t need and establish expectations for the tools you do use so everyone is on the same page. Once you’ve defined the purpose of your tools and how everyone should use them, you won’t run the risk of fragmented or lost communication.
4. Lack of visibility
It’s absolutely essential to have full visibility over your team’s progress; what everyone’s doing and whether you’re on-track. The problem is, the further you go along the collaboration path – and the more people who get involved – the harder it can be to keep that visibility. So what to do?
Get a task tracking tool that lets you quickly see project progress and team availability. You’ll want to know individual capacity, workload, activities, time spent on tasks and availability. But it’s also good to know how much time people spend on different types of work, so you can better plan and forecast resources and deadlines for future collaborations. Automate this data flow as much as possible so you don’t have to manually track your performance, and make sure it respects employee data privacy. Without trust, your tracking efforts will fall completely flat.