Bringing together a group of people who might be as different from each other as night and day almost always brings about problems that get in the way of good teamwork. So often, it comes down to an interplay between deficient team dynamics and process losses that erode efficiency and the kind of complementarity that is necessary for effective collaboration.
Despite that, employees today spend 65% of their workday on collaboration, according to McKinsey. Clearly, managers need to be able to provide the conditions necessary for optimum efficiency and effectiveness in collaboration. Here’s how to do just that.
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Unless they’re united around the pursuit of the same cause, you don’t have a team yet. Without a purpose, they’re just a group of people who happen to work together. People should have a clear idea of why they’ve been brought together, the value that their work will provide, and the constraints that they’ll be operating within. Once they know this, they’ll be much more willing to put aside their differences.
Even if they have personality or working style clashes, they’ll proactively find a way to get around them. As the philosopher Nietzsche put it, “he who has a why can bear almost any how.”
A huge component of this is to keep reiterating the company’s values and mission. Additionally, managers need to facilitate alignment between employees’ individual motivations and the company’s goals.
The unspoken social rules dictating group interactions can make or break a team’s effectiveness. It goes without saying that managers shouldn’t play favourites. More importantly, though, they should also strive to ensure that everyone in the team feels equally welcome and appreciated. In this regard, office cliques often represent a thorny issue.
While they may help clique members attain a sense of security and belonging, they can also be highly exclusionary and alienating, especially since their “rules of membership” tend to be quite arbitrary.
Most of all, they can be damaging to psychological safety, which is the most important ingredient of effective teams. It’s much harder to encourage open communication, for instance, when people aren’t willing to take the interpersonal risk of being ostracised by the office cliques.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A task that one team member hates to work on and struggles with is a task that another member relishes and thrives on. Knowing this, managers should encourage their employees to hold job crafting swap meets. Here, people exchange tasks with one another, creating an organic means of ensuring a good strengths-task fit.
Not only is this an organic way of tapping on your team’s diverse strengths, but it also gives people a sense of autonomy that feeds their intrinsic motivation.
Long, inefficient meetings and endless email exchanges are some of the most time-consuming endeavours that can bog down collaboration efforts. Most of the time, though, not much is done about it because people simply accept it as a necessary evil. On the contrary, setting norms around meeting attendance and email responses can improve both the quality and speed of teamwork.
Elon Musk, for example, has three simple rules for meetings at Tesla:
The second rule, in particular, is crucial. People often feel obliged to stick around for the whole meeting even if they realise in the first 5 minutes that they don’t need to be there. Because no one wants to risk being seen as apathetic, a lot of time and productivity is thrown out the window.
Likewise, Steve Jobs used to have similar rules for meetings. He mandated that each meeting should have an action list, and every action item would have a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual.) Having this structure facilitated smoother discussions during meetings.
No one would waste time discussing things that would end up not being acted on. It was also crystal clear who was responsible for which tasks, hence simultaneously promoting greater accountability.
One of the most common yet easily avoidable sources of wasted time and energy is the lack of coordination between team members. It’s the constant hassle of asking around for who’s in charge of which project, or whose task is dependent on whose work to be completed.
Instead of needlessly putting up with such tedium, it’s much easier and more efficient to have a centralised means of keeping track of individual workloads.
This could take the form of daily Scrum stand-up meetings, a visual management board, or a regularly updated digital file. Ultimately, it depends on your team’s specific situations and needs.
In an always-on world, collaboration fatigue can easily set in. Team problem-solving, in particular, is served by a balanced approach to teamwork and solitude, which makes it crucial to ensure the right balance between collaboration and alone time.
People need to be around one another to bounce off ideas and feed off each other’s creativity and thinking styles. At the same time, alone time is necessary to produce valuable creative insights. Additionally, it’s critical for the kind of distraction-free, high-focused work that bestselling author Cal Newport calls “deep work.”