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The four key areas we focus on for effective collaborative teamwork.

14th July 2016

 
It’s clear – largely backed up by evidence and research – that collaboration is key for business success. Notably, collaboration is crucial for achieving innovation. And what with innovation now recognised as being the last sustainable competitive advantage, it’s easy to see why collaboration has risen in prominence.
 
We should all therefore be aiming to work more collaboratively, in order to bring innovation to the forefront of everything we do.
 
Now, we’re in somewhat of a unique position here at Rima. In that, we operate as both an independent creative agency, as well as having another arm that runs a sizeable in-house design team for a global client. This means that we undertake projects of all sizes, with of course different sized teams to match.
 
Having had to work on many projects that require large teams, we’ve given sustained special attention on the factors that help our larger teams to function better – with a strong focus on collaboration. These factors are principles that we ensure all of our teams – big or small – now follow.
 
So, lets not waste any more time. Here are the key principles we follow – and so the factors you should consider – when working collaboratively in teams.
 
 
 

1. Set objectives.

Clearly, to begin with it is important for the team to be clear on what it is they are trying to achieve. They should know the ultimate goal of the project, along with the important milestones along the way. Essentially, team members must understand the approach that is to be taken, in solving the business problem.
 
Traditionally it was thought that once a team is clued up on the objectives and the project approach, the team members could then simply work together and collaborate on who is to do what. Many thought this actually helped to improve collaboration. But this has proved not really to be the case.
 
Instead, what is likely to ensue is a lot of wasted time, brought about by team members trying to negotiate roles, or even trying to block others from encroaching on what they deem to be their area of work – ‘their patch’, if you like.
 
 
 

2. Assign roles and responsibilities

As we have just alluded to in the previous section, we have found assigning clear roles and responsibilities to be a key factor for collaborative team working success. It is therefore vital that members of your team clearly understand their role and responsibilities. Ideally they need to be in a position where they can carry out the majority of their required role, independently. And so coming together and working collaboratively with others only when needed. This helps individuals to focus on their specific task(s), avoid any possible friction, while always having an eye on how they are contributing to the overall goal and objectives of the project.
 
A team works best collaboratively when each member knows not only their own individual value to the team, but also the value that everyone else contributes too. It is this sense of purpose and understanding that helps to create a relaxed and supportive environment, free from any possible conflict and one in which collaboration can thrive.
 
 
 

3. Leadership.

You probably don’t need us to tell you just how important effective leadership is when it comes to teamwork. A team leader is the component that has the greatest influence on collaborative teamwork.
 
But it is important to understand what it is that makes for a successful team leader. In short, the best leaders are those who can focus both on tasks and relationships.
 
But what does this mean in practice?
 
Well, at the beginning of each new project, leaders are best advised to focus on the first two points that we made: that being to set objectives, and assign roles and responsibilities. Therefore they should take a ‘task-focused’ approach.
 
Then, once the leader has done their ‘task-focussed’ duties – with team members being crystal clear on exactly what it is that is required and expected of each and every one of them – the team leader can then change their leadership approach. Changing from ‘task-focussed’ to ‘relationship focussed’.
 
Being relationship focussed, is unsurprisingly to do with ensuring the correct environment is being cultivated – an environment that promotes knowledge sharing and trust amongst team members.
 
The team leader will clearly need to switch back to being task focussed when required. So as to provide feedback on progress, changes to projects requirements, or when roles and responsibilities need changing. But in the main, a lot of the task-focussed work is required at the beginning. With the subsequent leadership ideally being relationship led. As team members who have purpose, autonomy and empowerment really then just need help with the collaborative environment that they are working in.
 
 
 

4. Informal networks

While, a big part of a leaders role is to focus on nurturing relationships within the team they are currently leading, there is also a need for them to cultivate networks outside of their projects.
 
Without the development of these informal networks, teams could come together and be made up of people who have weak relationships with one another. As such there are lower levels of trust and openness, which makes it more difficult to collaborate than it would be if established relationships already existed. Time is therefore also wasted at the start of projects due to newly acquainted people trying to build relationships.
 
It’s key for leaders of all kinds – project, agency, department, organisational – to have a strong focus on building informal networks. Building a central atrium that all employees have to walk through to get to where they want to go, or a canteen full of free food. These are examples of deliberate attempts to try and cultivate informal networks – getting people to meet, interact, and form relationships with others, across boundaries, in preparation for the fact that one day they may well come together to work on a project. Then when they do, you can guess what their existing relationship will help them with… Yep, collaboration.
 
Hopefully by us having identified the factors that we focus on for effective collaborative teamwork, we’ve provided you with some of the key ways that you can lead and work in your teams more collaboratively.
 
Until next time…
 
Rima
 
 
 

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