A culture of collaboration in the workplace can ensure that employees are on the same page, making it easier to solve problems, foster creativity, and build morale.
But successful workplace collaboration doesn't just happen on its own. It requires real buy-in, real work, and—especially in cases where technology hampers collaboration—real change on the organization's part.
Often, that change comes down to easing pain points. Several challenges can get in the way of successful collaboration in the workplace, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. These roadblocks involve issues such as fragmented communications, siloed processes, and numerous others—many of which are so insidious that organizations don't immediately know they're struggling with them.
Let's examine a few common collaboration pain points and what small or mid-sized organizations can do to overcome them.
1. Avoid Information and Collaboration Silos
At a high level, information silos occur when data that should flow freely between departments or people in a workplace stays contained at its original source. This can be caused by incompatible workplace systems (a sales agent's notes not transferring to production, for instance), geographical distance, or any number of other factors.
Troublesome enough on their face, these information silos can also contribute to what you might call collaboration silos, where deficiencies in structure, technology, or other parts of the business make it difficult for people or departments to work together effectively.
For people or departments that work together infrequently, collaboration silos like these can hinder them from locking into a productive groove. Critical information can be lost in translation, creating less-than-stellar customer experiences.
Solving silo challenges is vital for small businesses that need to function smoothly. First, consider your leadership structure. Breaking down departmental silo walls by aligning everyone with larger organizational goals can be a massive help. Second, don't let legacy technology get in the way of successful workplace collaboration. If your tools don't allow your staff to work in a highly collaborative environment from wherever they are, it's time to consider new ones.
2. Find a Unified Vision
Everything your employees do should align with a larger company goal or vision. The silos mentioned above can create a workplace where departments and individuals carry out their own agendas, with little room for outside input or help. This kind of rigidity can keep people from working together as well as they should, as Inc. magazine notes.
Aligning people's daily tasks with larger organizational goals can make workplace collaboration easier. Even unexpected tasks become easier to manage when everyone's following the same conceptual framework.
At a minimum, review your organizational goals and structure and make sure they match up at a granular level. Chances are you can find ways to streamline and promote better workplace collaboration from within. Better yet, hold group meetings and ask employees how they can better align—after all, they know their roles better than anyone.
3. Stay Flexible
Small or mid-sized organizations that are locked into working only one way often struggle when customer needs, tastes, and demands change. That's particularly troublesome when ingrained, counterproductive collaboration habits hinder positive change as the business scales.
Now, consider the idea of functional flexibility. Even light training in secondary work skills—those not essential to the employee's primary role—can have a notable impact on key performance areas, including:
- Conflict resolution
All of these are, not coincidentally, tied directly to successful collaboration in the workplace. Although you don't necessarily need to train all your people to be multi-role superstars, there's definitely something to be said for giving people the skills they need to thrive when they're slightly out of position. In terms of collaboration, that little bit of understanding and experience can go a long way toward getting people working together effectively. Further, tools that allow your people to collaborate in a shared workspace with minimal role-based interference can help, too.
4. Embrace a Distributed Workforce
By now, it's clear that remote work is here to stay (at least in some capacity). Workplace flexibility or a hybrid model is likely a major selling point for the kinds of applicants you want to bring in.
But do your processes currently allow a deep level of collaboration among your people, no matter where they happen to work? If not, revisit procedures that require certain people to be in a certain place for productivity reasons—because in many cases, the right tools are all it takes.
The idea is simple: If your current tools don't make it easy for employees who ostensibly could work together remotely today, they probably won't support the even greater range of productivity needs that will come as technology advances, expectations rise, and your small business grows.
5. Do It for a Better Customer Experience
The consequences of poor workplace collaboration can—and, sadly, often do—spill over to customers who interact with a business. The difficulties that your staff experience due to fragmented collaboration often result in customer frustrations, too. Take the long-known fact that customers hate repeating themselves every time they’re transferred to a different agent. It's the same issue whether the customer's dealing with your sales or service personnel: If your organization doesn't appear to care enough to remember basic information, they'll likely seek out a business that will.
Conversely, an organization that has workplace collaboration down gives itself every chance to provide an excellent customer experience. And here again, tools can make a major difference. Instead of leaving critical communications to chance, give your people tools that allow them to share vital data—and perform other customer-centric tasks—in a combined workspace.
Along with the other changes you've made in the name of better collaboration, you'll have a much-improved experience to show for it.