Team collaboration is a must when you’re working on projects — but sometimes it can feel a little like herding cats.
Sure, it’s easier than ever to assemble a team, especially now with the rise of remote work and the wealth of communications apps out there. But the truth is, real team collaboration is much more than a Slack channel.
Here’s something to think about: Thirty-six percent of B2B marketers cite collaboration as a “critical challenge.” The reason why it’s a top challenge for so many is because where teamwork flounders, so does growth.
That’s what we’re going to tackle in this guide. We’ll show you what strong team collaboration looks like — and how you can make it happen among your team members.
Collaborate more effectively
Work together with context, transparency, and accountability. Teamwork helps you increase visibility and improve communication so that successful collaboration is at the core of everything you do.
5 team collaboration strategies that actually work
Effective team collaboration doesn’t happen by accident. It takes smart decision-making and conscious effort. Here are a few strategies you can use as a foundation to unite your team.
1. Establish shared spaces to collaborate with your team (Hint: Not email!)
Team collaboration tools are huge — so much so that in 2020, 72% of B2B marketers adopted some sort of new tool.
Why are so many marketers investing in these tools? Well, email just doesn’t cut it as a standalone solution for collaboration. While apps aren’t the be-all-end-all either, they do offer great ways to expand collaboration channels so that you can ensure your team members are working together.
Shared drives, team chatapps, and project management apps are the staples of agencies today. Each serves as a brilliant alternative to time-consuming email chains that make workers feel like they’re being talked at (versus having an actual discussion).
Tools to enhance team collaboration
Looking for tools and mobile apps that can bring the entire team together? Browse below to choose a few essential tools that will work together so your team members can easily share knowledge, send files, communicate, and collaborate.
Collaborative drives and documents (Google Drive, Google Docs)
Chances are, you have some experience with the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive, or Google Docs. Shared spaces like Dropbox and Drive let teams access shared files and folders around the clock — no need to email the files back and forth.
Meanwhile, apps like Google Docs (or even Microsoft Word) offer baked-in features that encourage thoughtful and timely collaboration. In either app, you can leave comments, have conversations, and approve changes within documents.
The problem with using an app like GDocs or MS Word on their own is that you’ll end up relying on team members to keep documents organized and accessible across the organization. This is why you need a cloud drive as a centralized document-sharing hub. Use one that conveniently integrates with your chat software to make life even easier, or use a resource like Teamwork Spaces that allows teams to work and share together.
Team chatapps (Slack, Teamwork)
For fully remote teams, chat apps are a must-have for the sake of real-time collaboration. The ability to communicate from anywhere reduces bottlenecks and recreates the sense of unity that in-office teams enjoy.
For example, many big-budget businesses adopted Slack as their go-to team chatapp. Company-wide and team-specific channels serve as collaborative spaces to ask questions, provide clarification, and share documents.
Project management software (Teamwork)
And then you have project management solutions like Teamwork. These do much more than chat apps or cloud drives. Project managementapps should give you features like project boards, which serve as the central hub for remote and distributed teams.
Rather than bounce between apps or chase people down for updates, everything from files shared to team communication and brainstorming sessions are documented in one place.
2. Be open and transparent about your projects’ progress
“Uh, what should I be doing next?” “
“Who are we waiting on?”
“Where are we at with this project?”
If you hear those questions a lot, it’s a good sign that transparency isn’t what it could be. Teammates and collaborators should always know the following by default for any given project:
Deadlines (including individual task deadlines for long-term projects)
Who the collaborators and stakeholders are
Putting project progress front and center creates a much-needed sense of accountability (not to mention urgency). When projects are transparent, there’s a greater incentive to respect team members’ schedules while keeping things moving. This transparency also helps stakeholders understand each team member's project contributions.
Here’s a snapshot of how Teamwork’s project view breaks down the “who, what, when, where, and why” of your team’s schedule at a glance.
Share ways to monitor and track project progress
As a team leader, one of your primary roles is to create the transparency everyone needs. You’ll find some techniques below to help your team stay on track.
Schedule check-ins for progress updates
Check-ins are one of the top ways to keep projects moving. These can be daily or weekly meetings with individuals on the team — and you can hold them via synchronous or asynchronous communications channels, whatever works best and is most convenient.
However you handle these meetings, the goal is to dig in and find out how things are going. When team members are on track, reward those successes — and take notes because the workflows and tactics they’re using to stay on track could be helpful in the future.
And when things aren’t going so well? Find out what’s causing the bottleneck. Is the team member not receiving the information they need to move forward, or are technical issues getting in the way? More than likely, it’s time to put problem-solving skills to work to correct the issue.
Regularly record & analyze data
Project managers can track dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) — and you should choose a few to monitor your team’s performance. Broadly, most KPIs fall into four categories:
Timeliness, which monitors your on-time delivery record, either on task deadlines or for project deadlines as a whole.
Budget, which tracks whether the project is staying under your allocated dollars, or going over projected costs.
Efficacy, which is a measure of how well you’re utilizing time and money.
Quality, which assesses satisfaction, both among team members and stakeholders.
Monitoring these things lets you both identify problems in the moment — and analyze past projects to replicate successes and avoid failures.
Set clear deadlines
When people don’t have clear goals, they tend to operate aimlessly. It’s a universal truth in life — and it holds just as true when you’re working on a project. Setting clear deadlines is an important way to give team members a goal: This task needs to be done by that date.
Setting deadlines is also vital in organizing the individual tasks that lead to project completion. In most cases, once a team member completes a particular task, the product moves on to another team member so that they can do their portion of the work. Clear, visible deadlines help everyone know what to expect.
3. Define roles and responsibilities among your teammates
Remember those group projects in high school where you had to overdeliver because your classmates were slacking?
The same shouldn’t happen among members of the team. This speaks to not only keeping projects transparent but also making roles and responsibilities crystal clear. Specifically:
Ensure that tasks are distributed appropriately among the team based on bandwidth
Make sure teammates are empowered to do work that plays to their strengths
Reinforce the idea that each individual, regardless of different backgrounds or skill sets, is part of an established team or department.
Tips for defining team roles and responsibilities
As you can see, defining roles and responsibilities is crucial to helping everyone work towards a common goal. Now let’s talk about tips to help you pull it off.
Clearly understand team members’ strengths and weaknesses
A recent survey of 2,000 workers finds that almost half (46%) of American workers have left jobs because they felt unappreciated.
What makes a team member feel unappreciated?
Honestly, there are lots of things — like a lack of recognition from management or a toxic work environment. But one of the biggest things that leads to a sense of underappreciation is when a team member’s skills go unutilized. Think about it this way: If your skillset (and passion) happens to be writing blogs, would you feel particularly happy or productive if a project manager asked you to design a user interface instead?
That’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. Assess each team member’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses, then assign tasks accordingly. You make the best use of their strengths while helping them feel appreciated for those strengths.
Outline what needs to be accomplished
This goes along with setting deadlines, which is one part of the equation. Since it’s not enough to simply hand out deadlines with only a vague idea of what needs to be done by that date, you’ll need to fill in the rest of the equation.
To do that, outline exactly what needs to be done by the deadline. Again, when goals are clear — both in terms of specific tasks and the timeframe to do them — people not only have something clear to work towards, but they can also plan their schedules accordingly. At the end of the day, the more knowledge sharing that happens among your team, the better.
Be open-minded and welcome feedback
Open-mindedness is another thing that can help team members feel more comfortable and appreciated. Sometimes it’s better to skip the team-building activities and just listen to what your team has to say instead. When they’re comfortable sharing feedback, you’ll discover their pain points (the things preventing them from getting more done). From there, you’ll be able to dig deeper. Engage in problem-solving to help them streamline or try their suggestions to help make projects flow smoothly.
4. Break down project goals and milestones (and put ‘em into context)
Breaking down project goals and milestones is really a two-phase technique. The first involves breaking the bigger pieces of a project into smaller tasks for individual team members. This makes each piece more manageable and makes it easier for everyone involved to track overall progress.
The second phase involves adding context. Keep in mind that anything you can do to engage workers and adopt a team mentality is a plus that will help reinforce company culture and the collaborative team mindset. Explaining the “why” behind a project and its necessary tasks is a subtle yet significant way to do that. Based on that context, team members have more of a stake in the project and a greater incentive to knock out their tasks.
This is another area where Teamwork is valuable. Teamwork highlights individual tasks within projects and allows users to mark them as complete as they progress. From there, other teammates will understand what they need to do next — and stakeholders will have a bird’s-eye view of where the project stands.
Project goal-setting best practices
Goals, milestones, and deadlines: How do you take a big project and break it all down into manageable pieces? Follow the best practices below to create a workflow with milestones that helps everyone meet goals in less time and with fewer headaches.
Break down long-term goals into smaller parts
Every project will have at least one long-term goal (probably several). Identify those long-term goals, whether monthly, quarterly, or yearly, and then break them down into smaller pieces. Think in terms of weekly goals to break most projects down into manageable pieces.
Match goals with specific team members’ strengths
This goes back to tip #3, where we discussed understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Here’s where that knowledge proves invaluable. If you’ve done the legwork to understand everyone’s strengths (and maybe even jotted those valuable skills down in your team collaboration software), then you can easily match tasks and goals to the team members who are best suited to them.
Make goals & milestones challenging yet achievable
Want to build employee engagement? One of the keys to success is making goals challenging, but possible — and we can’t stress enough how important it is to strike the right balance.
When goals aren’t challenging enough, people feel less useful, or they may feel underappreciated and get less done. If you push too far in the opposite direction, team members will be stressed, disorganized, and possibly even angry, feeling like they’re being mistreated.
To strike the right balance, make sure that you’re following the advice above by playing to team members’ strengths. Then assign tasks according to what they should reasonably be able to do within a given time frame. Since everyone works at a different pace, it may be helpful to refer to prior time-tracking data to ensure that you’re not overloading individuals with more than is reasonably possible.
5. Ensure your communication is open (yet secure) to new collaborators
From fresh freelancers to full-time hires and one-off clients, agencies need to be able to bring new people into the fold ASAP. That said, you should do so without sacrificing security or disrupting your business.
For example, many businesses have private Slack channels for guest collaborators or freelancers that might not need to see the big picture of your business. This way, you can seamlessly integrate part-time or temporary workers into your communications strategy without worrying about oversharing.
Similarly, restricting permissions to certain files or drives is a smart way to ensure that only the right people access your file sharing system.
The same applies to your project boards. In Teamwork, you can invite users via email and limit (or allow) access to a project workspace based on your specifications, including Chat and Spaces.
Onboarding tips for new collaborators
Need to bring new team members up to speed? One of the biggest benefits of team collaboration tools is that you’ll be able to develop a process for getting everyone on board. We’ll dive into helpful tips below.
Set clear onboarding expectations
As with most aspects of project management, setting clear expectations is key. In the context of onboarding, that means defining a list of goals or objectives that new team members will need to work through to complete the onboarding process. Not only will that mean familiarizing them with the project they’ll be working on, but also the project management tools and collaboration tools that you’ll be using along the way.
Clear time in your schedule for adequate training
Failing to train people properly can come with high costs. Team members who aren’t sure how to do tasks or navigate your systems will be frustrated, leading to higher turnover. It also leads to lost productivity as people struggle to learn things independently.
Set aside time to train people properly. If you’re working with remote team members, host webinars or use video conferencing along with supplemental text or video wikis to make sure all necessary information gets across.
Personalize the onboarding process
Every new team member you’ll need to onboard will be a little different — not just in terms of personality but also in terms of skills and tasks they’ll be doing. Change up the messaging a bit for each new team member: Not only will this help them feel more comfortable, but also gives you the opportunity to tailor your training materials to the skills they'll use in their role.
The not-so-hidden benefits of effective team collaboration
You’re probably wondering if tweaking your business’s approach to collaboration is worth it.
The short answer? Absolutely.
Beyond the benefits we’ve broken down already, let’s look at some proven reasons why so many organizations prioritize conscious collaboration.
Getting more done
It’s no surprise that collaboration goes hand in hand with productivity. That said, the degree to which teams become more productive is staggering.
Recent research from Gallup finds that engaged and collaborative workplaces are 66% more productive and experience greater participation from individual employees.
Workers who share ideas and respond swiftly are more likely to crush their tasks.
Doing better work
Brainstorming. Thoughtful questions. Comments and critiques.
In addition to productivity, consider how team collaboration encourages teams to come up with better ideas. Teams that are open and comfortable with each other can hash out campaigns and concepts without fear of judgment.
Helping your team avoid burnout
Especially when managing remote teams, where personal interactions can be few and far between, team collaboration is crucial. In addition to the documentation and reporting of projects, collaboration provides opportunities for coworkers to share their experiences and simply get to know each other — and that’s an important way to make people more comfortable and less likely to feel burned out. Besides, making connections with colleagues (yes, even freelancers!) improves work performance.
Encouraging cross-functional communication
In some organizations, teams, departments, or even individuals with different functions rarely cross over to mingle with those from other disciplines. That can lead to a lack of transparency — which, as discussed above, can impede collaboration and workflow.
A lack of cross-team collaboration can also be detrimental to creativity. People from different groups bring different perspectives to the table, which makes for more robust brainstorming sessions.
Boosting employee retention rates
Any kind of communication breakdown — including a lack of collaboration — can lead to rising frustrations among team members. And you know what that means: When tensions are high, people are more likely to start looking around for new jobs that offer a more comfortable collaborative environment. Boost your team’s collaboration game to boost employee retention rates.
How to improve your current team collaboration strategy
If you’re on board with communication tools and want to make an effort to rethink how your team works together, you’re on the right track. To wrap things up, let’s look at four final tips to cement your collaboration strategy.
Tip 1: Create proactive processes for how your team communicates
Again, you can’t just dump your colleagues into Slack or a project managementapp and expect them to get it. You need to be clear about:
Where your team collaborates (apps, spaces)
How often do teammates need to check in or provide updates
Expectations for communication (in terms of tone, language, etc.)
In short, you need an explicit internal communications strategy that details these points and more. An established strategy makes it easier to onboard new talent and seamlessly integrate it into your processes.
Tip 2: Encourage flexibility and autonomy (Hint: Don’t micromanage)
Collaboration is about getting stuff done, not just chatting or checking in endlessly.
Team members should be given a sense of autonomy rather than feel pressured to communicate constantly. Doing so is not only a mental burden but also a net negative drain on their time and creativity.
Again, team collaboration is about empowering people rather than bogging them down. This speaks to the importance of establishing a communication cadence and giving workers some much-needed off time.
Teamwork allows users to change their status within the platform for times when they need to step away or otherwise focus deeply. This is a prime example of giving people control of their schedules without completely shutting themselves off from their teams.
Tip 3: Integrate collaboration into your company culture
If you want to boost morale, allow your team to talk openly and get to know each other. From encouraging diversity to supporting your teammates in their personal lives, collaboration and communication are signs of healthy company culture. Good communication is the foundation of collaboration — and it's up to team leaders to improve communication and make it a part of your company culture.
Tip 4: Put the right tools in place (Teamwork)
Without the right tools in place, even the best collaboration strategies in the world are doomed to fail. Your team needs a space for communication, file sharing, a video call platform, and a project management tool that offers integrations with the other tools in your suite.
That’s where an app like Teamwork comes in. Teamwork gives you loads of project management and collaboration tools, plus integrations to support your favorite apps.
Have you made team collaboration a top priority?
Strong collaboration happens when there’s buy-in and spaces for teammates to communicate. Whether you’re just now getting your team together or are trying to fine-tune your current collaboration strategy, the tips above can help.
And don’t forget the role a tool like Teamwork can play in bringing your team together.
Want to see it in action? Sign up today to see why more than 20,000 businesses trust Teamwork every single day.