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The 6 Elements of Successful Collaboration

Shortly after I arrived in Australia to play soccer for a NSW team, I was put on the bench to get used to the way things worked. However, when the centre-forward was injured, I was called to play. Unprepared – I didn’t even know my team-mates’ names – I floundered, unused to their signals and roles. I couldn’t communicate with my colleagues and I very publicly failed.

Three Types of Collaboration

There’s nothing like failed collaboration to demonstrate why working together is important. When collaboration works, it usually goes unnoticed, but when it fails, everybody knows it. The lesson I learned the hard way on the sports field applies equally in business. There are three types of collaboration:

  1. creative – where two or more people create something to achieve a specific goal,
  2. connective – bringing together information from disparate sources, and
  3. compounding – where a team builds on previous achievements to reach further.

To kick business goals, all these types or phases of collaboration are needed.

Six Elements of Successful Collaboration

As I learned in my soccer game, just putting together a group of people is no guarantee of success, no matter how skilled each individual may be. Every strong leader, whether in sports, business, or any other aspect of life, must bring together six key facets of teamwork:

  1. Motivation. After the thrilling netball final at the recent Commonwealth Games, the captain of the losing Australian team questioned whether the lower-ranked English were hungrier for the win. They chased down every ball relentlessly, making every goal matter. Their effort paid off. Motivating a team to be first to market, or to create the best possible customer experience, is a key element.
  2. Communication. It is important to recognise the difference between communication – a one-way process where a single person is responsible – and collaboration – where a group takes responsibility and agrees on how to achieve the same thing. I like to say that you can communicate without collaboration, but you can’t collaborate without communication. From setting out specific objectives and roles, to keeping a team informed of progress and challenges, strong communication is vital to team achievement.
  3. Diversity. Just as a soccer team would fail if it consisted of eleven centre-forwards, a business team will flounder if it consists of identical personality types or roles. A variety of personalities and demographics brings a far broader range of perspectives.
  4. Sharing. Making sure that everyone is recognised, and that findings are shared across the team, leads to stronger bonding and deeper understanding. Other shared information, such as calendars and scheduling, can also lead to team efficiency. Apps like Calendar.help, based on Cortana Analytics, can recognise the nature of an appointment by language from the initiating email, check everyone’s availability, and suggest suitable times. When a team member no longer spends time chasing dates, they can devote more attention to the core objectives of a project.
  5. Support. When everybody supports each other, without finger-pointing, the team dynamic is infinitely more powerful. Those able to express ideas in a supportive environment are more likely to make breakthroughs, whereas teams with a blame culture repress innovation. Mistakes can be some of the most powerful learning opportunities in a supportive group.
  6. Problem-Solving. Any collaboration is about solving problems, so a group that can’t solve problems can’t work. This often links back to team diversity – including some problem-solving personalities in the group is essential. This can mean looking beyond the obvious – sometimes it may be an engineer who solves a marketing problem, and a customer service clerk who identifies the flaw in a new app design. Diversity and problem-solving often go hand-in-hand.

Collaboration Technology

There are many apps available to support collaboration, but without team training, it may be the best piece of technology you never use. Collaboration is all about engaging with people, so ensuring they are confident in using your chosen app is key.

If you Google collaboration technology, you’ll find many different applications. Among those we’ve worked with recently, a project for the Federal Department of Finance stands out. They needed to replace an aging collaboration tool. With Microsoft technology already in play, Microsoft Teams was a logical choice, allowing collaboration with internal and external teams. Along with security, the features and functionality, such as integrated SharePoint and OneNote, helped to meet users’ needs.

Another project, at a leading university, took a different approach, with the decision led by the marketing department instead of IT. Wanting to be seen as innovative, and to support research while attracting students, the university chose Workplace by Facebook. It is a very cost-effective option, with the same familiar chat and IM capability already there. We’ve worked with the university to integrate SharePoint.

A Collaboration Future

We have all witnessed the continued growth of collaboration in our workplaces and seen the benefits that come with doing it right. The question for IT teams is – how do we keep up with demand effectively, and align well with business needs? At JuiceIT, I spoke about the need to keep people engaged in any project, and how vendors are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) that supports humans in their efforts to collaborate. In businesses, and yes, even on the soccer pitch, technology is helping us to score more goals.

Time to find a better way to build collaboration in your organisation? I’m always happy to chat about how to make technology support your efforts and help your teams perform at their best.


Tags: Collaboration, JuiceIT, JuiceIT 2018, Microsoft, Microsoft 365, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Mobility, The Anywhere Workplace

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