Ignoring the need for collaboration is a mistake that may be holding you back as you look to compete with nationwide or global organizations. A recent Fierce, Inc. study found that 86 percent of participants cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. An Atlassian survey also found that 50 percent of employees are more motivated by team success than company success (27 percent) or individual success (23 percent).
Bottomline: teamwork motivates employees and collaboration leads to fewer failures, and therefore, greater success.
As you look to allocate time and money into creating a culture of collaboration in your small business, consider these five reasons to make it happen. Don’t miss the tips for implementing, too, which can be the hardest part.
When employees face a roadblock, collaboration is a way to crowdsource a solution. Our teachers always said, “two heads are better than one,” and in business, that couldn’t be more true. The more difficult the problem, the more you can benefit from an outside perspective, even if that perspective is from someone else on the same team.
A fresh set of eyes can provide a new viewpoint and often helps to re-frame the issue. This collaborative problem solving (CPS) is a useful tool for businesses of all sizes, but especially small businesses that are working with limited resources.
The National Center for Educational Studies has even recommended that CPS skills be added to the U.S. educational curriculum. They feel that this will better prepare students to assimilate to the modern workplace.
Put it into practice: When employees face a problem, encourage them to use frame-storming. Coined by Stanford Professor Tina Seelig, this exercise works best in a collaborative environment. Team members look at an issue and physically re-write and re-word it multiple times. This practice allows them to see the situation in a different light and formulate a solution. You can even create a printable PDF for this exercise, making it easy for employees to implement on their own.
Collaboration doesn’t just happen while brainstorming in a conference room. Making the entire management of a project collaborative—why most companies use project management software—allows everyone to be most effective. Wrike explains that any project is successful based on the following three factors:
In every step, collaboration is key, from communication to tracking progress and budget. Without this organizational collaboration, your projects may be falling flat. Worse, you may be going over budget, both in time and money, which could cost you referral business down the line.
Put it into practice: Invest in a project management platform, even something as simple as using Google Sheets or Trello. Find a tool that you can use to track, tag, color code, and plan, all of which will make projects more collaborative and therefore more successful.
Collaboration leads to inner-office think-tanks that inspire new visions and creative ideas. You may have heard infamous intrapreneurship tales like 3M’s “15 percent program” leading to the post-it note. Google has a similar famous story about how Gmail came out of their “20 percent time” program or the internal hackathon that generated the idea for Facebook’s “Like” button.
All of these major achievements or milestones came from a culture where collaboration and innovation are praised and encouraged. While it may be unrealistic for a small business employee to set aside hours each week for creative free-time, you can still tap into the intrapreneurship-mindset.
Everyday teamwork can lead to these innovative changes when collaboration is built into your culture. To make this work, however, there needs to be “psychological safety” within the workplace. This means employees feel they can speak up without fear of judgement, according to Is Your Workplace Psychologically Safe? To hear the most creative ideas, employees have to know that all ideas are welcomed. As you build your culture of collaboration, keep this in mind.
Put it into practice: For your next company event, try an intrapreneurship team building activity to see how employees like it and what ideas come out. Dusty Wunderlich of Bristlecone Holdings, gives an example; “We hold a semi-annual event, very similar to Shark Tank, where employees come and pitch their ideas. Ideas range from new products to ways we can streamline or improve our current processes. This helps create a culture of collaborative, collective intelligence.”
Cross-functional collaboration, a collaboration between team members that have different functions within the business, allows team members to access a broader network of knowledge.
For example, someone on your marketing team can’t seem to figure out how to mitigate a certain glitch with your internal CMS. A quick conversation with someone from the development team, however, yields a simple solution that the employee can now use every day, but would have never discovered alone.
It’s easy for businesses to become siloed in their various teams, especially in a small business where everyone is hustling to meet deadlines with little time and few resources. However, it hurts the business to work in that way. While the example above may seem random, the idea of knowledge-sharing between teams can be applied to dozens of other situations that could arise in any given week.
Put it into practice: Make this knowledge-sharing aspect of collaboration a part of your culture by inviting employees to teach their co-workers. This is a “great way to make scarce expertise widely available to the entire organization,” suggests Quandora. Set up Lunch and Learns, quick workshops and one-on-one training so employees can share this expertise.
When recruiting your next employee, a collaborative culture can go a long way in attracting new talent. Facebook analyzed hundreds of thousands of responses from employees about what they want at work and all answers fell into three buckets, one of which was “community.” Facebook’s HR team describes it like this: “Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness.”
As you look to recruit new, ambitious employees, the community that comes from a culture of collaboration may be enticing to many. But don’t worry, this isn’t another step you need to facilitate on your own. As employees spend more time together and get to know one another, that community will naturally evolve on its own.
Put it into practice: Start with your “About” or “Jobs” page where you talk about your employees and company culture. Add a new section about community driven by collaboration. Make this stand out in your job ads as well, as a way to attract more potential candidates to interview. You can also post photos to your company’s social media accounts of teams huddled together during collaborative moments, reinforcing the importance of this community as often as possible.
When collaboration permeates an entire organization, the benefits are many. You may start to experience better problem-solving, increased efficiency and creativity, and even find that more innovative concepts are coming to light. Remember that this culture of collaboration starts with leadership and management, so you need to operate with a top-down mindset. Make it important to you, and weave it into the fabric of your company as much as possible to rally your team and get everyone on board.
Jessica Thiefels is founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, an organic content marketing agency. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also regularly contributes to Virgin, Business Insider, Glassdoor, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.