We know what it’s like when working on a big project: halfway through and you realise that each person has a very slightly different understanding of the task in hand. Or everyone turns up to a meeting, only to discover that the ONE THING that needed to be completed for the next stage to progress, was being done by ‘someone else’. Someone who wasn’t aware that they were responsible for the aforementioned task.
Who is at fault? The person who didn’t listen? The person who failed to see that everything hinged on their task?
Or is there something else going on that is preventing better team collaboration?
I’d say it begins with understanding who is in your team and how they work.
Even in well-functioning teams with clearly defined roles, there are many different approaches to a task and there are just as many preferences for the way work is done.
These differences are often invisible when people are working alone – the method and approach to achieve a particular outcome may not be important as long as the right result is achieved. There will probably be a certain level of autonomy around the work. That is what delegation is all about, after all.
Is everyone on the same page?
When it comes to your team members collaborating, there are more differences to deal with. It then becomes more important to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Folks should know what the goal is: although it is always worth checking that people DO actually know what the goal is. Even something as obvious as the project end result can get lost in translation, so be clear about what needs to be achieved.
The value of a diverse and multitalented team is huge, but this also means there are many differences to keep on top of. It is the ‘how’ that can cause strife and is often murky and open to confusion.
This murky ‘how’ can involve a number of different aspects including:
- Roles (who is doing what)
- Responsibilities (who is making sure which bit happens)
- Communication (frequency, method and quantity)
- Timing (things like deadlines and dependencies, i.e which part is needed in order for another bit to be able to start)
And then there is also that question of your overall general approach – is this a ‘top-class, pull-out-all-the-stops piece of work’? Or perhaps a lower level, ‘something-like-we-did-last-year’ type of thing? Effort levels matter. If everyone has a different perception of the importance of a project, tension and miscommunication are almost inevitable.
The end result is a team that doesn’t collaborate well together and a project which misses the mark despite the abilities of the group.
Seven Tips For Better Team Collaboration
To avoid the kind of result that leaves everyone wondering why it all went so wrong, here are my seven tips for better team collaboration and to manage expectations.
- Agree and confirm key details at the very start. It sounds obvious but having a written ‘spec’ of what is being planned, and who is doing what can save a huge amount of confusion later on. Invite everyone involved to check and confirm that they know what the final outcome should be.
- Plan regular check-ins and agree how this will happen. One person’s love of an inbox full of update e-mails is another person’s nightmarish overload.
- Be clear on the dependencies – who needs to do which bit before someone else’s work can continue. Who, if anyone, needs to okay it?
- Be specific about your capacity to do something, including the time frames. Your ‘soon’ can mean different things to different people.
- Encourage and reward honesty. Enable team members to safely say when they can’t do something rather than sitting on a difficult task which might hold up the project. Give your people the opportunity to pass on work to prevent them from struggling when someone else may easily be able to pick it up.
- Accept that everyone is different and that there will be different approaches. Don’t assume – we already know that this is where things start to fall apart. Aim to find a balance between setting clear goals and micro-managing each team member.
- Develop some guidelines for the “what ifs”. When things are not going quite right (and this will happen!), what are you going to do about it? Being clear on those contingencies can save a lot of time in the long run.
Some of these suggestions around team collaboration and expectations might feel like overkill. If your team is working on a relatively small project, you might baulk at the idea of planning in some contingencies. After all, the job will be done and dusted in no time at all.
I’d encourage you to think about it differently: each time you give your team the best chance of success with a project, you are building trust within the team, and you are developing their expertise in handling expectations and issues.
This creates a better and happier team – one more able to handle bigger and more complex tasks together, leaving you with less stress and a higher chance of success!
If you need a hand getting your team to communicate better around a project or organisation planning, get in touch. I love helping team members work better together.