Effective Team Collaboration: 3 Fundamental Tools

Recent blogs and media articles have been filled with commentary about Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’s bold move to recall Yahoo remote workers back to a bricks and mortar office. Her decision on remote working stems from the impetus that “to become the best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”

Does proximity equal better team collaboration? Once workers are in physical proximity, do they have the skills to effectively collaborate? We have found that effective team collaboration is a skill that doesn’t happen automatically as a result of being in the same location. Rather, it is one that needs to be taught, practiced and modeled.

In our work with teams, whether we are called to help resolve conflict or to teach partnering for cross-functional project execution, three basic tools are needed to creating a collaborative team:

Define the behaviors for your team that yield collaboration in your environment

Just the other day, we had a team tell us that some members think copying co-workers on an email counts as collaborative behavior. However, that was not the entire team’s perception. Get specific. What do team members do? What actions can be seen, heard or counted? What behaviors can be validated by two or more people? Have a discussion and mutually agree on stories and real-life examples of effective collaborative behaviors.

Then, get curious with “what” questions

Next time you are in a conversation with a team member, try replacing your typical questions that begin with “why” or “how,” by asking questions that begin with “what”. Instead of saying, “How did you come up with that result?” Ask, “What led you to that conclusion?” “What evidence was most compelling?” No longer say, “Why didn’t you?” Say instead, “What got in the way?” Or, “What caused difficulties with the approach?”

Asking questions with  “what” creates a partnering approach that can enhance interpersonal interactions in many situations, from project teams, to interviewing skills, even to parenting. The magic of “what” disarms and neutralizes your communication partner, allowing for more information to be shared and more ideas to be exchanged.

Finally, try “yes and” instead of “but”

We are all trained to think of why an idea won’t work and typically, we reply to a suggestion with “but…”. Next time start your reply with an appreciation, “What I like about that idea is”, then continue to augment or offer an addition to the suggestion or idea with “and.” This approach will allow you to listen and build upon one another’s ideas for an improved collaborative exchange.

While physical proximity can certainly allow for an impromptu interaction or more accessibility, it won’t be enough. Using these three partnering tools will advance your efforts to effectively collaborate and lead to synergy and improvement communication with or without face-to-face situations. The more you practice the more you will lead your co-workers to true sharing and joint problem solving and become the collaborative team you desire. Let us know how these tools work for you.