As Charles Darwin once said, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.“ This quote is particularly true for businesses, especially in a time of crisis, like the one we are living in today. Every business out there, regardless of its size and industry, is faced with the critical task of creating a workplace environment in which teams are encouraged and especially able to get together and collaborate effectively to surmount challenges and to achieve business objectives. With the definition of a workplace shifting from physical to digital alongside the latest technological breakthroughs and the global spread of Covid-19, we have seen increased interest in new collaborative techniques and tools that can help businesses face this new reality, stay competitive, and transition to remote working, all while maintaining productivity.
In the previous two blog posts of this series centered around collaboration in the workplace, we discussed collaboration in general and how it has evolved over the years. We then walked through the common myths and misconceptions about collaboration in the second blog post. For the third part of this series, we want to discuss the many benefits collaboration can bring to your business.
- Foster innovation and creativity
Have you ever had one of those days when you feel low in creativity and inspiration? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes, all we need is a simple chat with a colleague to unleash a flood of new thoughts and ideas that we might not have had on our own. One way managers can spark innovation is by creating a culture of transparency and openness, where individuals with different views and opinions can work together to generate new innovative ideas. The tradeoff, however, is that bringing people with contrasting personality traits and big egos (in some cases) together can result in conflict, leading to more harm than good. This is where training, best practices, and especially routine come in to play. Teams that constantly collaborate follow a set of clear guidelines to ensure brainstorming sessions generate multiple ideas and don’t go off course.
- Better problem solving
Today’s fast-paced working environments require employees to be able to solve problems individually as well as within groups. Collaborative problem solving (CPS) is a process involving two or more individuals attempting to solve a problem by sharing acquired knowledge, experiences, and resources. CPS is a skill that managers often look for through specific interview questions, role-based activities, and practical tasks designed to assess how well candidates can collaborate and work within teams. There are multiple advantages associated with CPS. For example, the variety of knowledge sources coming from experienced individuals coupled with fresh perspectives provided by entry level and younger employees can help teams see a problem from a different angle, leading to better solutions and decisions.
- Effectively handle times of crises
During difficult times, teams are expected to stick together, collaborate, and bring their A game in order to help a business cope and to ensure business continuity. However, research suggests that more often than not, the opposite is true. As pressure mounts, anxiety and uncertainty settle in, pushing individuals into becoming more risk averse, avoiding different perspectives, and relying solely on past experiences and what they are used to. This obviously limits collaboration and the capacity of teams to work together. However, as we mentioned in the previous blog post of this series, collaboration is a competitive advantage that often proves to be the difference between success and failure, especially during a time of crisis.
This has been proven during multiple crises in the past when businesses usually didn’t have a choice but to adapt their corporate and internal communications strategies and evolve their approach to doing business. In a recent article published in Harvard Business Review, taking data dating back to the early 2010s, the article showed how the most collaborative partners within a global law firm significantly outperformed their peers during and after the 2008 financial crisis. On the contrary, partners who were not willing to change or to collaborate witnessed a dramatic decrease in their revenue, which had still not recovered even after 5 years.
A more recent example that demonstrates how collaboration can help businesses get through tough times is the Covid-19 pandemic. This is an unprecedented period that has seen people forced to spend prolonged periods of time at home and away from the office, resulting in some interesting findings. Collaborative tools, instant messaging, and videoconferencing apps have been quickly deployed to give employees a virtual medium through which they can stay in touch and collaborate on their projects. Multiple studies from e.g. Gallup and McKinsey suggest that most teams more or less coped well with the lockdown, with some even planning to continue working remotely some of the time even beyond the pandemic.
- Engage and align teams
Lack of engagement is one of the most recurrent challenges facing businesses nowadays. According to the state of the global workforce report by Gallup, 85% of workers worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged. There are multiple factors that can influence the engagement rates of employees. The most obvious is constant communication and feedback, tailored recognition programs designed to boost morale, and especially a collaborative culture that values and promotes team spirit and camaraderie. In fact, according to ADP research involving a study of 19,000 global workers, participants who worked as part of a team were 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who did not. The study also examined the correlation between engagement and the level of trust in team leaders, with employees 12 times more likely to be engaged when they trust their team leaders.
- Increase motivation
Does working together as a team increase our levels of motivation? This was the topic of a Stanford research study that looked into the effects teamwork has on motivation. The results of five separate experiments showed that group work or even the perception of being part of a team can greatly increase our intrinsic motivation and bring social as well as personal benefits. The study divided participants into two separate groups: “psychologically together” and “psychologically separate.” The first group’s members were told they would work together to solve a problem and that they would receive tips from other participants engaged on the same task. On the other hand, the members in the second group, who worked separately, were told they would receive tips from the researchers who were not involved in the task. The results showed that the first group persisted longer on the challenging tasks, expressed more interest, and performed better than “the separate group.” This goes to show how even the perception of working with others can influence our motivation and performance. As Gregory Walton, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, stated: “The results showed that simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,”
- Attract talents
The war for talent has intensified in recent years thanks largely to the emergence of new generations, namely millennials and Gen Z. Both generations expect the latest technologies in the workplace, more flexible working arrangements, and a challenging job that will give them a sense of purpose, not only a paycheck. That is according to a Gallup report titled “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.” The report also found that employees relish the opportunity to work for companies with a strong corporate and collaborative culture, with senior management providing guidance, and a clear career path. Many companies today use social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, to build their employer brand in the hope to appeal to job seekers. They share behind-the-scenes footage that portrays how their teams collaborate in a fun and engaging work environment whether at the office or through digital means.