Workplace Collaboration Skills for 2021
Updated 31 December 2020
Collaboration skills are essential to the success of organizations in almost every sector and industry.
Collaboration is a little different to teamwork and occurs when two or more people in an organization come together to complete a task, goal or project, or to brainstorm ideas, plans or processes.
Collaborating brings people together from different locations, teams and departments, and asks them to focus their efforts and expertise to achieve a common goal.
Collaboration is an interpersonal skill that is highly valued in the workplace as employees with this skill are more likely to work well with others, build trust and open communication, and complete goals and projects on time.
When employees collaborate, it leads to better employee relations and workplace positivity, which leads to better performance and faster achievement of goals. Employees who feel positively about their workplace, peers and tasks are more efficient, motivated and effective than those who work alone.
There are many ways to collaborate effectively at work, and this article discusses some of the skills and techniques needed to achieve great collaboration in the workplace.
Why Are Collaboration Skills Important?
Collaboration skills are fundamental to an organization's effectiveness and its ability to achieve a shared goal or vision.
- Communicate clearly
- Take responsibility
- Are accountable for their work
- Listen to each other
- Understand and respect the diversity of colleagues
- Brainstorm and knowledge-share
- Work together to achieve success
When collaboration teamwork is practiced effectively in an organization, it has many benefits, such as:
- Product innovation
- Better operations
- Successful bids
- Sales growth
- Employee engagement
- Improved customer experience, and more
Individual employees also benefit from collaborative practices as they will have:
- Better workplace relationships
- A sense of belonging and feeling valued
- Trust and respect with peers
- An understanding of diversity
- Improved communication
- Greater productivity and better job performance
- Improved job satisfaction
- Improved mental health and workplace wellbeing
Many individuals and organizations assume that their workplace uses collaborative practices. The reality, though, is that collaboration can be challenging.
Individuals in an organization often have their communication preferences, strengths and weaknesses, and personal goals. The company culture itself can foster or hinder collaborative behavior.
When collaboration in an organization is low, it can result in
- Failed projects or goals
- Unmet targets
- Wasteful workplace practices
- Lack of innovation leading
- Unhappy and unproductive employees
- Hostile work environment
The Top 10 Collaborative Skills
Clear communication can be challenging; however, it is essential to share your perspective so that your knowledge and expertise can inform your colleagues.
Communication happens in three specific ways:
Written – Written communication can be tricky as a lot of nonverbal communication can be lost when communicating in writing. It is good to be mindful of the language and tone used. Make sure that your written communication is clear and concise and that there are no errors. If it is time-sensitive, be sure to specify the time constraints so that the recipient is aware.
Verbal – What you say to your colleagues is important, and how you say it is just as important. You should share your opinion or perspective as clearly and succinctly as you can, but you should do so respectfully and be mindful that there might be differences in views.
Nonverbal communication – Something people don't realize is that nonverbal communication can tell others a lot about how you feel about a topic and that it impacts your communication. Be mindful of your tone, body language and facial expressions as the same words delivered using different nonverbal communication can convey two different meanings.
2. Listening and Understanding
Listening and understanding is just as essential as communication, if not more. It goes beyond merely hearing (or reading) the words said by your colleagues.
Listen with empathy and without judgment, and make sure you understand what your coworker is trying to say and clarify if needed.
It is important to remember that workplaces are diverse, different people are experts in different topics and have different communication styles.
3. Respect Diversity
Our economy is global, so your colleagues may be from other countries and cultures.
For collaboration to be successful, it is vital that all colleagues in an organization feel included and that they can partake in open communication and have trust and respect.
Any implicit biases you may hold must be reflected on and changed.
You should also ensure that other colleagues don't show behaviors or make decisions based on discrimination or prejudice and call to attention any hostile action.
- Building and managing expectations
- Facilitating and encouraging group discussions
- Sensitivity to ethnic and religious backgrounds
- Encouraging open communication
- Capitalizing on each individual's strengths and making sure to hear all team member's views
4. Empathy & Emotional Intelligence
Empathy and emotional intelligence will allow you to identify, understand and manage your emotions, and recognize if a colleague is upset and react appropriately.
The colleague may have an external problem that you need to listen to, they may need a break, or a task they need to complete may be causing them some difficulty.
Likewise, if you need support, an emotionally intelligent colleague would be able to empathize and support you.
A work environment where coworkers are emotionally intelligent and show compassion will allow colleagues to support each other and work together, creating a more positive workplace.
Other benefits of emotional intelligence are that you aren't offended too quickly and don't take criticism and feedback personally.
5. Conflict Resolution
Conflicts can be challenging no matter where and how they happen, especially in the workplace. An unresolved conflict between colleagues can halt a project.
A collaborative workplace has a lot of skills and traits that can help individuals problem solve any dispute quickly by following a few simple steps, such as:
- Communicate and listen to each other to understand the issue
- Be respectful of each other
- Be willing to resolve the issue and find solutions
- Be accountable and take responsibility for mistakes
- Analyze the issue without assigning blame
- Compromise as needed so that the group can move forward with an agreeable resolution
People don't always want to publicly share their views as they worry about how their contribution will be perceived.
Someone open-minded and curious will thrive in this environment, whereas someone who is a little more resistant to new ideas and change could find it difficult and possibly stall the process.
Leadership must encourage an environment that is open to brainstorm and that all opinions should be put forward and given an equal opportunity to be heard, critiqued and expanded.
7. Knowledge-Sharing and Debate
Be open to sharing knowledge and debate ideas and processes.
Employees are often stuck in their organizational silo, hindering collaboration and growth.
A collaborative work environment encourages and rewards knowledge-sharing and the productive debate of ideas as it is a driver of innovation and productivity. Individuals understand their team member's specialties and the value that everyone brings to the company.
A debate among colleagues leads to constructive criticism, which ultimately leads to improving the project and ultimately increasing profit.
Leaders should be mindful that no employee takes any criticism personally and ensures that the debate is always on the task.
8. Being Organized and Delegating Tasks
Collaboration works best when it is organized and delegated and processes and responsibilities are a part of routine duties.
If tasks and responsibilities are coordinated continuously and re-assigned, this is both confusing and time-consuming. It can result in reduced responsibility and accountability.
If you are leading a project or task, it is a useful collaborative skill to delegate tasks based on knowledge, skills and expertise. By spreading work tasks to a wide range of people, you make sure that the job gets done well, individuals feel valued and essential, and don't feel overworked.
9. Agility and Adaptability
A genuinely collaborative workplace and its employees adapt to change. Projects don't always go as planned and there can be unforeseen delays, shifts in priorities, funding issues, and more.
The ability to 'think on your feet' and adapt quickly to change is something that comes with practice.
The best approach to follow for unforeseen change is to calmly communicate with colleagues and brainstorm ideas and solutions to the problem.
Sometimes the need for adaptability results in innovation, which is ultimately the key to maintaining a competitive edge. Fresh ideas and outside the box thinking lead to better results and more positive employees.
10. See the Big Picture
Seeing the end goal of a collaborative effort and bringing everyone together is a valuable collaborative skill. What one person sees as necessary is not the same for everyone.
If you keep an eye on the big picture, the outcome of leveraging multiple areas of expertise will give you faster results and achieve better outcomes.
Teaching each other and learning from each other will also motivate employees as it makes them feel valued and secure in the role, making it easier to work together.
Why Good Collaboration Can Be Challenging
Collaboration is the ability to work together with someone to complete a task or produce something.
While organizations are very comfortable with the concept of teamwork, individuals in an organization often continue to operate independently rather than working collaboratively with each other to get something done.
Many organizations still have managers and leaders who control and closely manage the workflow, which unfortunately results in vertical communication instead of horizontal communication.
This work environment focuses on the task or project completion instead of the relationship with other employees, which leads to a breakdown in collaboration.
Some common challenges for collaboration include:
- Lack of trust and respect
- Avoidance of honest communication
- Fear of conflict
- Poor listening and interpersonal skills
- A lack of clarity and alignment
- Different mindsets
- Deficits in knowledge and organizational silos
- Separations between departments and teams leading to information hoarding
Many workplaces currently function with a lot of internal competitiveness where employees are all striving for limited promotions and financial resources.
Many industries and workplaces don't foster a culture that allows people to get to know each other or their strengths and expertise. Consequently, they don't get to see how each of their colleagues can contribute, which can lead to:
- Unclear goals and targets and a lack of awareness of the steps needed to achieve them
- Lack of communication between individuals can mean an entire collaborative effort can fall apart
- Lack of resources and personnel who can help develop collaborative efforts in the workplace
- A management style that does not foster the development of collaboration in the workplace
How to Make Collaboration Easier
Involve coworkers and employees – Bring them on board early, build trust and openness. Respect their ideas and input and provide guidance or supportive instructions rather than dos and don'ts through vertical communication.
Define success – Create a sense of purpose and longer-term goals that employees feel is their own. Encourage personal motivation and a passion for success so that getting projects done is beyond the monotony of day-to-day work.
Mutual accountability – Encourage open communication and a supportive environment that allows coworkers to know and understand each other's strengths and values. For example, better task assignment, clear goals, targets and mutual responsibility.
Reward collaborative behavior – If a group of individuals shows efficient collaboration this should be rewarded and recognized in the company.
Work across teams and departments – Some workplace innovations, projects and goals would benefit significantly from having input from mixed groups to stimulate productivity and innovation. Managers should promote and arrange regular interactions between teams to encourage open communication, improve cross-team collaboration awareness and reduce organizational silos. Encourage information sharing to minimize knowledge deficits.
How to Demonstrate Collaboration in the Workplace
Collaborative skills are essential to almost every workplace, so employers are always looking to hire individuals with strong collaborative skills.
You can improve your collaboration skills in the following areas:
Continuously improve your communication and listening skills so that you can clearly and confidently express yourself.
Timely responses are essential in any context but particularly important when working collaboratively with other people and departments. An excellent way to manage expectations is to request a turnaround time for a response.
Minimize the use of acronyms or buzzwords, proofread your emails and messages to ensure clarity. Request feedback and be approachable if a coworker suggests an improvement.
2. Set Deliverables You Can Achieve
Collaborative efforts can fail if people have different expectations and ideas on the goals to be achieved.
Everyone must be on the same page for goals and deliverables so that all collaborators feel motivated and accountable. It is a good idea to set timely goals and to check in and see how everything is going.
3. Ask for Help
Don't be afraid to ask for support if you feel like a task is too much or have trouble understanding what needs to be completed.
4. Choose a Strategy That Fits Your Workplace Best
Organizations can be different in their ability to collaborate across teams/departments and within teams/departments. Each group has a unique combination of cultural, organizational and interpersonal barriers that will affect their collaboration efforts.
Leaders must determine what these barriers to collaboration are and encourage behaviors and strategies that work best in a particular organization.
How to Show Collaborative Skills on Your Resume
Key personal skills in collaboration include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Building trust
- Active listening
- Conflict management
- Positive attitude
For example, if a job description lists collaboration as a requirement, your resume needs to include examples of collaboration from past jobs.
If you have received an accolade or recognition for exceptional collaborative practices, such as a team leader, project leader or winning a competitive bid as part of your collaborative efforts, you should include these in your resume.
How to Show Collaborative Skills in a Cover Letter
Cover letters need to show your ability to work collaboratively with others. Increasingly, employers are asking applicants to provide clear examples of previous collaborative efforts.
When writing a cover letter, you should carefully read the job expectations and requirements and find skills in your job history that align well with the job requirements.
My experience as a project lead at Company A allowed me to strengthen my collaboration skills in communication, conflict resolution, delegation and resilience. The project was on a strict deadline and our team had to work efficiently together, understand each other and be adaptable to changes. These are skills that I believe would be invaluable in my role at Company B.
How to Show Collaborative Skills in an Interview
You should demonstrate your ability to collaborate effectively with others at the interview stage.
When answering questions about your interpersonal skills and past collaborative experiences, make sure to provide examples by describing situations where you have resolved disagreements, understood diversity, communicated clearly, etc.
A collaborative work environment can be rewarding for everyone involved. It isn't easy to develop and maintain collaborative efforts, especially in the current climate of remote working.
Businesses face many challenges in encouraging their employees to work collaboratively. There are three main issues: a lack of communication, a lack of trust, and a lack of respect for diversity and individual strengths.
Organizations can encourage an environment where collaboration thrives and succeeds by anticipating how collaborative efforts can fail and have preventative measures in place.
A genuinely collaborative work environment will be a happier, more purposeful and more productive environment, and the profits will reflect this.