Team collaboration done right is a powerful force to align a group of individuals to accomplish a common goal in the most effective way possible. But even the best collaborations, filled with smart, capable, and experienced team members, can be a struggle. Done wrong, collaborative projects can feel like a waste of time where individuals spend more time talking about doing things than actually getting things done.
Collaboration is especially difficult now, during the pandemic. Organic collaboration is almost impossible when you’re working remotely. Catching up on the latest projects and exciting new experiments — or where a project may be struggling — could easily be covered during frequent hallway chats, but those opportunities won’t happen in a remote environment unless you’re intentional. And collaboration isn’t effective when you loosely and sporadically message about initiatives and don’t have a structured approach to answering important questions, aligning team members, and driving to the main goal. For team collaboration to work remotely, you and your teammates must be clear and strategic about how you will collaborate.
The logistics of collaboration are not the only obstacle facing team members. Time is also a concern. Many individuals have extra work on their plates, due to COVID-19-related complexities and hiring freezes, and their schedules are more disparate than ever, juggling working from home with child care and remote schooling. How do you get team members to come together to focus their time and attention on your project?
As a time management coach, I know to be most effective at work, you have to be purposeful about how you invest every precious minute. Here’s how to do team collaboration right, even as you’re facing pandemic- and remote work-related challenges.
If you need to brainstorm, set vision, align roles, agree on goals, or do other creative and strategic discussions, a meeting will likely be your most efficient method for getting these activities done. You may be tempted to add a recurring meeting to the calendar, but when you can, try to work these items into existing standing meetings instead, so you’re not adding more to people’s already overcrowded schedules — for example, you may decide that once a month your regular team meeting takes a more strategic focus instead of a tactical one. Set an agenda in advance and assign someone to facilitate the meeting to keep the group on track and drive decision making. Also, have someone take notes and route them to stakeholders, so you don’t have to waste precious time by having another meeting about the same topic in the future.
If you need feedback on material, and it’s okay for the communication to be asynchronous, share a document. You can do this through Google Docs, Teams, Slack, or whatever other file-sharing service is approved by your organization.
When you use this method, be sure to set a deadline for review, turn on track changes, and be clear on exactly what you need from the reviewers in the document. Everything should be self-explanatory, so that if your colleague has to look at the document after they’ve tucked in their kids at night (and therefore can’t reach out to a teammate in the moment), no clarification is required.
If you’re back in the office — or never left — working side by side may naturally happen. But for some of my coaching clients who work remotely, I’ve seen a trend toward “virtual side-by-side” working. What this looks like is on a video call with a colleague, do your work on a particular shared project at the same time. This way, you can easily stop and ask them a question or ask for feedback whenever you get stuck. Since the person is already “there” and working on something similar, the collaboration can move forward more smoothly. This strategy is also effective if you find yourself avoiding something difficult at work. The positive peer pressure that someone is physically present with you and expects you to get a certain activity done in that window of time can be a good incentive to help you overcome approach avoidance.
Although collaborative chat tools, like Slack, Teams, and Flock, are incredibly popular and often seen as the “key” to team collaboration, make sure that they’re working for you instead of you working for them. Decide how often and for how long you’ll engage with the appropriate channels. For some of my coaching clients that can mean as little as 10 minutes once a day to skim through the most relevant messages. For others, it looks like checking in multiple times a day or having their messaging tool open except for when they need to be super-focused. And if you find that you can’t easily solve a problem through chat, switch the conversation to a call. By doing this, you take more control over your time, and the entire team has a better understanding of when they’ll hear back from you.
The purpose behind team collaboration isn’t for you to always be available. Instead, it’s to make sure that you and your team are aligned on your goals and most effectively moving ahead in accomplishing them. You can collaborate effectively from far apart, even when you have an incredible amount to do, if you collaborate with intention and focus.
This article was originally written by Elizabeth Grace Sanders, a time management coach and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Speaking. She is the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money and Divine Time Management. Find out more at www.RealLifeE.com. Full credit goes to HBR, who published this article earlier this year. This article has been reprinted for the purpose of education.