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3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration (in the new normal)

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86% of employees believe workplace failures are due to a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.

If you’ve ever read a job description, you know that every company seems to be looking for a “team player.” Maybe organizations’ obsession with that term highlights something we all inherently know to be true: we can accomplish more together than on our own.

In fact, Stanford researchers Priyanka Carr and Gregory Walton found that simply feeling like we’re working as part of a team makes us more motivated to persevere in difficult tasks. Across five experiments, participants who thought they were solving a puzzle with others worked on it 48% longer than those who thought they were on their own. 

Without teamwork and collaboration, we falter. In 2011, Fierce, Inc. surveyed more than 1,400 executives and employees, and 86% said that workplace failures can be attributed to a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.

So what are three important skills we can use to enhance teamwork and collaboration in the workplace? Below, we’ll go over those in detail and learn how to hone them in your own work life.

Table of contents

What are 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration?

1 - Trust

The American Psychological Association defines trust as “the degree to which each party feels that they can depend on the other party to do what they say they will do.”

Why trust matters

Teamwork is based on relationships, and at the foundation of every relationship is trust. If you lack trust in your teammates—in other words, if you do not believe they will do what they say they will do—you’ll constantly double-check their work or attempt to accomplish tasks on your own.

Trust also empowers us to do our best work. According to research by Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, employees whose companies were in the top quartile of trust levels reported having 106% more energy than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile.

How to develop trust in your workplace

Trust develops over time after getting to know people and seeing evidence that you can rely on them. Understandably, it’s difficult, and perhaps unwise, to trust someone you don’t know. But there are ways to expedite that process.

  • Host team building activities. No, you don’t have to do the “trust fall” to build trust. But you do need to be intentional about planning activities outside of normal work that build specific skills and help your team get to know each other. From lunch and learns to book clubs to virtual field trips, there’s no shortage of team building activities—even for remote teams.
  • Make team bonding a part of everyday work life. While team building activities are planned and hosted, team bonding occurs naturally as part of your company culture. But you do have to implement certain things to encourage it.

    Examine your workplace: Does everyone sit quietly in cubicles all day, keeping to themselves? That’s not an environment conducive to teamwork and collaboration. Consider creating communal spaces where teammates can gather to work or just chat. Also, try instituting coffee breaks and the like to encourage coworkers to get to know each other outside of work projects.
  • Hold each other accountable. At the core of trust is the belief that someone will do what they say they’ll do. In the workplace, we often make promises and goal statements but never follow through on them—but that doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t intend to; rather, we may just lack accountability.

    To build trust within teams, hold each other accountable for the goals you set. This means writing down goals, tracking metrics and reporting progress to your team. A study by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University found that subjects who sent weekly progress reports to a friend accomplished more than those who did not.

2 - Tolerance

Tolerance is one of the 48 motivations we identified in our 20 years of motivation research. We define it as the “level of acceptance and appreciation for the unique styles, values and rules of each person including your own.”

Why tolerance matters

If your team is diverse (which we hope it is!), you’ll be working with people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds. Their values, perspectives and ways of communicating may differ from yours—and you’ll need to be able to appreciate the differences. Without tolerance, an employee will try to impose their values and ideas onto others, making it difficult to bond and collaborate.

How to develop tolerance

  • Exposure: Some people lack tolerance simply because they’ve never been exposed to different ideas or cultures. By having a diverse team, you’ll help your employees build tolerance by introducing them to people who think differently from them and can bring new perspectives.
  • Education: It takes more than just exposure, though. Often, you will need to educate others on how to be tolerant. This is where it can be helpful to have team members attend diversity and inclusion workshops or online training.
  • Empathy: Empathy, or perspective-taking, helps people put themselves in someone else’s shoes. When you try to see an issue from someone else’s viewpoint, it becomes difficult to remain intolerant. We’ll talk more in detail about empathy later on in this article.

3 - Self-awareness

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, which involves knowing your emotions, motivations and blind spots—and how those will affect everyone on your team.

Why self-awareness matters

The first step to being able to communicate well is knowing what you’re trying to say. Self-awareness enables you to recognize your feelings and concerns so that you can better express them. In a team environment, everyone is affected by each other. To get the outcome you want, you’ll need to know the part you play in your team dynamics.

How to develop self-awareness

  • Ask for feedback. We can be pretty poor judges of ourselves. To get better, actively seek out feedback from your team—and not just the good type of feedback. Ask them what you could do better, and try to do this in a one-on-one setting or in an anonymous survey to relieve the pressure.
  • Check in with yourself. If you feel strong emotions rising up during work, get good at pausing and checking in with yourself. Are you disappointed because a team member said they’d do something and failed to deliver? Are you stressed because your boss has given you too heavy a workload? Or are you envious because a coworker was praised for his work, but no one thanked you for yours? Ignoring those feelings won’t make them go away; it might even make you lash out in a way that’s hurtful to your team. Once you know what emotion you’re dealing with, you can figure out how to manage it.
  • Use a people analytics tool. We can take the guesswork out of self-awareness! Based on 20 years of research on workplace motivations, F4S provides a detailed report of what makes you tick and where you could improve. Try it for free today.

3 more important skills for teamwork and collaboration

While trust, tolerance and self-awareness are top skills, there are even more skills that can enhance teamwork and collaboration. Let’s go over three more below.

4 - Empathy

Empathy means feeling what another person is feeling and/or imagining yourself in their shoes. So it has two components: emotional and cognitive.

Why empathy matters

Empathy is the glue that will hold your team together. It’s what will help defuse conflict and encourage bonding. And ultimately, it’ll make people want to stick around. According to Businessolver’s 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, 93% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.

How to develop empathy

Remember how I said there are two aspects to empathy: emotional and cognitive? While you may not be able to make yourself feel what someone else is feeling, you do have the cognitive ability to imagine yourself in their shoes. This is called “perspective-taking,” and you can see it as a thought experiment in what it would be like to look at something from someone else’s viewpoint.

5 - Transparency

Transparency is more than honesty—it’s telling the truth even when no one asks for it, with the goal being to avoid problems down the line by being upfront now. Transparency in your company might look like publishing quarterly reports for the public to review, announcing an upcoming decision to your team, or having an open salary policy where everyone in your company knows how much money their colleagues are making.

Why transparency matters

Transparency is huge in building trust because it shows your team that you are not hiding anything from them. Your coworkers have no reason to question your motivations when you always keep your decisions and reasoning available for them to examine.

How to develop transparency

Transparency in a company usually begins with decision-making. Open up your processes so your team can see how you came to a decision. You can also share results with your team—the good and the ugly—to be more transparent. This may sound scary and counterintuitive at first, but the benefit to transparency is that your brilliant team will likely have solutions you never would’ve thought of on your own.

6 - Active listening

When we talk about collaboration and communication, we often think about how we can better express ourselves and our ideas. But perhaps the most vital skill to have when disagreements and conflicts arise is the ability to close our mouths and listen to others.

Why active listening matters

Companies already know how important this is. In the 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, listening skills were the second-most sought after in job candidates. Just as self-awareness allows you to express yourself more accurately, active listening allows others to express themselves to you and be heard.

How to practice active listening:

  • Listen to understand. The biggest step in active listening is to move from listening to respond (where you’re formulating arguments as the other person talks) to listening to understand (where you’re focused only on the other person as they talk).
  • Summarize it using your own words. To show you’re listening and to ensure you understood, summarize what you think the speaker said. Say something like, “So what I’m hearing is you’re overwhelmed right now, and I can help you by delegating more tasks to other team members this month. Is that right?”
  • Ask follow-up questions. A follow-up question is different from a regular question in that, instead of changing the subject, it asks the speaker to expand upon something they just said. It might sound something like, “You mentioned you spoke to the client last week, but they didn’t seem receptive to the idea. Could you tell me a bit more about how they responded?”

7 - Conflict resolution

No matter how well your team gels, there are bound to be conflicts at some point. Knowing how to de-escalate and resolve them will be key to keeping your team happy, healthy and productive.

Why conflict resolution matters

Conflict resolution matters because you won’t find a workplace that is completely conflict-free (and if you do, that’s probably because they’re hiding from their problems rather than confronting them). According to the 2008 CPP Global Human Capital Report, 85% of employees say they must deal with conflict to some extent—and 29% say they deal with it “always” or “frequently.”

How to get better at conflict resolution

  • Find out what each party wants. Conflicts arise when two or more people want something different. When you’ve got a large team, there could be a lot of competing interests. Before you try to come to a compromise, you first need to know what everyone wants.
  • Try to keep emotion out of it. Conflicts are already emotionally-charged situations. To de-escalate, you’ll need to keep your emotion out of it as much as possible. That means avoiding taking sides and sticking to the facts.
  • Listen and empathize. Yep, you’ll need to call upon two skills we’ve already talked about! Many times people get upset and act out because no one is listening to them. When conflicts arise, make sure to hear every side. Empathize by practicing perspective-taking, where you try to see things from their point of view. This alone will likely soothe a lot of frayed nerves.
  • Learn to compromise. With multiple people on one team, it’s highly unlikely that everyone will get what they want in the end. You’ll need to learn when and where to make concessions so that you can move forward from a conflict. Ultimately, though, you need to revisit the goals for your company, your team and your particular project to make sure that your compromise doesn’t negatively affect those goals.

Which of these skills will you work on this week?

Whether you already consider yourself an A-plus team player or not—there’s always room for improvement. And as you saw in this article, there are action steps you can take right now to start collaborating better with your team.

So that you don’t get overwhelmed, pick one skill at a time to hone. So which of these 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration will you work on this week?

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