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6 ways to improve your collaboration skills

team members showing great collaboration skills can promote productivity in the workplace

"Collaboration skills" is a workplace and resume buzzword that isn’t going away anytime soon. This is mostly because collaboration is deeply integrated into the job roles and workflows of most organizations. Whether you love collaborating or hate it, it’s part of how work gets done. Nobody works in a vacuum.

In order to be a productive and skilled employee, you’ll have to become comfortable with collaboration and working as part of team. For some people, working with others comes naturally. But for others, it can be a bit of a challenge. No matter how confident you are in your collaboration skills, there’s always room for improvement.

We’ll cover the importance of collaboration and how you can work on your workplace collaboration skills to develop better connections with your colleagues.

Why is collaboration an important skill?

If you look at nearly any job description, you'll probably see collaboration listed somewhere. And if it’s not, there is probably still some collaboration involved in the job duties—the company just didn't explicitly mention it.

Collaboration skills are important soft skills that apply to a range of jobs and industries. That’s because the workplace is evolving to become more and more collaborative than ever before. Teams are breaking out of their siloed work to come together to brainstorm new ideas, work jointly on projects, and get things done. Plus, with virtual collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive, and project management platforms, collaboration is even easier for employees—no matter where they work.

Beyond the fact that collaboration is inevitable, there's another reason that it matters: When collaboration goes wrong, people notice. In fact, a recent study showed that 39% of respondents feel that their colleagues don’t collaborate enough in the workplace. When collaboration fails, coworkers become frustrated, your boss may think you’re not a team player, and projects and timelines can break down. Being able to collaborate with others is more than just “playing nice,” it’s a critical skill to being a standout employee.

An effective collaborator has a range of abilities, such as listening skills, good communication, emotional intelligence, being comfortable with new ideas, and accountability. Plus, a top-notch collaborator is humble enough to always know there’s room for improvement and to recognize the value other people can bring to the table.

Six ways you can improve your collaboration skills

1. Be an active listener

Being an active listener is more than just hearing what the other person is saying. An active listener listens without judgment and clarifies the meaning behind what was said so they fully understand the point made. Need help? A helpful active listening strategy is to repeat or summarize what you just heard from the other person to make sure you’re both on the same page. Here's an example:

"To confirm, we're going to split the responsibilities of this presentation. You're going to pull together the facts and figures and I'm going to start the slide outlines."

Active listening also means being in tune with nonverbal communication. Notice how people communicate and what their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice are saying. For example, if someone is fidgeting or they’re having a hard time keeping eye contact, they may be nervous or uncomfortable with the situation. Take that into account when listening to what they say and make sure you have an appropriate response based on their verbal and nonverbal communication.

2. Refine your communication skills

Communication is important in order for collaboration to succeed. The biggest tip to be a good communicator in workplace collaboration is to never assume people already know things. Provide regular updates to your manager and coworkers, and be clear and succinct in your updates. Keep communication open among your colleagues and never avoid sharing information that’s needed to carry out tasks.

It’s also important to remember that people all have different communication styles. To promote a culture of effective collaboration and communication, be mindful of these different styles and adapt the way you communicate accordingly. For example, there may be people who aren’t comfortable speaking up in front of large groups, especially spontaneously. If you need to gather ideas from your group members, try asking everyone to write two to three ideas down in advance in a shared online document and then discuss each idea together in the meeting. This might be less nerve-wracking and more approachable for more introverted coworkers, and it still allows them to contribute ideas.

3. Develop your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your emotions, recognize emotions in others and react appropriately, and apply your emotions to tasks. While that sounds somewhat straightforward in theory, emotional intelligence is tough to develop and is considered by many companies to be a key leadership skill. Because of this, many people tap into personal coaching to help develop their emotional intelligence.

Good emotional intelligence can help you collaborate better with others by responding in a way that’s more productive, more understanding of your colleagues’ perspectives, and builds on the relationships you have with your coworkers. Research has shown that emotionally intelligent teams are more productive, better at collaboration, and better at communication. Emotional intelligence usually goes hand in hand with empathy, which can help you relate to and recognize the responsibilities of your coworkers.

4. Seek out different perspectives

A key part of being a successful collaborator is the ability to work with a variety of people (not just the ones you agree with) and the willingness to seek out new perspectives on issues.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are other people who have skills, experience, and insight that you may not have, but could benefit your project or team. A good team player seeks out other employees who could bring something different to the table so they’ll be able to see all sides of an issue to find the best solution.

Not only will your work be better, you’ll find that your company culture and employee engagement will improve by promoting an inclusive attitude and teamwork mentality in the workplace. A Deloitte study found that people who collaborate at work and have access to digital collaboration tools are up to 17% more satisfied with their job and workplace culture. This shows that collaboration and tools to collaborate effectively are critical to employee fulfillment, especially for employees who are part of a remote team and rely on digital tools to work with others.

5. Recognize others

Usually, it’s not one person who carries the responsibilities of a project and does it all themselves. It’s a team effort, with lots of ideas, contributions, and accomplishments from each member of the team.

When collaborating with others, be sure to recognize the part others play in the success of the team. Plus, don’t keep that observation to yourself. Most people love to be acknowledged for their efforts, especially in front of others. Don’t be afraid to praise your coworkers for a job well done, either privately or in front of the whole team.

Recognition is also a key part of employee engagement and can help foster a more positive environment. If you work with others and give credit where credit is due, you’ll be a collaborator who is more enjoyable to work with and will help build a stronger culture of workplace collaboration.

6. Be accountable and do your part

At the end of the day, a good partner on a project, or in any circumstance, is someone who isn’t afraid to put in the hard work to get things done. Step up and offer to help if you see coworkers struggling or looking for guidance. When you work within a group, you might need to put the needs of the team before your own, such as helping out a colleague with their portion of the project.

Be accountable for the work you have a part in, meet deadlines, and put out quality work that isn’t sloppy. Don’t let the socialization aspect of teamwork cause your job duties to suffer. Be a partner that is dependable to complete your responsibilities on time and with pride.

By doing your part on the team, others will appreciate your reliability and enjoy collaborating with you on a team.

Don’t let too much collaboration hold you back

While a collaborative environment can make work easier and build up trust within your team, over-collaboration or collaborating without boundaries can hinder workflows as well.

Good collaborators know to set specific boundaries, such as establishing deadlines, limiting the number of people on a team, or creating meeting agendas to make teamwork effective and productive. If the boundaries or deliverables aren’t met, the leader of the team needs to hold the team members accountable for their part so work can continue to get done.

In addition, too much time spent collaborating, whether it be in meetings or virtual chats, can make teams less productive. Employees should prioritize getting work done and avoid going in circles by scheduling too many meetings to talk about the project.

To avoid getting trapped in these collaboration pitfalls, use effective communication to set a shared goal or two for the team and align expectations for producing work on an efficient timeline. Clear expectations will keep each team member in line and make the most of using teamwork to achieve the results needed.

Good collaboration skills can set you above the rest

Collaboration can be hard, but when done right, it can lead to amazing results for your team. Teamwork is a skill that shouldn’t be underestimated, especially since many managers look for the best collaborators when choosing employees to promote or take on tougher assignments. Even if you aren't the official leader of a team, reaching out for additional perspectives in the group and leading the discussion about team expectations can help you and your teammates produce efficient and high-quality work.

If you’re looking for help to develop your emotional intelligence or collaboration skills, a personal coach is a great place to start to help you be accountable for your own success and encourage you to keep putting in the work to get there. Fingerprint for Success (F4S) has tons of coaching programs to help you hone in on your skills and provide the support you need to accomplish your goals. To get started, we recommend strengthening your emotional intelligence.

Become a top-notch collaborator with personal coaching. Get started for free now.  

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