Recently, on Facebook, I was asked what tips I had for a team that was split over three different locations. They were having communication problems. What tool, the questioner asked, would help them?
There is no easy answer to that – as me and a group of other professional project managers chimed in. Because we don’t know what communication problems you are having. It’s very easy to think that technology is the answer, but if you don’t truly know what the problem is, you’re unlikely to solve it just by spending money on an app you might not need.
Collaboration and communication is so important for project teams. And tech does have a huge part to play in sharing information with each other, building trust and community and getting work done together. The irony that this discussion happened on Facebook is not lost on me.
So, how do you start to think about collaboration in your team, and improve it? Here are three tips about boosting collaboration in your team.
1. Know where you are starting from
Think about how you work now. If you all sit together in the same office, you are probably quite collaborative already. So if you want to be more collaborative, you need to define what that means. Should you be pushing desks together? Getting everyone on the same floor or in the same meeting room? Are there certain people who should be working more closely together but aren’t?
Ask yourself the question about what feels wrong with how you are working now. The answers may surprise you, but they will definitely shape how you approach fixing the collaboration issues in the team.
2. Make it easy
One of the big challenges I have is sharing documents across multiple departments. There is no central repository for information. Unless you have access to the correct shared network drive, you have to send documentation via email. And it doesn’t take much experience of any workplace to know that filling up people’s inboxes with files is neither welcomed nor productive.
Collaboration works best when it’s easy to do. When you don’t have to spend the first five minutes of a Zoom call checking everyone is looking at the printouts of the version you sent round on Friday, not the Thursday files.
Online document sharing, in a way that manages version control and facilitates sharing links to current versions, takes away the need to email files.
You can extrapolate the ‘make it easy’ rule to anything. Whatever task you are trying to get done, if it’s easy to do in a collaborative way, people will do it that way. If it’s harder to use the tool or process you’ve implemented, they will go back to doing it the old way, even if that means less collaboration takes place.
3. Keep the conversation going
I’m part of a very interesting and engaged Slack group, and we chat across multiple channels. Except that now we’ve hit the holiday season, I’m logging in and no one is saying anything. I’m checking Slack less and less frequently on my phone. There’s no point. My people aren’t there.
As project managers, we need to be conscious of where are people are. And be there, with them. If collaboration and communication slows down, think about how you can influence it. Can you ask a question? Share something from your own experience? Tell a joke? Keep people engaged with the collaboration channels so they stay present. It’s amazing how quickly you can lose the habit of working in a particular way, when no one else seems that interested.
Working collaboratively is so important these days, but it sometimes feels harder than it needs to be. Think about what collaborative working means for you and your project team, and then consider what you can do to build that collaborative culture. It’s likely to require technology, but start with your problems and what you want your future state to look like, and then find tools that help you bridge the gap.
Elizabeth Harrin is the creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, which she started in 2006. She has won a number of awards for her internationally popular blog: "A Girl's Guide To Project Management." She also authors two additional blogs, regularly featuring interviews she conducts with industry experts: "Talking Work," and "The Money Files," on Gantthead.