Team Collaboration: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Teamwork is drilled into our heads from an early age. From joining Little League to completing school projects, we’re encouraged to get along with others. (Heck, our report cards even noted how well we got along with classmates!)

As adults, we’re still led to believe that collaboration is the key to getting work done. While that’s sometimes the case, it’s not always true. If you have flashbacks of staying up late to finish a project by yourself, read on to determine when you should – and shouldn’t – recruit others to help.

The Good

Brainstorming is an essential time to call others in. When you’re developing an idea, you want varied perspectives. This works in the real world because everyone has a vested interest in the team’s success: everyone wants to keep their jobs and see the company grow.

However, there is a distinction: there’s involuntary collaboration (like when two teammates work together to craft a sign), and there’s voluntary collaboration (when someone actively seeks another’s help). Voluntary collaboration is what boosts departments and companies to the next level. On smaller teams, positions aren’t redundant – you may have only one graphic designer. This means that your graphic designer needs to gather insights from the rest of the team. While they may not be visual experts, they can lend different points of view.

Most successes, large or small, are the result of collaboration. My company recently ran a cross-promotion of paid eBooks on our free eBook site. The designers devised the best placements for the products, the programmers enhanced the usability for our members, and our social media representative gathered feedback. Our customer service team was ready to tackle product questions because we’d worked on the plan together and kept communication open.

This type of collaboration only works when you’ve hired smart people. Most managers don’t set out to bring lazy, thoughtless people on board – but it does happen. Keep an eye out for potential team members who like to build on what others have said, question the feasibility of an idea, or come up with their own concepts. These people will improve your team, not hinder it.

The Bad and the Ugly

Collaboration can get out of hand when you don’t put limits on it. The process must be efficient; there’s a tendency, as a team, to deliberate more, talk things out too much, and wait for others to act. Set timelines for getting each stage completed; without parameters, collaboration becomes a time suck that depletes your group’s motivation.

Be careful about slating projects for team collaboration. I’ve regretted allowing certain plans to become subjects of debate – they ended up dividing our team. As the head of my team (“The Nictator,” as my team says in these situations), I have to make an executive decision. This leaves no one happy, as they’ve spent hours debating each option’s merits, only to have it mean nothing.

When you’re deciding which projects should be collaborative, take these details into account:

  • Scope: Is the project of consequence?
  • Personal Opinion: We have different tastes; can people be objective when completing this project?
  • People to Involve: Does your whole team need to be involved, or should only a few be included?
  • Depth: Can you get decent feedback on the idea by asking one person? Does the topic warrant elaborate discussion?
  • Productivity: If you’ve started the collaborative process, are people staying focused? Know when to cut your losses if teamwork becomes counterproductive.

You hired smart people; they’ll have ideas. Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their perspectives, and put limits on your brainstorming sessions. Your team will be more collaborative and productive – and you’ll never work on another project at 2:00 a.m. alone again.

Nicolas Gremion

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Paradise Publishers Inc., which owns Free-eBooks.net, a source for free eBook downloads, eBook resources, and eBook authors. They are now also launching Foboko.com, a social publishing network.

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