When you hear the phrase “collaborative work environment,” you might picture a bunch of millennial workers crowded around foosball tables, or maybe it conjures images of Google’s playground offices with slides and swings.
If you need more proof of how important it is to incorporate a collaborative work environment, here’s an illuminating statistic. In a survey conducted by Fierce, Inc., 86 percent of respondents said that lack of collaboration was a key driver in workplace failures.
Big tech startups have almost come to be defined by these eccentric environments—like the climbing rock wall at Adobe or the arcade game rooms at Twitter’s headquarters.
But, your company headquarters doesn’t have to be full of ping pong tables and beer fridges to make it collaborative—there are plenty of small businesses that successfully employ collaborative strategies, albeit in more conventional ways.
Strengthen the relationships between employees no matter what type of business you have, and no matter how formal or informal it is, by keeping these five key concepts in mind.
1. Empowered individuals make up strong teams
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: there is no “I” in team.
Everyone is working toward the same end goal, so it’s crucial for your company’s success that you assemble not just any team, but the right team.
- Choose teams based on the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of your employees. Then, let everyone shine in their best and most specific way. We’re all multifaceted creatures, and assigning generic roles and labels will lead to frustration and stunted growth.
- Ask the team for their opinions on matters as often as possible. These are the people who are part of the teams that grow your company, so their point of view is important. Remember that introducing a new hire affects everyone, whether it’s a new supervisor or teammate, and employees who feel included in the decision, regardless of their rank or role, will ultimately be more loyal and appreciative.
2. Strong leaders are part of the team
Giving your team more of a say in the workplace may be the first step toward cultivating a more collaborative environment, but the second is displaying strong leadership—and that means leading by example.
For example, if you set up an open-office layout to encourage employees to work together, while you remain cloistered in your office and never share updates about your projects, you’re not exactly setting a good example.
To realize the benefits of a truly collaborative workplace, put all team members—regardless of seniority—on a level playing field, which can create a more supportive environment where higher ups are more approachable and show that you value the people first.
3. Creativity fosters innovation
3M is well-known for its “15 percent time” program—which gives employees time each week to work on their own ideas. In fact, it was during this creative free time that a 3M scientist invented the Post-it note.
Not every small business can afford to give employees free time like that, but there’s still an important lesson: Individual creativity breeds innovation.
Encourage creativity among your team by following these rules of thumb:
- Don’t discount ideas that might seem out of left field or knock employees down for speaking up with a suggestion; opinions should be free-flowing.
- Try new approaches to business roadblocks and timeworn methods. By implementing a philosophy of “failing fast”, and learning from failures, employees will be more open and used to quickly pivoting when necessary.
4. Closeness breeds intimacy and trust
This will undoubtedly spark the old debate about cubicles versus open plan seating. But, even if the best setup for your office requires having cubicles for privacy, you can still create a communal feel.
At a point in time when face-to-face communication is often given up in favor of instant messaging instead—even to those who sit close enough to us to physically reach—in-person interactions are especially important.
- Try arranging cubicles in small clusters, so workers are still near each other, or opt for low-walled cubicles to offer both privacy and a sense of community. More opportunity for face-to-face interaction will help nudge employees into stronger teams.
- Open areas for social gathering, such as a comfortable break room and communal lounge areas, are also a must. They create a safe space for employees to get to know each other and provide alternative places for blowing off steam when they need a break, without distracting busy teammates.
5. Monotony is death
The Beatles knew better than anyone that when it comes to the continued creative success of a team, change is crucial. They changed everything from their outfits to their haircuts to their singing roles to their musical style on each album.
Your company is not The Beatles, but lesson here is: If you resist change, you will become irrelevant.
Change up your instinctual approach, and you just might be surprised at the positive outcome.
Is your office a bit old-fashioned in your structural organization? Try a free organizational chart maker and watch how your work processes are suddenly streamlined.
Adopt the often-overlooked strategy of crossing departments for new projects whenever possible, to gain new perspectives in a collaborative way. This will build team spirit and help grow your company.
This is also a great reason to send your employees to industry conferences or seminars
It’s a circle that affects us all: Happy employees means better communication and more productive output—and that means a more successful business overall.
How can I create a culture of collaboration?
There are plenty of free and paid options help you create a culture of collaboration for your company if you know where to look. Stay up to date on the latest by reading GetApp’s collaboration blog.
Lauren Pezzullo currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes about workplace culture and human resource solutions for Pingboard. Pingboard is real-time, collaborative org chart software that makes it easy to organize teams, plan for growth, & keep everyone informed.