The Ultimate Guide to Project Team Collaboration
A detailed guide to help ‘occasional project managers’ understand team collaboration and to improve their ability to communicate with it’s members
You may have a dedicated team at your disposal for the project, or you may have to request help from members in other departments.
If so, you’ll have to schedule the times that they can are available to help that suits them and your project’s timeline. Your team could even be situated in different parts of the world.
All of this can be challenging. However, when you improve collaboration in the workplace, it’ll be much easier to complete projects – no matter the obstacles you have to overcome.
In this guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know about team collaboration; from benefits to activities like team building.
Let’s take a look!
1. Collaboration Is Everything (and We Don’t Focus on It Enough)
According to Mitel’s 2017 workplace productivity and communications study, the majority of employees spend over 66% of their time at work communicating with others.
That figure is heightened when you consider remote and cross-functional teams.
If teams don’t communicate, they’ll face numerous problems.
In fact, a SalesForce study found that 86% of executives and educators believe that poor communication is the root cause of workplace failures.
2. Team Collaboration Improves Performance and Productivity
There are two types of project teams:
1. Team members have their individual tasks, get them done in time, and come to you for help.
2. Project teams solve problems together, share knowledge, and come up with creative solutions.
After all, there is strength in numbers.
Especially if they work together.
According to studies conducted by McKinsey, companies that use social technologies to improve collaboration in the workplace see 20-25% increases in productivity.
Other studies have also noted that collaborative teams have much higher performance than others.
Project teams need both trust to come forward with issues and handle them with their teams, and tools to help them streamline communication.
3. Team Collaboration Improves Relationships with External Stakeholders
Did you ever get the feeling that it’s downright impossible to explain something to clients, independent contractors, or even your top management?
This is not an isolated problem.
Numerous project teams struggle with receiving constructive feedback and keeping external stakeholders in the loop.
Fortunately, project collaboration can help you improve your relationships with external stakeholders.
It offers a structured way of communicating with them, allowing you to leverage their insights, and get the project done faster and better.
4. Team Collaboration Makes Remote and Cross-Team Work Easy
Regardless of your team type, following team collaboration practices can help you connect team members and ensure that they trust one another.
Benefits of team building include:
- Reduces costs
- Improves creativity
- Improves communication
- Boosts engagement and revenue
- Improves accountability and performance.
At the end of the day, you’ll have a team that likes working together, and has no problem giving a helping hand or devising creative solutions for whatever obstacle stands in your way of completing the project.
Even if everyone works from their own little corner of the planet, they’ll know they can count on their team.
What Are Your Projects Like?
Today, we work in all kinds of circumstances. You might have a consistent team you collaborate with on different kinds of projects.
However, you may be starting out with new team members, depending on the project.
First, you must establish the project criteria:
Then, you should recruit the people who are the best fit for the job.
No matter their communication skills, if your team members don’t have the skills they need to complete their tasks, the project will suffer.
Keep competence in mind first, and communication a close second.
What Is Your Workload Capacity Like?
A team member, no matter how skilled and open to compromise, who has a lot on their plate won’t perform as well as expected.
Understand every team member’s workload. Then, assess whether they’ll be the best fit for the project you’re currently working on.
As a rule of thumb, avoid inundating your team members with work.
It’ll only be harder to work with them, and you could find yourself resolving conflicts that started out of thin air.
What Are Your Team Members Like?
As a rule of thumb, communicative team members are going to be your best collaboration assets.
As a project manager, you have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of every team member. Ask yourself:
- Does this team member have relevant skills?
- What is this team member’s work style?
- What is this team member’s preferred mode of communication? Do they like emailing, or talking face-to-face?
- Is this team member willing to compromise?
- What motivates this team member? What are their personal and professional goals?
- Is this team member a good communicator? Are they an active listener?
- Does this team member know other people on the team already?
You have to know how your team members think and behave. Then, you’ll know how you can motivate them.
For example, some team members tend to keep to themselves, even if they’re a well of useful information.
In that case, you should make sure that you’re giving them plenty of opportunities to exchange knowledge with others on the team, even if you have to prompt them to participate.
What Are You Like?
Finally, the success of team collaboration depends on you as the project manager, as well.
Your role isn’t only to make sure the tasks get completed.
You should also motivate and communicate with your team members to get to the finish line in time, without too many obstacles in your way.
As a project manager, you should master the following 11 skills:
- Problem solving
- Time management
- Task management and delegation
- Change management and flexibility
- Risk management
- Leadership and motivation
- Technological proficiency
- Tracking progress
- Team management.
If you’re a first-time project manager, focus on feedback and communication.
You don’t have to know everything, but you have to be willing to learn.
There is plenty your team members will teach you about themselves, tools, and your project.
Team Collaboration Will Be Successful If…
…Your team understands the goals and their tasks
Your team members have to understand their tasks and goals well enough to do excellent work.
Make sure that the project itself, and any subsequent tasks, are clear enough.
Your team members have to understand the end result standards:
- What will the project accomplish?
- What results do the clients/top management expect by the end?
- How does this project contribute to your overall goals, and perhaps even team members’ professional goals?
…Your team knows what to do next
If you and your team have prepared a thorough strategy and road map, they’ll know who they should hand off their task results to, as well as which tasks they should complete next.
There shouldn’t be any vague policies.
Make things as clear as possible, and your team will have no problem collaborating.
You can also establish a workflow, or at least a systematized process for claiming, completing, and handing off tasks.
…Your team can rely on you as their leader
Team members have to juggle their own tasks, while sharing knowledge and collaborating with other people.
It can get really busy.
As their leader, you should keep your doors open, and make sure they know it.
Offer advice and assistance, and help your team members build trust in you.
…Your team can rely on other team members
Without bonding time and an emphasis on accountability, your team won’t be able to successfully collaborate.
You should make it your priority to get team members to communicate, as well as emphasize accountability.
Team building exercises can help a lot. You should also show respect for different perspectives, and encourage your team members to follow your example.
And with these criteria as your baseline for determining whether your team is successful, it’s time to step into the brave new world of team collaboration practices.
1. Start the Project Right
It’s important to start things off on the right foot.
It’ll help you ensure that your team is collaborating successfully throughout the project.
As you start planning the project itself, you should pay particular attention to the following categories, as they’ll significantly influence collaboration
Goals, Roles, and Responsibilities
At the beginning of every project, explain the overall goal of the project, as well as success standards that deliverables should adhere to.
Make sure that your team members know what success means. Be as specific as possible
For example, if your team is making an app, the goal should be phrased as: “The clients wants 10,000 users, who aren’t proficient in technology, to use the app easily.”
This will automatically tell your team members that your app should be easy to use, instead of technologically complex.
Avoid vague phrasings such as: “The client wants the app to streamline processes and improve user satisfaction.”
Make sure the responsibilities are clear
Assign tasks to specific team members, and leave no margin for vagueness.
Task and goal owners should be specified.
If you have big teams, make sure you define who the team lead is.
For example, if Mary and Tim are both taking care of front-end design, you should narrow the responsibilities down so it’s clear who has to design wireframes, who has to conduct UX research, and so on.
Define metrics and success standards
The definition of success is different, depending on whom you ask.
Ensure that everyone on the team knows how project success and progress will be measured.
If your team knows what they are expected to deliver, they will do so. Be as clear as possible.
Create a communication plan
Work with your team to create a communication framework they are comfortable with.
For example, sometimes your team members may need to communicate with clients. You should establish the framework and policies for that.
If you’ll be using tools to report on progress, share knowledge, and collaborate on certain tasks, make sure you define that early on, and even train team members if necessary.
And, as always, avoid long-drawn meetings.
Get and share feedback
Finally, keep your door open to team members who may need guidance:
- Encourage team members to pose questions
- Don’t leave until everyone is on the same page
- Warn your team members of potential risks and obstacles
- Work with your team to create communication and risk management plans
- Conduct frequent status update meetings and/or check in with your team members to see how they’re progressing.
This is especially important if you’re working with your team for the first time.
Trust levels likely aren’t high, so encourage communication and collaborative problem-solving.
And speaking of trust…
2. Use Team Building Activities
If you want your project team to collaborate, you need to help them build trust in their colleagues.
Why Team Building Is Important
The importance of team building lies in the following benefits:
- Team members solve problems together and learn to rely on one another
- Engaging team-building activities boost morale and employee engagement
- Team members learn how to communicate and share knowledge with one another
- Members build relationships with one another, increasing the potential for creative problem-solving in the long term
- Members get to know one another, as well as their strengths, weaknesses, preferred modes of communication, and work styles.
Ultimately, team building contributes to overall team collaboration success rates. It increases productivity and ensures that you finish your projects in time.
Team building is especially important for teams who haven’t worked together previously.
If you want to set the right foundations for collaboration success on your team, you can use some of the following
5 Minute Team Building Activities
If you’re strapped for time, five-minute team building activities are going to help you a lot:
Circle of Questions:
- Have your team members sit in a circle, and take turns asking and answering questions.
- This is a great team building activities for teams that need to brush up on their active listening skills.
- If you’ve got introverts on your team, they’ll be more comfortable speaking up in meetings after that.
- Have your team members talk about trips they dream of having, and have others pose questions or show whether they agree or disagree with their ideas.
The Incapacitated Leader (also known as Frostbite):
- In Frostbite, team members have to pitch a tent without the help of the person who knows how to pitch it.
- They have to listen to instructions and work together.
- However, you may not be in a position to bring in a tent – or have team members who know how to do it – so you may choose a different task that relies on the skilled team member giving instructions to others.
- The folks behind this mystery game help team members get to know one another by solving mysteries.
- The packages come with clues, documents, and team members have to solve mysteries by working together.
- It’s worth investing in if you often work with new team members, and have enough downtime.
Two Sides of a Coin:
- Have a team member share something negative that’s happened to them, and have another try to put a positive spin on it.
- Then switch. It’s a great way to acquaint new team members with others on a personal level.
- Great activity for building trust and gauging perspectives.
Three Truths and a Lie:
- This is a classic, and it works.
- The wackier the truths, the better.
- After a while, your team members will get really creative and start laughing, which is a perk for improving the atmosphere on your team.
Team Birthday Line-Up:
- Team members have to guess each others’ birthdays and then form a line, starting with the person whose birthday is earliest.
- The catch is: they can’t talk, and they have to resort to pantomime.
Worst Job Ever:
- Have your team members share their worst jobs ever, and state the reasons why.
- Chances are, they’ve got plenty of reasons in common, and this can contribute to them relating to one another.
- Present a problem, and then have every team member give the dumbest, simplest solution for that problem.
- For example, you can state something like: “Your TV broke down,” and encourage your team members to say things like: “Throw it out the window.”
- This will help them open up during meetings and solve problems with lateral thinking.
- Have each team member write down something they want in life, and place it in a box.
- Then, have other team members take the notes out, and talk about how the person could accomplish it.
- Problem-solving and helpfulness: check!
- Create bingo cards with information about your team members (e.g. “Has kids,” “has a dog,” “jogs,” etc.) and then have your team members talk to one another to find the people who fit the most prompts.
- Place objects (“mines”) around the room, and then blindfold a team member.
- Pair them with a second team member, who will give them instructions for navigating the “minefield” and avoiding the objects you’ve placed.
- Hand out objects at random to groups of team members.
- For example, you could hand them a lipstick, and then have them come up with possible uses for that object.
- They don’t have to be realistic. For example, a lipstick could be used as a marker, as well.
These team building games usually don’t take longer than 15 minutes. It’s easy to integrate them in your day.
While they work best for teams who are collaborating for the first time, you can also use them to build trust in teams who aren’t as close.
If you’re working with remote teams, the physical games aren’t going to be as simple.
However, you can adapt the majority of these games to videoconferencing restraints. Or you can always resort to having them solve an online crossword puzzle together.
3. Encourage the Right Behaviors
If you integrate encouragement and recognition into your day-to-day operations, your team will be incredibly thankful.
However, be sure to not only encourage and reward positive results, but positive behaviors, as well:
- Conflict resolution
Positive reinforcement can help you encourage positive behavior across your team, as well as add that much-needed recognition:
- Point out desirable behaviors (For example, “Emily, you did a great job contacting the client when you weren’t sure about their expectations!”)
- Reinforce standards (For example, “John and Mary came together to solve a problem, and it contributed to the overall success of the project.”)
- Be specific about behaviors, not qualities (Don’t praise someone for being “a hard worker.” Instead, praise them for the specific actions they took.)
- If you criticize, criticize the behavior while understanding the circumstances (For example, a project team member might have been late to finish their task because of a family emergency. Make sure you note that when reminding them to notify you should that happen again in the future.)
- Invite others to recognize and reinforce positive behaviors (Hold quick feedback sessions in which team members praise one another for behaviors that made their jobs easier.)
Positive reinforcement is a great approach for encouraging everyone on the team to do their best work.
If you only praise and reward top performers, others might feel like they’re not as needed. This can lead to social loafing.
Positive reinforcement clearly shows team members which behaviors are desirable, and increases their motivation, as well as their job engagement.
It maps the way to team collaboration success.
4. Create Collaborative Workspaces
Raise your hand if the sight of a typical corporate cubicle makes your hairs stand on end.
(Did you raise it? We sure did.)
Typical workplace arrangements don’t do much to facilitate team collaboration. And if you’re working on a project, you need everyone to stay focused and help each other out.
Whenever possible, use:
- Open spaces
- Natural light
- Circular seating arrangements
- Whiteboards for brainstorming.
One of the main benefits of collaborative workspaces is streamlined knowledge sharing.
If your team members can just look up and spot the right person who can give them the info they need to complete their task, they’ll get it done sooner. After all, we spend a lot of time at work tracking down the information we need to do our jobs.
If you can’t do plenty to rearrange the furniture around your office, or if you’re working with a remote project team, you can use technological solutions.
If your team is working in the same place, you should have a designated brainstorming/discussion area.
Just the psychological effect of having a safe space for discussion and problem solving goes a long way.
However, if you’re working with a remote team, you can set up an informal Slack channel for that purpose.
While your team management process should be structured, give your team some leeway for creativity.
5. What About Cross-Team Collaboration?
Team collaboration can get tricky if you’re working with members who are usually working for other departments or teams.
However, nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. Additionally, improving cross-team collaboration is a great way to bring the scale of team collaboration at your entire company way higher than it had ever been.
First, you should establish baselines, KPIs, and expectations.
Make sure project outcomes are clear, as well as desirable behaviors.
If you’ll be using communication software or project management tools, state that at the beginning.
Make one tool central so cross-departmental team members know exactly where to go for the latest information.
Avoid the temptation to lead some discussions over email, others on Slack, and the third in your collaboration tools.
Keep everything as centralized as possible, especially when it comes to crucial project work.
Create a communication plan, and arrange stand-up meetings
Team collaboration doesn’t have to suffer just because everyone is busy:
- Create a communication plan with: scheduled meetings, points of contact, and assignments.
- Hold stand-up meetings with status updates. Keep them as short as possible (less than 15 minutes), and try to have everyone on the team participate.
Check in frequently
Make sure your cross-team members know that they can turn to you for help.
Get in touch with them every once in a while, especially if you notice they’re inexplicably behind on their work.
They might need your assistance.
And if they do, you can always schedule a team meeting where everyone can workshop the problem.
6. Motivation Goes a Long Way Towards Project Team Collaboration
If you want your project team to collaborate, you need to motivate them. Use some of the following collaboration ideas:
1. Make team collaboration engaging
If you want to systematize team collaboration, you can use gamification principles:
- Give points for desirable behaviors
- Reward team members with “badges” like: Team Player, Helper, and so on
- Reward team members who get the most points
2. No one likes meetings
A lot of productive time is wasted on meetings. Instead:
- Schedule meetings for specific team members
- Hold general status updates weekly, and keep them short
- End the meeting with actionable lists
3. Help team members resolve conflicts
If there are conflicts on your team, don’t swoop in and pick sides.
Instead, listen to both perspectives, and help team members resolve the conflict on their own, providing guidance all the while.
This will help your team members understand one another better, and they’ll collaborate more effectively in the long run.
4. Small victories
While it’s easy to celebrate big achievements like project completion, it’s important to celebrate small wins, as well.
Whenever your team reaches a milestone, make sure you take some time to celebrate their achievements and reflect on positive behaviors that led to such outcomes.
By celebrating progress, you’ll keep your team members motivated to keep working together towards the ultimate goal.
5. Identify early change adopters
If you’re coming to work with a team that already has an established set of collaboration principles, it’ll take a while for everyone to get on board.
However, there is always a handful of team members who are looking forward to change.
When you identify them, you can use their influence to spread positivity across the team.
You can have them coach other team members. This is especially important if you’re introducing new tools.
6. Brainstorm (a lot)
There’s nothing like brainstorming to kickstart team collaboration.
Try techniques like brainwriting and paired-up brainstorming to encourage your team members to both work together, and come up with creative solutions to obstacles you’re facing.
7. Team Task Management
No team is capable of collaborating if they’re inundated with work.
Keep an eye on everyone’s workloads, and include your team members in project planning and execution stages:
- Consult your team when planning projects and project resources
- Ask for everyone’s input regarding timelines and milestones
- Hash out disagreements early on, and implement a procedure for conflict resolution
- If possible, have your team members meet the client and discuss their expectations, as well as possibilities
Slack: Asynchronous Communication
Slack is a great communication tool, especially if you’re working with remote teams.
You can set up formal Slack channels for different work groups, as well as integrate other tools to send you notifications.
You can also create informal channels where team members will get to know each other.
Slack is available in desktop, Android, and iOS versions, for staying in touch on the go.
The basic plan is free, although it comes with a few limitations in terms of integrations.
Project Central: Project Team Collaboration Central
If you want a central dashboard for keeping track of tasks, project progress, workloads, and much more, Project Central is a great option.
Project Central integrates with Microsoft Office 365. If that’s your company’s project management tool of choice, you’ll receive additional features:
The dashboard view in Project Central will help you stay on top of all the projects you manage.
You’ll understand areas for improvement at a glance. Just check out the “Project Health” and “Project Status” overviews. They’ll alert you to any roadblocks.
Project Central dashboards will also help you encourage team collaboration. You’ll see top project contributors, and recent project updates.
If you want to get projects done, you first have to take care of tasks.
- Complete overview of tasks
You’ll also have access to Activity Feeds, so you know who’s doing what. And so will your team members.
Your transparency will increase tenfold!
Everything You Need for Project Team Collaboration
When all the members of your project team can see what they have to do, as well as how their colleagues are doing, there’ll be no room left for confusion.
Your team will complete their tasks faster, and they’ll be happier.
And when your team has all the technological support they need, doing great work will become a piece of cake.