Collaboration in the workplace happens when people work together towards a common goal. It involves sharing ideas, knowledge, skills, and resources to get stuff done collectively (better and faster) than they could individually.
Better collaboration in the workplace is more important than ever. Slack’s recent State of Work Report found that employees spend 32% of their time on average doing performative work that looks productive. Respondents also said they could cancel 43% of their meetings without any real negative consequences.
Yikes. Sounds like too many meetings and not enough focus on work that matters. To compound the issue, people often use the wrong tools to collaborate. Think: using Slack to share detailed process updates instead of updating existing documentation.
But if you can help your team work out the kinks and establish best practices, everyone can start driving bigger business impact. What else can you create, in the long run? A stronger knowledge sharing culture, for one.
Below, we’ll cover 13 ways you can improve collaboration in the workplace, plus tips and tools you can try with your team.
How to improve collaboration in the workplace: 13 ideas to try
Getting your team to work (well) together can take time. Time you most likely don’t have. That’s why we’ll cut to the chase and make it easy for you to jump around.
Don’t have formal collaboration or communication goals? Check out the first tip. Need more collaboration that doesn’t derail your team’s work day? Skip down to number three.
1. Set goals together and agree on the “why” for better collaboration
It’s easy to work together when everyone’s on the same page.
The problem for most teams? Getting there is a painful process.
Think about it—how often are you and your team in meetings without a clear agenda and actionable next steps? How many times a week are your “focus time” calendar blocks interrupted by impromptu screen share requests? How frequently are your top performers fielding pings that take them out of the flow of work?
If you’re noticing it, then your team is most likely feeling it too. Set aside some time to meet, talk through these challenges, and brainstorm potential solutions.
Let’s walk through an example:
What’s our #1 challenge? Missed project deadlines
Why does this matter? Some teammates need to rush their tasks to make up for lost time, resulting in more mistakes and feedback
What are we going to do? We’re going to set deadline reminders in our project management tool and post more regular project updates
What do we want to avoid? Holding more meetings that pull us away from focused work
🤔 Common challenge: You’re struggling to get buy-in on your team’s goals and your efforts to improve collaboration in the workplace.
💡 Solution: Talk about the challenges you’ve observed and experienced head-on and decide which ones are most important to address sooner rather than later.
2. Communicate expectations and hold each other accountable
We know where we want to go. Now, it’s time to work backward and define what to do to get there. 🗺️
For example, you can start encouraging teammates to check your knowledge base first before pinging teammates or sending screen share requests. This can help train your team to default to self-service, first, and crowd-sourcing information, second.
Here are a few examples of how you can set expectations and guidelines to create a better culture of collaboration:
Set policies around how quickly you need to respond to keep projects on track while minimizing the pressure to immediately reply.
Explain when you need to share project updates, what a “good” update looks like, and who you need to keep in the loop.
Define how your team will use tools to work together, like if you only share project updates in your team’s project management tool.
Establish a process of how you and other leaders will communicate company-wide changes and how to keep individual contributors in the loop.
Set guidelines for your communication tools so that everyone can share what they need to without overwhelming others. (Take some inspiration from our Slack norms!).
Define the purpose of each of your tools and when/how to efficiently use them. For example, collaboration tools are great when your team is creating documents for your knowledge base. However, it may not be the best option if your team wants to bat around ideas.
🤔 Common challenge: Nobody knows what “good” collaboration means, so they aren’t meeting your expectations.
💡 Solution: Create and communicate actionable expectations that support your team’s collaboration goals and work styles.
3. Promote asynchronous collaboration
Ever notice how some of the most productive work days are often the quietest? Minimizing meetings, notifications, and other disruptions makes it much easier to stay in get stuff done mode.
To get in flow and keep moving forward, you need asynchronous collaboration. To work together—separately—you need strong documentation.
Instead of repeatedly pinging top performers and managers, ask them to capture key processes in how-to guides so everyone can find the knowledge they need, when they need it. (Without interrupting each other, asking people to share screens, or tapping anyone on the shoulder!)
A system like this creates a win-win for everyone. People with answers can unblock their teammates, without physically stopping to lend a hand. And people with questions can find answers fast, without breaking flow.
🤔 Common challenge: People on your team get asked too many questions to concentrate and get deep work done.
💡 Solution: Create and continually update your process documentation to help everyone get unstuck, themselves.
4. Get personalized help from an expert—without breaking flow
When you’re in the middle of the work day, you can’t afford the time and interruptions that come with answering one-off questions, recording long videos, or organizing sync meetings. And while a quick screen share might feel like the fastest way to get your team unstuck, it’s not scalable, and probably won’t help them remember how to perform the process in the future.
What you need is a way to:
Replicate all of the benefits of getting personalized help from an expert—without any of the cons.
Quickly access documentation that combines procedural knowledge (what to do) and curated insights (how to do it in the best possible way).
Instantly get the answers you need without wasting time searching a knowledge base or a complex team wiki.
🤔 Common challenge: Your junior teammates want personalized help, but your senior teammates and leaders need heads-down time to move the business forward.
💡 Solution: Have your top performers create, review, and update process documentation to include personalized insights on the steps that matter most.
5. Build trust amongst your team to promote better communication
Ever heard how trust is like a bank account? You can make “deposits” in your relationship bank account with one person to build up your trust. When you’ve established trust, it’s a lot easier to create a safe space and improve communication.
Below are a few actionable things you and your team can try to start building trust:
Be honest (but empathetic) in tough situations, like when you’re giving feedback or when you fall short of others’ expectations.
Stay humble when receiving feedback and navigating challenges.
Practice active listening to make sure everyone feels heard.
Generously share gratitude so others know that you see and appreciate their hard work.
Offer your teammates support when you can, even when they don’t ask.
Hold yourself accountable to the expectations you have for others and the goals you set together.
Stay solutions-oriented when challenges come up, and focus on how everyone can do better next time.
On top of these things, you can also try these approaches to build trust with your team:
Cut down on micromanaging and giving your teammates the space to work independently.
Encourage everyone to share their ideas and feedback and give them an avenue to safely share them.
Follow up onfeedback so your teammates know that you took action and took their feedback seriously.
🤔 Common challenge: Your teammates don’t trust that others will listen to them or take their opinions seriously.
💡 Solution: Actively listen to their ideas and feedback—and follow up with them on how you ran with it. Modeling what trust looks like through your actions can encourage others to start doing the same.
6. Make meetings and synchronous collaboration efficient and valuable
As much as we want to scale back on meetings, they’re still a necessity for lots of teams.
The first step is to delete the meetings that aren’t necessary. Then, dial back on meetings that are too long. Ask yourself the following to see how you can make meetings more valuable:
How can I help everyone get on the same page about this meeting?
Why are people included in this meeting?
What tasks can we accomplish asynchronously to save everyone some time?
What’s the best use of everyone’s time during the meeting?
How can I keep everyone on topic?
What can we realistically cover in this meeting block and what should we table for another time?
It’s sometimes faster to take five minutes to chat through an oddly-specific question than to type a long email reply. Meetings are also great to chat live and feel your teammate’s energy—a couple of things you can’t accomplish asynchronously!
7. Create formal and informal opportunities to connect
Collaboration can take many forms. Structured time to connect might work well for some teams, while others may prefer more informal conversations.
Not every collaboration opportunity needs to be an official employee development program. Sometimes, a casual team sync with a round robin of highs and lows every few weeks may be all you need.
Ask around to see what your teammates prefer and what aligns with their work styles. A good balance of both formal and informal touchpoints can give everyone a chance to participate in ways that come easiest to them.
🤔 Common challenge: 100% of your team isn’t psyched about collaboration in the workplace.
💡 Solution: Ask everyone for more details about how, when, and why they like to connect—and create a game plan to bring more appealing options to life.
8. Provide training opportunities to improve collaboration and related skills
Collaboration doesn’t come easy for everyone. If you manage a larger team, you may need to navigate:
Less than stellar communication skills and/or clashing communication styles
Different time zones
Various degrees of familiarity with remote/hybrid/in-person work
Lack of empathy
Poor time management
Co-creating goals and expectations are a great start, but formal collaboration and team building training can help develop everyone’s soft skills.
You may already have a training program ready to go for your team. If not—organizations like the National Conflict Resolution Center and Lean Six Sigma Institute also offer programs for companies. You can also find opportunities at your local university, in online learning marketplaces like Udemy, or through your current HR and similar partners.
🤔 Common challenge: Some personalities, work styles, and communication styles are clashing and causing friction on the team.
💡 Solution: Find training opportunities to help people hone their soft skills and learn how to work better, together.
9. Optimize teams to play to their strengths
Sometimes, the problem is the team. (Team setup that is!) 🧩
In a perfect world, we’d put together great teams every time. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to know a new hire’s strengths from the start or have the perfect projects lined up.
Some teammates are better at analytical tasks while others are better at motivating their peers. Too many of the same types of strengths can make a team unbalanced.
Before deciding to shake things up, you can ask your team if they’re interested in upskilling or reskilling and trying something new. This is also a chance to revisit your team’s roles and adjust responsibilities and expectations.
🤔 Common challenge: Some teams consistently need support in the same areas.
💡 Solution: Revisit team roles and responsibilities, then look into upskilling and reskilling opportunities.
10. Give your team the tools they need to collaborate
According to Gartner, there was a 44% increase in collaboration tool usage between 2019 and 2021. Gmail and Outlook are just the gateway. There are dozens of tools designed to promote collaborative work beyond email.
Need a way to share knowledge while staying in get stuff done mode? Find a knowledge sharing tool that helps you easily create and share how-to guides. Need an informal way to ask quick questions? Find a messaging tool that lets you seamlessly manage pings (and your notification settings).
The tricky part is balancing the number of tools with 1) your budget and 2) the time and effort your team can dedicate to adopting each one.
Want to make your tool-searching efforts worthwhile? Ask for your teammate’s thoughts and feedback throughout the process. They know their workflows better than anyone, so they can help you understand exactly what would help them most.
Note: If you can’t find a free solution, remember trial periods and product demos are there for the taking!
🤔 Common challenge: The knowledge people need to do their jobs are spread across hard-to-use knowledge bases, learning management systems, chat systems, and people’s heads. Which means context switching is the norm, not the exception.
💡 Solution: Find a tool (or tools) that helps people find answers fast, make fewer mistakes, minimize interruptions, and get better while they work.
11. Celebrate your team’s wins and incentivize collaboration
Active project threads? 360-degree feedback? Proactive process documentation updates? Pinch us, we must be dreaming. 🙂
Recognizing efforts big and small can help your team feel appreciated. You can recognize your teammates in meetings, in your team’s messaging channels, or even during a 1:1 meeting.
Other fun incentives can also work. Gamification can spark a little friendly competition between your teammates. If you don’t already, you can also incorporate collaboration efforts as criteria for promotions or raises.
🤔 Common challenge: Some people on your team feel uncomfortable being praised in public.
💡 Solution: Ask your teammates how they prefer to receive your praise—then share your appreciation.
12. Continually request and implement feedback
Encourage your team to share feedback about your collaboration goals, guidelines, and programs. Some people only need an invitation to share. Others may feel more comfortable sharing with certain people.
Anonymous feedback forms, 1:1 meetings, a “suggest edits” feature in a document, and even quick DMs are all ways your team can share feedback.
You can also look for tools that make it easier to submit feedback without switching tabs or breaking flow. With Tango, your teammates can leave comments directly in your guides while they work—and make it easier to source process improvements from the ground up.
What’s another way to encourage more feedback? Acknowledge good points people have made and share how you’re addressing them. That way, people know that you’re listening and that their feedback can make a difference.
You can also make it easier to review and implement feedback. For instance, maybe your teammates flagged a few outdated tips in a long (and very expensive) training video. Instead of scrambling for the time and budget to reshoot, you can look for other ways to share knowledge.
Note: It’s usually easier to update workflow documentation or [written] FAQ resources than it is to figure out how to edit a video without special skills.
🤔 Common challenge: You’re having a hard time getting feedback from your team.
💡 Solution: Build in project retros into your schedule so everyone has a space to talk about what went well, what could have gone better, and what issues you’d like to address together.
13. Lead by example—and encourage other leaders to do the same
Seeing leaders practice better collaboration in the workplace can encourage others to follow suit. It also shows your team how people with different titles, communication styles, and work preferences put your guidelines into practice.
What can this look like in the wild? If your team works frequently with another department, you can co-host a meeting with that team’s manager to get creative ideas flowing. You could also do a post mortem meeting together so everyone has a chance to share their thoughts.
On a smaller scale, collaboration can be as simple as asking for feedback early or praising others who made a big difference on a project.
🤔 Common challenge: Your teammates aren’t fully embracing all your efforts to improve collaboration in the workplace.
💡 Solution: Make sure you and other leaders are also meeting the expectations that you’ve set for the team.
Benefits and importance of collaboration in the workplace
Some benefits are obvious. Better team collaboration means that your teammates can get their work done faster and you can keep projects on track.
While those are both awesome perks, they’re not the only reasons why collaboration in the workplace is important.
Better teamwork generally means that best practices are flowing freely, information silos are non-existent, and final outputs are more strategic and informed. Combine these benefits with top quality SOPs, and you’ve got a recipe for scalable and sustainable success. 🍲
Not convinced? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ways having a culture of collaboration benefits your team:
Encourages knowledge sharing from everyone.
Helps teammates find answers fast (and save mental energy!) without breaking the flow of work.
Surfaces knowledge gaps and helps keep documentation comprehensive and up to date.
Improves productivity, cuts down on small mistakes and repetitive questions, and drives operational excellence.
Encourages your teammates to build trust and camaraderie by solving problems together.
Allows your team take advantage of each person’s strengths to work smarter, not harder.
Strengthens employee retention by increasing engagement and empowering teammates to contribute to the team’s larger goals.
Creates more opportunities for innovation and improved processes.
Empowers teammates to problem solve and take ownership of their work.
Develops more opportunities for teammates to easily learn on the job, get better while they work, and gain more expertise faster.
Cuts down on interruptions and meetings to help everyone spend more time on interesting work.
Boosts communication, minimizes information silos, and helps keep everyone on the same page to get things done right.
Leads to better customer service, higher quality projects, and other improved outcomes.
Examples of collaboration in the workplace
You don’t need a co-working space or a costly renovation to encourage more collaboration in the workplace. It’s far easier—and more effective—to experiment with processes that make collaboration feel effortless for anyone, wherever they are.
Find a few examples below of what collaboration in the workplace can look like:
Quick weekly or monthly team touch bases
Lunch and learns
Team Slack (or similar) channels
Project communication via project management platforms
Interactive process and workflow documentation
Collaboration tools in the workplace
As briefly mentioned above, giving your team the tools to do their best work goes a long way.
Instead of championing long email threads, introduce a project management platform to keep track of updates. Instead of making a habit of one-off meetings, leverage automatic documentation tools to create how-to guides and answer common questions.
Here are some different categories and examples of tools that can help your team work together:
Knowledge sharing tools, like Tango
Connection tools, like Zoom
Collaboration tools, like Notion
Communication tools, like Slack
Document sharing tools, like Dropbox
Project management tools, like Asana
The bottom line
Everybody wins when you work toward better collaboration in the workplace.
When your team can get the answers they need (and when they need them), they can get unstuck fast, make fewer mistakes, and feel more accomplished every day.
Improving processes and increasing productivity starts with better knowledge sharing—and the best tool for the job. 💃