detour signs pointing in many directions
Setting clear goals and organizational alignment is half the battle in avoiding the 'collaboration for collaboration's sake' trap PHOTO: CC0 license

With the volume and breadth of collaboration tools on the market today, we can find ourselves overwhelmed at times. We’re running in and out of meetings, taking constant calls or answering emails, with little time to take a step back and decide if all this so-called collaboration is actually improving our overall productivity.

We can leverage chat tools for quick questions between colleagues, while videoconferencing software enables virtual face-to-face meetings with external partners and team messaging platforms ensure an always-on flow of information sharing.

Coupled with today’s rapid rate of collaboration software development and innovation, our modern work environment basically creates the expectation that we are all available all the time.

5 Ways to Improve Collaborative Efficiency

But the reality is that without clear goals and organizational alignment, collaboration technology can actually hinder productivity. The tools that were built to make us more effective employees can turn out to have adverse effects if used incorrectly.

So, to ensure organizational efficiency in this world of nonstop collaboration, follow these five tips:

1. Define What Collaboration Means For You

Although most employees think they understand what collaborating means, it can be helpful to outline exactly what success looks like within your organization, whether it’s completing individual work before bringing ideas to your team for help or working with a group during the entire span of a project.

Either way, take time to ensure that your definition of collaboration makes sense within the context of your company’s overall culture and goals. This will help ensure that everyone is working toward a common purpose, despite variations in location, work styles or communications preferences.

2. Evaluate the Collaboration Tools at Your Disposal

There are workplace tools for task management, chat, videoconferencing and a whole breadth of other functions, all theoretically designed to help people work better together. What’s more, those tools are accessible on mobile phones, tablets and desktops.

This proliferation is why it becomes so important to determine which tools are actually necessary, both for your entire organization and for individual departments and teams. Once you settle on the tools that actually improve productivity and produce successful business outcomes, invest time to train employees on those specific tools to make sure they are being used effectively. On the flip side, make the decision to part ways with tools that require unnecessary time, energy and money to operate.

3. Think Outside the Meeting

Chances are, no matter what role you have in an organization, you will spend a significant chunk of your day sitting in meetings. To make the most out of that time, encourage team members to be purposeful in planning ahead, so that the time spent in the meeting feels productive from start to finish.

In addition, take action before and after the meeting to ensure that employees have a mutual understanding of exactly what next steps are needed to execute on a given plan or project. If you think of collaboration as a mindset rather than just a point in time, it will ensure that no time goes to waste.

4. Know When to Collaborate and When to Delegate

First, focus on what you know you can accomplish well within a given amount of time. Then, determine how to break up the remaining tasks at hand, based on employee goals and strengths.

With the overarching goal being efficiency, you must determine whether it’s necessary to ask for help initially by delegating portions of a project to other team members or if it would be more efficient to get things started on your own. Furthermore, aim to lessen everyone’s workload by determining the appropriate instances for a group huddle versus an effective delegation of tasks.

5. Facilitate Real-Time Feedback Loops

An important aspect of collaborating is making sure you’re gathering clear, relevant feedback — whether it’s positive or negative — in a timely manner from those you are working with. During times of cross-functional collaboration, or times where outside partners or stakeholders are involved, making a habit of both providing and requesting real-time feedback can lead to better processes and more effective working relationships over the long-term.

Small Changes With Big Impact

Overall, there’s a lot to consider when you’re working toward creating a culture of effective collaborators. But no matter which processes your organization implements, remember to take a step back to consider how small shifts in the way teams collaborate can have big effects on your company’s end results.