New research finds that despite the importance of collaboration, most organisations fall short when it comes to helping workers build their relationship skills. Many of us spend more time on work than on all other waking activities combined. Much of this time is spent collaborating with colleagues, thinking together in meetings, acting together on project teams. Across sectors and levels, collaboration is the key point.
In spring 2022, researchers used Workplace Collaboration Survey to better understand collaborative relationships in the modern workplace. The 1,100 people who participated in the survey were employed full time in the United States; to qualify for inclusion, they had to work with others at least some of the time. They asked respondents what proportion of their job entails collaborating with others to advance shared goals.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of the sample reported collaborating at least 41% of their work time. This means that in a 40-hour, five-day work week, people spend an average of 3.2 hours per work-day collaborating with others.
Given how much time people spend working and being with others at work, it’s no surprise that relational challenges generate stiff and persistent head winds in the workplace. In fact, 72% of respondents said they have been involved in at least one workplace collaboration that was absolutely horrendous.
Such collaborations create operational drag, bust timelines and budgets, trigger managerial headaches, and occupy already overloaded HR staff. What is surprising, especially considering these costs to organisations’ bottom lines, is how little professional development people reported receiving on how to build healthy and productive collaborative relationships at work.
When asked how much professional development they had received on this front in total, 31% of the respondents said “none.” Yet professional development in how to build collaborative relationships correlates positively with a host of desirable mindsets that benefit both organisations and individuals.
How to boost your team’s collaboration skills?
Here are six interrelated suggestions for helping individuals, teams, and organisations develop their collaborative capacity.
1️⃣ Frame the conversation
Emphasise that strong relationships make the world of work more positive for all, then highlight the role these relationships play in the organisation’s success.
2️⃣ Assess thoughts, feelings and behaviours
Rather than working from intuition or hearsay, conduct a survey to directly assess collaborative culture and relationship quality. Ask individuals about their attitudes toward collaboration with members of their team.
3️⃣ Encourage reflection to identify strengths, vulnerabilities and needs
Invite individual contributors to attend conversations to share the assessment’s findings, extract key insights about collaborative strengths and vulnerabilities, and identify specific interventions that could potentially strengthen collaborative relationships and culture within the organisation.
4️⃣ Offer development opportunities
Offering development opportunities could include 360-degree reviews for specific people, individual or team coaching, workshops, courses, or audits of how collaborative work is structured, measured and rewarded.
5️⃣ Model collaboration skills consistently.
In your own work, model a collaborative orientation by inviting input to early drafts of work or half-formed ideas, giving credit to those who played behind-the-scenes roles in a successful outcome, providing responsive and timely input on shared work.
6️⃣ Integrate the collaboration message broadly.
Integrate discussions of collaborative know-how into one-to-ones with team members, in personnel reviews, and in public recognition of accomplishments and growth. A steady drumbeat of attention to the form and function of collaboration within the organisation will help establish it as a lived value.
Adapted from a study by Deb Mashek