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Building a Collaborative Environment
How to build and promote collaborative working environments within the workplace. This articles provides methods that enable the formulation of collaborative working environments.
Table of contents
Collaborative Environments 
Creating a collaborative environment within your team and between teams can often be the key to success. Individuals can learn from each other, motivate each other and help each other with workloads. The benefits are clear, however, creating this environment is not as straightforward. Gratton and Erickson (2007) have written the most comprehensive guide to building a collaborative team and we have expanded this to include our own tips.
Lead by example – If a leader shows enthusiasm and proactivity to collaborate with other teams and members within their team then this will create an environment in which all individuals feel comfortable collaborating and are motivated to try and do so.
Create a shared space – It is not just the intangible environment that can affect how well a team performs, but also its physical nature. A communal, open-plan work area allows employees to work together and support each other more easily. This can also enhance the relationships between teams, as they are not physically separated and can easily contact each other.
Employee rotation – Encouraging employees to move around departments increases their understanding of what is going on around the business and increases their professional network within the business.
Strong leaders – Strong leaders are crucial throughout the business for performing a number of tasks and creating a collaborative environment is one of these. They have the power to delegate to a variety of teams, bring teams together and create a sense of unity between teams.
Existing relationships – Often existing strong relationships can be utilised to ensure a collaborative team is set up. This may be teaming up people who have worked together in the past or have a strong social bond. This eliminates early tensions and trust issues that can often develop with new teams.
Define roles – Being sure exactly what your responsibility is and what everyone else is required to do helps avoid conflict and confusion and increases cohesion within the team.
Signature practices – Processes which are unique to your organisation, but not individual departments have been found to create a sense of unity across the organisation. A method often used is a common induction system, whereby all new employees undertake the same experience when they join.
Community feel – A community feel, whether it is within your team or as a company-wide, can improve performance and cohesion. This may be created by event days or parties or as simple as matching clothing. Individuals are more likely to collaborate if they feel a bond with their peers and a community feel can help create this.
Develop skills – Collaboration is not always easy to achieve immediately and hence the skills involved, i.e. communication, relationship building etc., can be improved by training programmes.
Share knowledge – Sharing information that is beyond the specification of the task can often help to build relationships and collaboration within the team. This may be an external factor change, for example, but leaders should be careful not to share anything confidential.
Small teams – Large diverse teams can often find it hard to gel and hence it is important to keep teams as small as possible, while not leaving them under resourced.
Face-to-face communication – Despite virtual communication vastly reducing costs in the past few years it has also reduced the sense of collaboration and unity within organisations. It is important to make time for face-to-face communication to avoid this.
Gratton, Lydna & Tamara J. Erickson. (2007). Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams. Harvard Business Review (November 2007).
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