Absolutely no one works completely alone. Working with others is pretty much inescapable, and that’s why collaboration in the workplace is such an important interpersonal skill

But just because teamwork is common doesn’t mean it’s easy. Much like any other competency, improving your collaboration skills takes some understanding, practice, and commitment. 

What is involved in effective collaboration?

The importance of teamwork (as proven by science)

Collaboration is the act of cooperating with other people to get something done. It’s an interpersonal skill in and of itself, but there are a lot of other interpersonal skills wrapped up in it too, including:

  • Communication: You need to be able to clearly state your perspectives, while also actively listening to other people in the group.
  • Problem-solving: Groups are complex and issues are bound to arise. Team members need to have solid problem-solving skills to navigate around hurdles.
  • Conflict resolution: Dynamics between group members can also become sticky, and conflict resolution skills are crucial for maintaining the culture and cohesion of the team.
  • Open-mindedness: Working with a group means you don’t always get to do things your way. You need to remain open to other people’s perspectives, approaches, and ideas. 

4 ways to improve your collaboration skills

Improve any one of your interpersonal skills and your ability to collaborate stands to benefit. But what if you want to focus specifically on becoming a top-notch collaborator? Here are four ways to boost your collaboration skills. 

1. Build your self-awareness

Research shows that self-awareness has a direct impact on a team’s functioning and performance. More self-awareness leads to a higher-performing team. 

So, getting more in tune with your own strengths, weaknesses, habits, and behaviors is one of the best ways to improve cross-functional collaboration. You can do this by:

  • Soliciting feedback from people you work with
  • Reflecting on past projects and performance reviews
  • Working closely with a mentor
  • Doing a Johari window exercise with your team (it’s a good way to bond while learning more about yourselves and each other)

2. Improve your emotional intelligence

Your emotional intelligence is your ability to identify and manage your emotions, as well as the emotions of other people. And when our emotions have such a strong impact on how we perceive other people (and how they perceive us), better emotional intelligence inherently leads to better teamwork

Try naming your own emotions and practicing mindfulness to build a better understanding of your own triggers, feelings, and reactions. 

When it comes to working with a team, even simple tricks can make a big difference. For example, at the start of a team meeting, ask everybody to share an emoji that describes how they feel. It’s easy and light-hearted but is also an effective way for people to get a better grasp on everybody else’s mindset and emotional state. 

3. Agree on the goal or problem

According to experts, “Collaboration is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.” That means to collaborate well, teams need to clearly define their shared goal or problem before they can achieve or solve it together.

There are a number of different exercises and frameworks teams can use to do this, including:

  • 5 Whys Analysis: Involves asking “why?” five times to dig deeper into the root of a problem.
  • Problem Framing: Aimed at understanding and aligning on the ins and outs of a problem before identifying solutions.
  • Goals, Signals, and Measures: Outline the objective, the signs that you’re heading in the right direction, and the metrics you’ll use to define success. 

4. Hold yourself accountable

Research shows that groups often outperform individuals – particularly when it comes to solving complex problems. 

However, there are also plenty of cognitive biases that can hold back collaboration. Social loafing is a big one, which is when people exert less effort in a group setting than they would individually. Put simply, they count on other people to pick up their slack.

That’s why accountability is so critical. To collaborate well, put systems in place that help you meet your deadlines, fulfill your responsibilities, and deliver on expectations. One of the best ways to be a skilled collaborator is to do what you said you were going to do – when you said you’d do it.

How to improve your collaboration skills