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Power up project collaboration

Get in sync and win as a team

Meeples riding an intricate bike

Imagine you’re holding a cluster of balloons. Each balloon represents a member of a team. If you simply let the balloons go, the winds of expectations and deadlines will carry each of these balloons in separate directions – or land them in a frustratingly unreachable tree.

Alternatively, if you tie those balloons together and hold on tight, even hurricane-force winds would have a tough time prying them out of your grip. You can’t control the wind, but you can make sure the team stays close whatever the weather.

What is project collaboration?

That’s how we think about project collaboration: it’s the energy that binds a team together so that it rises toward a goal and navigates the ups and downs (and sideways) as one. Project collaboration enables entire teams to work together through the entirety of the process. It allows them to be more productive and more aware of each other’s perspectives, needs, and timelines. Even if a team member is across the world, they can still be looped in and contributing.

Under the wider umbrella of project management, project collaboration might simply mean teamwork. But as companies increasingly go global, operating with geographically dispersed workforces and more remote employees, the “how” and “where” of teamwork is constantly changing.

Project collaboration relies on three things: effective communication, consistent processes, and the right project collaboration tools. We’re quickly evolving our work styles and technologies, and that means project collaboration tools and methods need to evolve, too.

They’re siblings, not twins

Blueprint

When you hear ‘project collaboration’ and ‘project management,’ do you feel like you hear an echo? While there is overlap between the two, there are some pretty big differences. 

Project management is what teams do to establish workflows and meet project goals while weighing any resource or time constraints. It’s the Point A to Point B process of deciding to get the balloons to your destination and then doing it. 

Project collaboration focuses on how people work together to get work done. That’s the tying of the strings to ensure you don’t lose your grip. Project collaboration centers on the “us” and the “we.”

When teams work in unison and with the belief in the greater good, they bask in the efficiency benefits they’ve created. See below for just a few awesome things that can be born from collaboration.

I see you

Out of sight no longer means out of mind. With so much work happening online, good collaboration is more necessary than ever. Teams who live and breathe collaboration are better able to communicate across time zones and stay in sync with any changes that inevitably face any project.

Hear from everyone

For folks who cringe when at the center of attention, working within a group can be a safety net and a growth opportunity. Workers in highly collaborative teams get more practice freely sharing their expertise and receiving feedback. 

Turn up team efficiency

Teams with strong communication habits can stay on top of projects and in touch with the key players – and know when to call for backup.  

6 signs collaboration is on the backburner

You no doubt have driven, accomplished teams in your organization that continually knock projects out of the park. Then there are others that could use more unity.  Below are tell-tale signs that some teams in your company could use a tighter tether. 

Too many walls

Some teams have a harder time unifying in working spaces where some members are remote, on different floors, or different buildings – especially if collaboration isn’t in their blueprints.

Then there are silos that develop without any physical barriers. These groups rarely communicate or engage with other parts of the organization, and often have information that might be useful to other teams tucked away. Breaking up isolated work units is an important step towards building a fully collaborative environment. 

Some companies have opted for completely open work environments to combat this challenge (the impact on collaboration and productivity varies), but the best bet is instilling the idea of collaboration into the culture. Here’s how we do it at Confluence.

No we, only me

There’s a difference between being heads down and making your tasks priority one, and applying all that energy to a team win. Every team needs doers, but having too many soloists within your teams makes project collaboration a tough sell.

Competing goals

Having too many deadlines often underpins the soloist mindset. If one person’s goals are separate and/or in conflict with the team’s, of course important work will fall off the radar. Without clear, unified objectives, any project can run full-speed in the wrong direction. This is a clear sign that the team is not set up for successful project collaboration.

Balance weighing items

Too many cooks in the kitchen

Ever tried to order pizza for a group lunch only to end up hangry because no one can agree on toppings? Frustrating, right? When there are too many decsion-makers, chaos ensues. After going around and around, either the team just gets stuck or someone has to make a quick, unvetted decision that in hindsight was misguided.

Is this common practice at your organization? Look into creating formal decision-making practices to help your teams work together better.

Double trouble

How frustrating is it to realize that you’ve put hours into a project just to discover that someone else is doing the same? Redundant efforts are a chili-red flag that your team isn’t collaborating as well as they should. They’re wasting time, resources, and valuable skills by doing double work. These situations scream for better coordination.

Where do we go from here?

Even with articulated goals, some teams may not know how to achieve them. For larger organizations that have teams within teams, while the company-wide goals are clear as day, the milestones and the how of it all may be all gray. If there are work units that seem to be spinning in circles instead of marching forward, they may need help coordinating.

Your project collaboration primer

Let’s return to our party balloons. Tying together a bouquet of inflatables seems easy enough, but there’s actually a technique to making sure you can hold on to them. The same is true for collaboration. On some teams, telling the sales team you’re kicking off a new brand design counts as collaboration, but that's really just a conversation (and a one-sided one). Try the techniques below to create true partnerships across your team.

Bold, italicize, underline your goals

Say it, then say it again, and then say it again. If you’ve done this right, every member of your team should be tired of hearing your goals. In the event your goals need to shift, make that change clear and repeat the new ones often. 

Brainstorming

When was the last time you gathered your team together and asked them all to problem solve? Brainstorming sessions can help surface innovative ideas, inform goals and project plans, and give everyone a stake in the project’s success. With an array of brainstorming techniques available, there’s definitely one for any stage of your project.

Ask for ideas & feedback

At every step of a project – during brainstorming, planning, and every meeting – ask the team what they think and if they have any feedback. Remember to give the floor to the soloists or less vocal members of the team. They may be more likely to share when they know they won’t be drowned out by their more assertive teammates.

Can we talk?

Obviously, consistent and articulate communication is paramount to project collaboration. (It’s the air in the balloon.) However, we’re all juggling a bevy of tools, from email, to chat, to messengers, to comments in docs. How you connect with your team is almost as valuable as the communication itself; how many times have you had a project stall out because you didn’t know that approval was buried in a Slack thread? At the kick off the project or, even better, when the team forms, agree on how and how often you’ll share updates and comments.

Tag, you’re it

Decide and document who needs to put what on their to-do list – and document the to-do list too. (You might also call this the project plan.) This lets everyone know where they fit into the grand scheme and avoids any hiccups like a task falling through the cracks or two people working on the same action item.

Sharing is caring

The volume of ideas created by a collaborative team firing on all cylinders could mean that your best ones are buried in a stack of sticky notes. Taking formal meeting notes is always a good idea. Using a modern, online, searchable collaboration tool can be a better one. It’ll allow you to capture meeting takeaways, share them broadly, and ask for feedback all in one spot.

Your turn

Rocket launching

The stronger the collaboration on a given project, the better the outcome – both for the team members and the organization as a whole. 

Tech tools have made this far easier. Dispersed teams can use conferencing and virtual whiteboarding technologies to brainstorm together from opposite ends of the world. Issue and project-tracking apps help teams manage priorities, leaders plan ahead, and HR analysts mine rich data. 

Teams of all kinds can use virtual knowledge bases and collaborative workspaces to find information, submit materials, and move the project along. Bookmark this collaboration how-to to make the best use of these tools and sidestep snafus.

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