Everything You Need to Know About Team Collaboration in 2021 - Effective Strategies and Must-Have Tools

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By Spike Team, October 26, 2021
effective team collaboration

According to Merriam-Webster,  collaboration is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something” – in our case, achieving company goals. Summing it up in one little sentence makes it seem so simple (and perhaps it was when there were just three or four team members), but the reality is that effective collaboration requires hard work and dedication.

 

As projects grow more complex, requiring larger teams of highly specialized individuals, team collaboration has become increasingly important in the workplace. What’s more, as people start working remotely – often across the globe – and projects move into the digital world, companies need new strategies for effective team collaboration in the workplace.

 

We’re going to explore why effective collaboration became so important, some of the benefits it can bring to a team, as well as the challenges and the techniques and tools you need to build effective team collaboration at your company.

 

 

Team Collaboration in The Workplace

We’ve come a long way from a single artisan (or small family) designing, making, and selling their wares. Yet, ever since the idea of the division of labor was first explored in the 18th century, it has been a driving force behind modern economies. And with it, jobs and processes have been broken down to become more and more specialized.

 

As such, projects require more effective collaboration between team members as each specialization works as part of a bigger machine.

 

An essential product launch today, for example, would need to cover Product Management, Product Development, QA, Manufacturing, Marketing Communications, Sales, PR, Customer Support, IT, Operations, Legal, Accounting, Direct Sales…. you get the idea, there are a lot of different people doing a lot of other things.

 

Without effective collaboration, next to nothing could happen in most workplaces. Each specialized piece plays a vital role in the broader picture, and it’s your job to make sure they all run smoothly together. While it can seem like a thankless task, team collaboration is necessary and comes with its benefits.

 

 

Team Collaboration Benefits

Not only has team collaboration become necessary, but this shift has arguably been driven by its many benefits. While once we lauded the lone genius as the driver of innovation, teamwork has long been the golden child of the business world, with just some of the benefits being:

  • Increased knowledge sharing among employees

  • Improved productivity

  • More innovative problem-solving

  • Increased potential for organizational agility

  • Improved employee wellness

  • Reduced chances of employee burnout

  • More efficient remote teams

Moreover, effective team collaboration is easier than ever with a host of digital tools to improve company communication and workflow. Over the last year, almost all of us have learned the benefit of tools such as collaborative online notes and Video Conferencing to get work done wherever your team might be.

 

It is important to remember that these benefits only exist for effective collaboration, which means that you need to put time, energy, and money into your company’s communication and collaboration strategies. So, let’s take a look at some of the challenges you’ll have to overcome and tactics for effective collaboration.

 

 

Team Collaboration Challenges

team collaboration challenges

 

Despite effective team collaboration being an overall benefit for a company, it is not without its challenges. From individuals becoming overloaded to the cost of additional collaborative infrastructure, let’s look at some of the challenges a company can face when upping its collaboration game.

 

 

Too Much Information

Information overload can happen both in the pursuit of good collaboration with team members and as a result of certain collaboration methods. File-sharing within a company, for example, has become very common, whether through cloud services or on internal networking systems.

The benefits of this are numerous, with good file sharing being able to:

  • Save time – employees don’t need to worry about continuous uploads, downloads, etc.

  • Save money – storage can get expensive quickly when you’re the one paying for it

  • Prevent data loss – with files stored on the cloud, you never have to worry about your computer crashing and losing all your data

  • Eliminate the problem of multiple file versions

However, at the same time, this means that teams can have file upon file, folder within a folder, of information that they have to wade through whenever they are looking to get work done – a major distraction and terrible time suck.

 

Similarly, when developing better collaboration with team members, the team leaders or manager responsible can get bogged down in advice and recommendations. This can then translate into teams being pulled in all kinds of different directions… which never ends well.

 

 

Results Take Time

We live in an on-demand world – dinner to the door, movies on your laptop. However, the age-old adage that good things come to those who wait is still annoyingly true. That is to say; it takes time to see results since some of the strategies for effective team collaboration in the workplace are long-term projects.

 

Even the short-term decisions – such as who is included within a team – might take time to pay off, but certainly, system changes, operational changes, and others can be years in the making.

 

Take physical space, for example. Many companies are looking to build better team collaboration by creating physical spaces that facilitate it. However, these offices can be years in the making.

 

Of course, the construction of whole new premises is a rather extreme example, but many other methods will also take time before you start to see results. This can make developing good collaboration with team members difficult if you’re within a company where you have to justify some of your choices, or expenses, in the short term.

 

What’s more, unless you manage team collaboration very carefully, there can actually be a negative correlation between the size of a team and the time it takes to get things done. We may be used to parroting “many hands make light work” and “two heads are better than one”, but research shows that quite the opposite can be true when it comes to complicated tasks.

 

In fact, one study from 2012 found that, when asked to construct a Lego structure, teams of two completed the task in 36% less time than teams of four, despite the four-person teams being almost twice as optimistic about outperforming their two-headed challengers.

 

Does this mean that you should try to limit teams to just two people? No. Projects in the modern world require large teams with complementary skills. But, it is worth keeping in mind that bigger doesn’t always equal better when it comes to group collaboration.

 

 

Additional Expenses

First, everyone must accept that effective collaboration costs money. Therefore, a company will have additional expenses when pursuing better strategies for effective team collaboration in the workplace. However, you must remember that it is a matter of investment, not loss since effective collaboration makes for a better company. That said, you are likely to experience additional expenses at various points, such as extra staff training.

 

To be effective collaborators, staff need collaborative skills. Developing these skills is likely to require additional staff training, handled in-house or through external programs.

 

Furthermore, some of the most effective team collaboration can be when people are in a single location. This is especially true for executives collaborating to lead by example, which we’ll get to later. But making that happen, especially with a globally distributed team, quickly gets very expensive.

 

As mentioned above, some companies looking for improved group collaboration might look at a revamp of their offices, which can be a tremendous cost. That said, this is more likely to be a consideration for previously planned renovations instead of a reason for them.

 

Collaborative software can also be costly, especially for small businesses, which is why it is vital to figure out which solutions are suitable for your team and your company as a whole. Fortunately, there are free solutions out there with effective tools, which can either completely fulfill a company’s needs or give them a foundation on which to feel comfortable in their choice of software.

 

 

Email Overload

For many, trying to collaborate in the digital age means thousands of emails a day, with multiple threads, inquires, and outreach. STOP being a victim of this outdate email system! Using traditional email to instill effective team collaboration is a sure-fire way to fall flat on your face.

 

The average office worker already receives about 121 emails per day, which can result in negative feelings toward email, so using this as an effective medium for collaboration is foolhardy. But, at the same time, the truth is that most of us still rely on our email as the focal point for much of our collaborative work.

 

The trick, then, is to give your email an overhaul. Drag it into the 21st century to make it more like IM chats, which boost collaboration, and less like snail mail. What’s more, add in the extra tools you need for collaboration, such as Online Notes and File Sharing, and you’ve got the whole package in your inbox, but more on that later.

 

 

Motivation (or Lack Thereof)

motivation quote for team collaboration

 

Individual team members may not be as keen to take on collaborative projects as you’d like but fear not. This is normal. Every group of people, including work teams, will be made up of various personalities, some of which will be more on the negative side.

 

What’s important to remember is that this is entirely normal but needs to be dealt with. If the feeling creeps into the group that teamwork is foolhardy, it can quickly take over. Nip it in the bud by talking to those that lack motivation one-on-one, trying to understand why they feel that way, and explaining why effective team collaboration is so important.

 

 

Here is How You Can Improve Team Collaboration in Your Workplace

We know that effective collaboration is vital for a healthy company. But, we also know that it comes with many challenges that you’ll have to overcome. So, all that’s left to do is get to the crux of the matter and look at ways to improve collaboration in your workplace today.

 

 

Set Clear Realistic Objectives and Goals

Goals allow teams to have a clear focus on where they are heading and keep them on track as they work their way towards it. With this security, team members have more freedom to focus on the work at hand and, more importantly, develop the “how” of reaching those goals together through collaboration.

Realistic objectives keep people on the same page while ensuring that the path towards those goals is open enough to allow for effective creative collaboration. Overall, clear goals have many benefits; as noted in one 2018 paper, they:

  • Motivate behavior

  • Provide the basis for conflict resolution

  • Are a prerequisite for assessment and evaluation

  • Regulate behaviors

  • Increase efforts

  • Encourage the search for strategies

  • Give meaning to a task as well as accomplishment

Furthermore, goals set by a group, for a group, can be even more beneficial and serve to “help the group stay focused… increase team cohesion…. and team effectiveness”.

 

 

Define Clear Responsibilities and Roles for Each Team Member

Before setting out on any project, every team member needs to know precisely their role within the collaboration. While it may seem more “organic” to set a goal, gather the right people, and let them figure out what part they play, this makes for less effective collaboration.

If people aren’t given traditional roles within a team, they tend to:

  • Waste time trying to figure out exactly where their place is

  • Fight with other team members about what that role should be

  • Double up on work

  • Be less open to sharing knowledge

On the other hand, clearly defined responsibilities ensure that everyone knows what they are doing; that all tasks get done; and that cooperation is improved. Additionally, clear roles not only allow each person to feel comfortable in their role but also enable them to see the vital roles that all their colleagues play in the wider collaboration.

 

 

Create Organized Crystal-Clear Processes

Good collaboration with team members isn’t only about setting up the project in the “right way,” but rather creating a work environment that is conducive to cooperation at all times. To do this, you need to develop transparent work processes that foster a sense of teamwork and bring people together.

 

For example, this could mean including everyone in significant decisions that affect the project, so they feel team control over the project’s direction—or implementing a review process in which team members (with different skills and knowledge) can give constructive feedback on their colleagues’ work.

 

Strategies for effective team collaboration in the workplace should look for long-term solutions rather than one-off fixes. In this way, effective collaboration will not only exist for the projects you run but will become part of the broader company culture.

 

 

Lead By Example

First, change starts at the top. If you, or any managers and executives, aren’t practicing effective collaboration at work, then nobody is going to listen to you preaching it. Everyone in the company must lead by example.

 

Almost all management theories will promote leading by example, and it is rooted in science, most clearly seen through the study of Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB).

 

OCB is a person’s voluntary commitment within a company or organization to something outside of their contractual tasks. In our case, while many parts of collaboration are formally required within a job, many aspects that make that collaboration effective, such as social relationships, are not. These “discretionary behaviors” are thus a form of organizational citizenship behavior.

 

Another critical aspect of OCB is that it contributes positively to overall organizational effectiveness, which we are hoping to achieve with good collaboration with team members.

 

A study in 2011 looked specifically into the importance of leading by personal example for influential leadership concerning organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), precisely, if a leader’s OCB would increase a team’s OCB directly and indirectly by boosting the group’s belief that OCB is worthwhile.

 

The study looked at 683 members of 67 workgroups for modern workplaces. The 67 group managers, as well as their supervisors, and found that “by setting a personal example of contribution to the organization, leaders can promote similar contributions from their groups.”

 

Notably, the effectiveness of this was highly influenced by the leader’s proximity to their team, which the researchers surmised was at least partly due to the preconditions needed for “social learning, (i.e., the ability to observe the behaviors and the motivation to emulate them).”

 

What this means is that being a good leader is not enough. You need to be seen as a good leader too, which raises a pertinent question: how do you maintain proximity to your team and encourage collaboration when part of a distributed workforce?

 

The answer is having the right tools for the job.

 

 

Choosing The Right Tools

Good collaboration with team members isn’t only about behavioral or organizational changes but also involves equipping your company and employees with the right tools for the job. For modern workplaces, this generally means software that facilitates communication and literal collaborative work, such as multi-person notes and file sharing.

 

The exact tools that a software should have for your company to collaborate effectively will vary, but some core features to look for include:

  • The power of email with a modern interface

    Email is still one of the primary ways that business communication takes place, make sure yours is up to date.

  • Video Meetings

    Many modern meetings aren’t done face to face, so video conferencing is a vital function of any collaboration tool.

  • Collaborative Notes

    Shared documents are an important way for groups to work together.

  • Group Chat

    Being able to have all team members together in a single chat keeps work organized and on track.

  • Calendars

    Collaborating takes organization, so mapping out what needs to happen when is key.

  • File management

    Simple systems to manage online files can make team collaboration much smoother.

Which Tools Should You Use For The Ultimate Team Collaboration

Knowing that the tools you use are just as necessary as the changes you make, you’re now faced with the somewhat daunting challenge of choosing the right one. Well, we’re here to point you in the right direction with a rundown of the best team collaboration software available on the market. So read on to learn about the pros and cons of each platform and discover the best app for your needs.

 

 

Spike – Best Collaboration App for Seamless Communication

spike team communication for effective business collaboration

 

Sometimes, less is more, and Spike is the perfect team collaboration tool that doesn’t overcomplicate things. Spike has everything you need integrated into a single app on a single screen, providing an incredible unified workspace for teams that need to communicate regularly and keep up with project calendars. You can use it alongside your favorite team tool from our list or simply manage everything directly from Spike. All you need is an email.

 

Spike balances the best of email and instant messaging to bring you a 21st Century approach to conversation and collaboration. You can quickly and easily set up Groups that bring you and your team together, organizing separate projects to share your big ideas, your tight schedule, and your essential files. It also ensures the perfect mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication methods, meaning you can chat when you want and focus when you don’t.

 

Spike also packs in a calendar that can be easily shared with team members, integration with popular cloud storage services such as Google Drive and DropBox, and powerful file management and search features. In addition, it’s fully secure, and it’s entirely free to get started. Put simply, it’s the ideal tool for team collaboration and will revolutionize the way you work.

 

 

monday.com – Best Collaboration App for Workflow Management

Monday screenshot

 

Beginning life as Wix’s in-house project management tool, monday.com’s potential as a piece of standalone project collaboration software was soon recognized. One of the platform’s most popular features is its broad range of project templates, meaning getting your projects up and running is a breeze.

 

Simply choose a template that fits your use case or workflow, customize it to iron out the finer details, invite your team to join through email, and collaborate through a centralized dashboard that takes care of all your conversations, files, briefs, checklists, and sheets. Everything is highly visual, and managing your projects once they are up and running is highly intuitive.

 

Free trials are available for monday.com. However, once your trial is over, the Basic package begins at $39/month. Then, moving up the scale, monday.com offers a Standard plan, Pro plan, and Enterprise plan for the most prominent organizations. Unlimited users and boards come with all the packages, so it’s up to you to decide precisely what kind of functionality you need.

 

 

Zoho Projects ­- Best Visual Collaboration App for Planning

Zoho projects screenshot

 

Zoho Projects is part of a much larger suite of tools that provide comprehensive integration with everything from CRM to invoicing platforms. As a result, it’s among the best collaboration tools for teams who need to work together on specific projects and liaise with other departments for a truly holistic approach to company collaboration.

 

The timeline-based project management tool allows you to plan, track visually, and monitor projects with ease, and while it may not be as attractive as some of the other apps on this list, it has plenty of advanced features to offer. For example, create task lists and milestones, get in-depth insights with Gantt charts, and track time for billable and non-billable hours, which can be integrated directly with Zoho Invoice.

 

Zoho Projects offers a 10-day free trial, and its standard package is priced competitively, with ten projects and ten users available for $18/mo. Zoho Projects’ remaining plans include Express, with unlimited projects and 15 users; Premium, with unlimited projects and 20 users; and Enterprise, with complete projects and 25 users.

 

 

Asana – Best Collaboration App for Project Tracking

Asana project tracking screenshot

 

As one of the most well-established team collaboration tools on our list, Asana has won plenty of fans over the years. It’s used by some of the biggest companies globally, including Uber and Intel, to name a few. It packs plenty of valuable features into a relatively intuitive interface and dashboard while integrating third-party apps such as Google Drive and Microsoft teams.

 

You can set up projects, add individual tasks assigned to specific team members, manage multiple projects across your calendar, and easily share information with the right people. Additionally, project tracking tools such as custom timeline management, visualized workflows, deadline management, and custom required metric fields help you and your team monitor your collaborations in new and insightful ways.

 

Asana is completely free for basic users, although the entry-level package is a pared-down version of the paid packages. For more advanced users and larger teams, pricing scales through three plans; Premium, Business, and Enterprise.

 

 

Trello – Best Collaboration App for Web-Based Teams

Trello team collaboration screenshot

 

Trello is entirely web-based, so for teams that are spread across continents and who rely on different technologies (think Mac, Windows, Linux, and mobile integrations), it’s among the very best piece of online collaboration software around. In addition, the dashboard itself is based around the Kanban methodology, employing boards, lists, and cards with drag-and-drop functionality to help you manage your projects.

 

The highly visual approach to project management and collaboration is easy to set up and integrates the most popular third-party apps available today. It also syncs seamlessly across all of your devices, allowing you to add comments, attachments, due dates, and much more from wherever you are working.

 

Trello offers an entirely free option that includes unlimited personal boards, cards, and lists, along with ten team boards. Both the Business Class and Enterprise packages cater to larger teams and have a range of advanced features not found in the entry-level packages. These two advanced plans are priced at $9.99 and $20.83 (for 100 users), respectively.

 

 

Wrike – Best Collaboration App for Small Businesses

Wrike collaboration for small teams screenshot

 

Wrike is another web-based collaboration tool for businesses that provides a blank canvas that allows you to organize your team by folders, projects, and tasks, with drag-and-drop functionalities and a handy timeline to keep an overview of everything in progress. The top-end packages also include streams and time logs alongside advanced analytics and Gantt charts to help you monitor progress.

 

Collaborating with your team is achieved by commenting on specific tasks and the integrated inbox where you can hold more in-depth discussions. Additionally, the intuitive interface ensures you can easily set and move priorities as the nature of your project develops, allowing you to keep everyone in the loop and work towards the same goal.

 

Wrike offers a free option for five or fewer users, alongside a host of other packages for five to unlimited users. At the top of the scale, both the Marketers and Enterprise packages offer tailor-made solutions for larger teams. In contrast, both the Business and the Professional packages are perfect for smaller companies.

 

 

Podio – Best Collaboration App for Mobile Teams

Podio mobile teams collaboration

 

Podio works across the web and mobile, which means it’s among the best collaboration tools for teams working remotely or managing projects from a mobile device. The quality of the Podio app is second-to-none when it comes to project management, and you can easily collaborate from the small screen of your mobile phone.

 

The backbone of the Podio tool brings together content creation, conversations, and structured processes that allow teams to work together on projects quickly and clearly define individual roles. Meeting scheduling and task management are among the most popular parts of the tool. However, social collaboration features and the integrated calendar are also beneficial.

 

Podio is free for up to five users, while the Basic, Plus, and Premium plans offer unlimited users. Prices for these packages range from $9 to $24/mo and integrate plenty of advanced features such as automated workflows, visual reporting, interactive sales dashboards, and read-only access to files and content.

 

 

Troop Messenger – Best Collaboration App for Desktop Sharing

Troop Messenger desktop sharing collaboration

 

Troop Messenger brings seamless collaboration through a suite of tools designed to provide the ultimate connectivity for teams spread across varied locations. Based around a compact chat app that allows instant communication between groups and individuals, Troop ensures everyone is on the same page through practical file sharing and 50GB of free storage, among its many other features.

 

The app is handy for teams collaborating on visual projects. Its real-time screen sharing is an excellent feature for discussing the finer points relating to graphics, images, or PowerPoint presentations. Simply connect one-on-one or with a group to share your desktop and work together to make your vision a reality.

 

Troop’s pricing structure starts at a dollar per month, per user, in its Premium package and rises to $5 per user per month for its Self-Hosting package that’s designed for the largest organizations. As one of the newest apps on our list, Troop also has many upcoming features that will make your collaborations effortless. Stay tuned.

 

 

Summary

Team collaboration is a necessary and beneficial part of the modern workplace. As with most things, it doesn’t come without its challenges, such as information overloads, long lead times, and additional expenses. However, these are far outweighed by the benefits of the collaboration is effective. To make sure this is the case, you need to:

  • Set realistic goals

  • Define clear roles for each team member

  • Create better processes for collaboration

  • Lead by example

  • Choose the right tools

There are many options out there on this last point, so make sure to find the features you need.

 

For more information on how Spike can help you boost collaboration for you and your team, stay tuned to the Spike blog or drop us a tweet a SpikeNowHQ.

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Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.