How to Encourage Collaboration in the Workplace

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Why is it important to encourage collaboration in the workplace? What can you, as a leader, do to foster collaborative relationships amongst your team members?

The success of your project and your leadership depends on a sense of shared creation and shared responsibility. Consistently, research shows that leaders who cultivate collaborative relationships in their teams are viewed as highly effective and inspire the highest levels of engagement. 

To encourage collaboration in the workplace, follow these four practices:

4 Principles of Encouragement

Because people work together best when they trust each other, encourage and foster healthy, trusting relationships among your team members. To foster collaboration among your team, follow these four principles.

  1. Develop common goals and roles.
  2. Encourage reciprocity.
  3. Reward joint effort.
  4. Encourage face-to-face interactions.

1. Develop Common Goals

The first step to encouraging collaboration in the workplace is to enlist your team in a common purpose. Shared goals unite people in cooperative efforts, in which everyone feels that their success contributes to everyone else’s success, and that no one can be successful unless everyone works together. 

Structure your team’s roles and responsibilities so that their individual objectives contribute to a larger objective, and make sure they see how the two are connected. This can also be effective in reconciling people who don’t particularly like each other: Assigning two people who don’t get along to work together can help them get past their distrust once they’re working toward a common purpose.  

2. Encourage Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the basis of trusting relationships: the belief that others will treat you as you treat them. People like to think that if they help someone, that person will return the favor at some point in the future. This belief in reciprocity is so fundamental to our expectations of relationships that all moral and ethical codes, religious or otherwise, contain some version of it. 

If people don’t reciprocate someone else’s efforts, they end up in an unbalanced relationship where one person feels taken advantage of and the other feels superior. Cooperation is difficult in such relationships. This dynamic has been demonstrated in studies where two parties faced a series of challenges that allowed them to either cooperate or compete with one another. Researchers found that the participants who were most successful were the ones who chose to cooperate because their willingness to do so encouraged others to cooperate in return. 

Encourage your team members to be available to each other to help whenever any of them needs it. Additionally, model reciprocity by going out of your way to repay favors for those who have helped you.

3. Reward Joint Effort

Large, ambitious goals can’t be accomplished by one person alone, and cooperative teams produce better results than competitive teams, so when talking about the success of any project your team is working on, emphasize the collective results rather than individual results. This will encourage your team to see that there’s a greater payoff in working together than working alone.

The importance of collaboration was demonstrated in a series of studies that looked at what happened when teams were rewarded either for being the highest-performing team or for having the highest-performing individuals. The teams who were rewarded for their collective effort finished their tasks more slowly but more accurately, while the teams rewarded for having high-performing individuals finished more quickly but made more mistakes because team members withheld information from one another. 

4. Encourage Face-to-Face Interactions

Getting to know other people is important in establishing trusting and collaborative relationships. Having in-person face time is an essential part of this process. People don’t feel they truly know each other until they’ve seen each other—without a face to put a name to, they don’t seem real.

Therefore, encourage in-person meetings whenever feasible. You can accomplish this through online webcams if your workforce is dispersed, as happens in global companies. In virtual meetings, encourage participants to turn their cameras on, so others have more than just a name and a voice to go by. This will make people feel more comfortable with each other and more ready to express their ideas. 

Face time also encourages collaboration because it makes people feel that their interactions with the other person will be ongoing. When people expect to interact with another person again in the future, they’re more likely to cooperate in the present. When they actually see or meet someone, as opposed to merely communicating electronically, like through email, they regard that relationship as one they’ll encounter again, and they’ll put more effort into the relationship. 

How to Encourage Collaboration in the Workplace

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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