Building Collaboration Skills for Individuals and Teams

Working collaboratively increases employee efficiency and success, leading to increased job satisfaction. Here are tips for building these skills among your staff.

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Building Collaboration Skills for Individuals and Teams

Here's what you need to know:

  • Studies have shown that working collaboratively boosts employee performance and has a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line
  • Collaboration skills include factors such as purpose, communication, listening, and more
  • If we want staff to collaborate, we need to make sure we appreciate it when they do

We want our businesses to run like well-oiled machines. Employees should work together to meet shared goals, from the front-line to the company’s overall mission.

Strong collaboration is necessary to ensure that can happen. Without it, work may be done at cross-purposes; goals are ill-defined and hard to achieve; and trust may be lacking. Collaboration isn’t innate: it must be fostered, developed, and rewarded.

Collaboration allows individuals and teams to work together to achieve goals and solve problems. They know they’re not alone in their efforts. When they reach a stumbling block, there’s someone to help them navigate around.

Working collectively increases efficiencies and successes, leading to increased job satisfaction. Collaborative employees communicate clearly and effectively, building relationships and reaping their rewards.

Does collaboration work at organizations?

A study from Stanford found that even the perception of working collectively boosts performance. They learned workers ‘primed to act collaboratively’ stuck to their task 64% longer than peers who worked alone. In addition, these staffers reported higher levels of engagement, higher success rates, and lower fatigue.

In a Babson College study, they found collaboration to have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line.

The results of a Babson College study showed that they found collaboration to have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. It found companies that promoted collaboration were 5 times as likely to be high-performing. Building collaboration skills and practices can be key to innovation, growth, and profitability.

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What are collaboration skills employees should have?

Teamwork is the umbrella term for collaboration, but the details of what it entails and how it works are critically important. Generically telling staffers to work together as a team doesn’t give them the tools or guidance to execute.

Collaboration skills include a variety of factors:

  • Purpose
  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Autonomy
  • Adaptability
  • Structure

You can develop these skills between 2 staff members, within teams, or among working groups. Provide employees with guidance on how to collaborate effectively; help them build their skills in groups or individually; then set them on the path. In the end, your role will be to reward achievement.

Talk to staff members about each of the key collaboration points. Remind them to use these lessons whenever they work together.

Sit in on some of their first sessions together to ensure they’re following guidance and working collaboratively. Once your input is no longer needed, they’re ready to go it alone.


It starts with a purpose. What is the reason these individuals or teams are collaborating? Is it to accomplish task; a consistent working relationship; or a single project?

Understand the purpose of the collaboration so everyone knows what they’re working toward. Without a defined goal, workers may be wasting time on low-value tasks that don’t contribute to the collaboration; neglecting tasks that do.


Strong communication is important for collaboration. Employees must be empowered to speak honestly and productively.

Just saying ‘that won’t work’ isn’t effective: it’s demeaning and dismissive. If an idea isn’t feasible, respectfully explain why but thank the colleague for the suggestion.

Encourage brainstorming in a safe zone where staff members are free to offer thoughts, concerns, and ideas openly without fear of being mocked or diminished.

Make sure communication is frequent, but not overwhelming. Distinguish between constant communication versus critical communication. ‘We finished this part of the project’ is more important than ‘we’re still working on this part of the project.’

Too much sharing causes others to zone out. Then when something important is communicated, they may miss the memo.

Don’t communicate every small detail: again, you’ll turn away interested parties. If your group is responsible for a task or tasks, no one needs to know every step you took in the process, only that they’re complete.

Unless there was some interesting or important data found along the way, be satisfied reporting your overall contribution, rather than the minutia.


Another key factor for collaborative teams is active listening skills. Listening goes beyond waiting for someone to participate — it proactively includes everyone.

When members of the group aren’t engaged, they’re not collaborating. Getting an idea or opinion from everyone may be a slow process. At first, some members of the group may be hesitant to do more than agree with the majority.

As they see others provide input with no risk, their confidence may grow. Keep seeking out every member’s ideas: in time the entire team will participate.


Whether you’re developing collaboration between single employees or groups, it will be important to give them independence. They’ll need to navigate, problem-solve, and achieve goals together. To do that they’ll need the authority to make their own decisions about how to get there from here.

You may be tempted to micromanage the process, but once they understand the ground rules of collaboration, let them run with it.


Another key to successful collaboration is the ability to adapt. Sometimes we follow a path we’re sure will work, only to find a dead end.

A debriefing, to evaluate where the process went wrong — and if there’s a place to backtrack and course-correct — is needed. In some cases, you’ll need to start from scratch, in others, a few steps back are all that’s needed to reroute.

Adaptability is needed to fix problems currently being experienced, and plan for ones that may be forthcoming.

Looking at the project/task from all angles may be key to resolving it successfully. Without adaptability, the team may be trying, repeatedly, to make something work with tools that are doomed to fail.


In addition to a purpose for the collaboration, there must be structure in how they move forward. Who will carry out which tasks, what is the timeline, and how will they check in?

Set some ground rules on how the work will be carried out and who will be accountable to keep things moving forward.

In a 2-person collaboration it may be easy to keep current with one another. Within teams, a leader may run point.

With multi-team collaborations, there may need to be single liaisons from each group keeping the whole group informed.

Timelines need to be met, particularly if some are dependent on the completion of others. Built into the structure, there must be accountability.

Whoever is in charge will need not only to make sure individuals and groups are doing their part, but be ready to nudge those who are running behind. In some cases, there may be a domino effect: one group’s efforts are stalled because of another’s missed deadlines.

To keep the process effective and moving forward, authority may be needed to ensure everyone’s doing their part.

Reward collaborative achievements of workers

Recognition of collaborative efforts not only rewards staff members for participating, they encourage future collaborations. When workers collaborate successfully, they set an example that can be used as a model for others, either as individuals or in teams.

If we want staff to collaborate, we need to make sure we appreciate it when they do. Kudos should be as common to recognize team efforts as they are for individuals.

Making sure you acknowledge and boast about the team as a whole, as well as individual members, is key to incentivization. It motivates those who already participated to keep their collaboration skills and relationships moving forward. It also encourages others to get on the bandwagon.

A collaborative culture sees employees who work together professionally and effectively to achieve goals. From the most entry-level working relationship to the most challenging projects and goals, collaboration is key to job satisfaction for employees and success for business.

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