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Five Steps for Creating a Collaborative Work Environment

Collaborative Environment

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne

Some leaders get things done by micro-managing team members. But this style of leadership often limits what employees can contribute and stifles their engagement. No one wants to work for a leader who takes a top-down approach for everything. The most effective leaders create an environment of collaboration where open communication is encouraged and team members are free to contribute their ideas.

When employees feel that their ideas matter they tend to be more productive and committed, compared to employees who are micro-managed. These employees can flourish as their contributions lead to more creativity and innovation that can be leveraged across the entire organization.

Here are five steps that leaders can use to create a collaborative work environment.

1- Establish goals.

Goals are the foundation for creating a collaborative work environment. They provide focus from the start by communicating what is to be accomplished. Goals also help team members understand the big picture, their individual role and the importance of working together to get things done. Many initiatives have been derailed because the goals were not developed properly or communicated clearly.

One approach to properly developing goals is to use the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). I’ll provide details about developing SMART goals in my next blog post. Once goals are developed, communicate, communicate, communicate them to make sure they are clearly understood by all team members—you cannot over communicate goals.

2- Encourage idea sharing.

Provide a way for team members to share their ideas and opinions about how to achieve the goals. As a leader, be open to healthy discussions. Don’t be too quick to dismiss ideas that may seem “over the top.”  As someone once said, even a broken clock is right twice a day—and all readings have to be given their merit. You never know who will be right, or who will provide the “missing link” to new and successful ideas.

Use a whiteboard (or another tool) and allow team members an opportunity to brainstorm and then narrow down the ideas together. As ideas become strategies, leaders should encourage team members to continue to work to accomplish the goal together. And when possible, make goals part of the employees’ performance objective by integrating them into the performance management process. Follow up on progress and provide frequent feedback to keep goals on track.

3- Build a diverse team

Build a team of employees with diverse personalities, genders, ethnicities and other diverse characteristics. With a diverse group of employees will come a different approach to tackling issues and will greatly enhance your efforts to achieve a collaborative work environment. For example, Millennials thrive in collaborative environments. And Generation X’s are problem solvers and have been credited with having entrepreneurial tendencies. On the other hand, Baby Boomers have strong work ethic and are achievement-oriented.

Effective leaders know that collaboration is best achieved by bringing people with diverse characteristics together, and then leveraging that diversity to achieve the desired outcome. And since team members from other departments or other areas of the organization often have different perspectives, consider including some of them to augment your team, when appropriate. This effort supports collaboration across the organization.

Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members and use that knowledge to keep them engaged. And lastly, organize activities where team members can get to know each other outside of work. This will go a long way towards building the team.

4 – Adopt collaborative tools

Miscommunication can occur when team members are inadvertently left out of discussions or emails. Using collaborative tools is a great way to ensure that the lines of communication are open to everyone. Consider adopting tools like Slack, Basecamp, Teamwork or Trello to help keep communication flowing. Leaders can go a step further by using tools such as Google Apps and Office 365 which supports even more collaboration. These software suites allow users to share ideas via documents, spreadsheets and slides.

These tools are especially effective for virtual teams who don’t share the same work location or geographical region of the country. Some of them may be challenging to introduce within your organization, depending on the culture. But the benefit of having them far outweigh the implementation effort.  

5- Change the culture

According to Entrepreneur, the collaborative work environment has grown in popularity, thanks to companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Zappos, to name a few. Although they have cultures that are slightly different, they all have one thing in common—a collaborative culture. Leaders seeking to build a collaborative culture, can adopt any one of the models from these companies.

Building a collaborative culture often requires leaders to use change management strategies. This is especially true when attempting to affect change within a team where an established top-down culture/mindset has become entrenched. Leaders must not only know the phases of change that people experience when a change is announced, but be able to identify which phase their team members are in during the change process: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment. Leaders must use clear communication, training and employee engagement as tools to get their team members to the commitment phase.

To be effective, leaders must open the doors of collaboration for their team members. Although collaboration can be challenging to implement, your efforts will pay off in the end. Don’t be afraid to accept the challenge!

For more ideas on creating a collaborative work environment, visit my website at

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