Management Matters: Collaboration in the Time of Zoom

What is a good collaboration? In the workplace today, where almost every interaction is conducted on a virtual platform, it makes sense to assess what effective collaboration looks like given how teams and project groups are interacting.

If you are working on a team of people, it usually indicates that no one person is able to excel in all of the disciplines needed to complete a project successfully alone. Workplace collaborations clearly make a lot of sense, intellectually and financially. Yet – they are often more problematic than successful. How can we make them more effective?

Some useful guidelines:

  • Rather than jump in and assume that everyone involved understands what makes a successful collaboration, when you want things to go well with your fellow collaborators, certain parameters need to be discussed and defined up front:.
  • Be clear about responsibilities and timelines: who is going to do what and when they will do it. What are the deadlines and what are the consequences if those deadlines are missed.
  • Develop a shared understanding about how resources will be provided and identify who will supply resources needed for certain aspects of the project study; even who will write things down.
  • Define how information will be communicated and how conflicts will be resolved when they occur.
  • Flexibility is a key ingredient in any collaboration. Articulate clearly what you expect of people when that is required.
  • Define how you will all keep the lines of communication open. Understand people have preferred way of receiving communication. Make sure that everyone knows how communication will be handled: meetings, phone, e-mail, or even letters, and communicate frequently. Use available bulletin board platforms like Trello and Slack.
  • Tell your collaborators what you are finding and learning and ask what their results are as well.
  • Share data as well as problems. Rather than ask ‘who needs to know this?’ ask yourself ‘who might want to know this?”
  • Don’t assume silence is golden (and all is well). Periodic updates keep everyone in the loop.
  • Let go of idea ‘ownership.’ Rather than being concerned about whose idea it was, or who did what aspect of the project, the hallmark of effective collaboration is all about sharing in the outcome.
  • Short virtual meet-ups fine (and sometimes preferable). It helps for everyone to hear the same things at the same time. If you keep your up-dates succinct, it’s more likely people will attend and pay attention.

If you are involved in a successful collaboration, those involved with you take pride in the part they play and understand that a successful outcome can’t be achieved by any single individual. If someone thinks they can go it alone and treat their fellow collaborators as if that’s the case, they just may find that the next time they will be on their own.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management consulting practice that specializes in developing people in the areas of leadership and management, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 30 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications.  

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