Team Productivity

How to Create a Collaborative Environment for Your Project Team

Laura LaPrad
April 17, 2019
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When you’ve got a whole matrix of people to keep in sync, one small change in a project can create a ripple effect across the team and even the organization. That’s why clearing a path for effective collaboration is one of the most important things you can do as a project manager.

Of course, that’s often easier said than done.

We brought Elizabeth Harrin, founder of Girl’s Guide to PM and author of Collaboration Tools for Project Managers, onto our Time Limit podcast recently to get her advice on how to establish a culture of collaboration on your project team. Here’s what she had to say.

4 things good collaborative cultures have in common

First things first, let’s talk about the building blocks that serve as cornerstones to a collaborative environment.  

1. Trust

Imagine transforming a disengaged team culture into a place where folks like each other and actually want to come to work. That’s the power of trust!

Trust creates a culture of transparency and is the main ingredient in every collaborative environment. People who trust each other talk to each other. They’re eager to share what they know—and they own up to it if they’re behind on a task because they know it’s for the greater project good.  

2. Open sharing

Sharing is caring. But in some companies, subject matter experts cling tighter to another well-known adage: Knowledge is power.

And that can make it tough to get vital information that keeps a project moving forward.

“A successful collaborative culture takes that away,” Elizabeth explains. “You should not be in a situation where people want to hang onto their knowledge because that means that other people can’t do their jobs effectively and you’re just creating silos and barriers.”

If you want your projects to be successful, Elizabeth says you’ve got to break those barriers down and make it possible for people who know their subject matter intimately to share it and still have status in the organization.

3. Executive buy-in

Collaboration is a whole lot easier when trust and sharing are baked into the entire company culture. And that kind of influence comes from the top down.

Establishing a collaborative team environment doesn’t have to be a 24/7 hands-on affair. Sometimes the most important job you can do as a leader is to set the culture, then get out of the way and let your team do their job.

4. Collaboration tools

This one should come as no big surprise. After all, Elizabeth says it’s really hard to create a collaborative environment if you don’t have any tools to help.

The tools you use may vary based on the project needs and your team’s collaboration style. Just be sure everyone’s on the same page about how and when to use each tool in your collaboration stack so there’s no confusion. For example, you might use Slack for “deskside” conversations and TeamGantt for project updates and file uploads.

If you use multiple tools to manage and communicate on projects, be sure to check for integrations that can help streamline project collaboration.

How to foster effective project collaboration for your team

Now that you know what goes into a collaborative team culture, let’s talk about how to make it work.

It’s no big secret that every project goes better when people work together to get the job done. But effective collaboration doesn’t happen naturally on project teams—especially if you’ve got a team of folks who have never worked together before.

“The expectation of people coming together harmoniously and just getting on lovely at the beginning is not correct,” Elizabeth says. “You do need to put a bit of effort into creating a culture of sharing.”

Here are 2 simple things you can do to cultivate collaboration among your team.

Create opportunities for your team to get to know each other

Remember how we said trust is super-important to collaboration? Well, this is the key to building it.

Creating space for your team to hang out and get to know each other might seem like a luxury you can’t afford. After all, no big tasks are getting checked off the list. But it’s worth it in the long run.

“That’s how you get confidence in each other that they won’t let you down, and that if someone says they’ll do a task, that they actually will follow through,” Elizabeth explains.

Check in with your team and listen to feedback

Having tools and processes in place won’t make collaboration happen magically on its own. It might take a little practice—and even some trial and error—for your team to get into a seamless collaborative groove.

Some good old-fashioned listening can help move things along.

Elizabeth suggests giving this simple conversation-starter a try: You guys need to work together to get the task done. Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to do that?

“Whatever it is. … then at least you know, or they’ve had the opportunity to say,” Elizabeth says. “Monitor it, check again in a few weeks, and see if there’s anything you can do to make it even better.”

Want to help your team work smarter together?

TeamGantt makes it easy to eliminate confusion, streamline communication, and beat project deadlines. Even better, you’ll save time and energy on project setup so you can focus on doing the work that matters most.

Of course, don’t just take our word for it. Sign up for a free TeamGantt account to see for yourself!

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