Brandon SpencerWritten by

Successful Collaboration in the Workplace

Tactics, Trends| Views: 1126

*Also written by Heather DeLand

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If you want to make collaboration work, you will. It is a mindset. Every project is a learning experience. New people, new tools, new challenges. It is an exercise in trust, accountability, transparency and problem solving. 

If collaboration is a mindset, then process and tools are the logistics of a successful project. Keeping true to a consistent process lets you focus on the challenge and objective, and not the steps it takes to get there. 

Each project will vary in process stages – and regardless of how you brand your process, they all typically boil down into four major segments: 

  • Define
  • Plan 
  • Implement 
  • Monitor 

In any project, it is critical that you define your goals and identify how you plan to tackle said goals. How do we do this? Face-to-face. It used to be more straightforward, you set a meeting and you met in a room and hashed out your project blueprint. Not so easy in the decentralized environments we find ourselves in today. So how do we maintain the face-to-face? You got it, video conferencing.  

You can choose Zoom, Teams, or whatever gets you in front of your project team. And turn your cameras on. We don’t care about the unpacked boxes in your background, or if you have bedhead. We need to see each other; it is how humans connect. We all know that when we communicate by email or text we don’t hear the tone and inflection, if we’re communicating via audio, we can’t see the reaction or gauge the room. So, cameras on is the next best thing to that in-person meeting we are all used to.  

Define 

At our “Define” phase, our goal is to get on the same page. There is a moment in this conversation where you should achieve your collective “aha” moment. We ultimately create a shared understanding of what we want to achieve. 

Plan 

With “Plan,” we need to assign our roles, and accountability. Identify each stakeholders’ strengths and assign the appropriate tasks. If a brief does not exist, take time to build your brief and get sign-off from your project sponsor (don’t skip this step). The brief is the metric on which you measure your success. It helps you stay on target, on brand, on task and most of all on strategy.  

If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.

– Abraham Lincoln

Depending on the size of your organization, your project team may always be the same, or you may see new faces and gain new perspectives from one project to another. Here is a typical agenda for your definition and planning discussions: 

  1. Make introductions, and get to know one another (relationships are most important)  
  2. Define the deliverables of the project based on your short brief 
  3. Agree on the collaboration tools  
  4. Decide who is responsible for each part of delivery  
  5. Plot rough timing for when each person would contribute  
  6. Set a review schedule  
  7. Confirm the delivery timeline with your project sponsor, or as a team

As always, no question is a dumb question, and building your plan only needs three key ingredients. 

Tools & Comms: Centralize and share project communications  
Use cloud tools such as Office365 and Google Suite to manage your shared files and documents. You may be compelled to download and email an updated version to the team because that’s how it’s always been done, but it breaks the cloud sharing experience. Keeping the document sharable stores every version in near real-time. Email works best for external, low-priority and companywide communication, but it shouldn’t be your primary comms tool. If you miss something in a Teams message, or Document comment, it will eventually find itself in your email regardless, so stick with tools that enable collaboration natively. 

Pro-tip: It may feel unnatural to work on the document when someone else is in there, but odds are they’re focusing on their part or not even in there. And if you do happen to be working in tandem, you’re only learning from each other! 

Accountability: Play to your strengths and support each other   
Each member of the team will have their strengths and their weaknesses. Don’t spend time on a task that another member of the team can achieve in a fraction of the time. Don’t spin your wheels. Rely on your teammates when you find a roadblock. Shoot a comment over and move on. 

Governance: Stay transparent and establish milestones  
You may be juggling multiple projects, and it’s easy for tasks to slip through the cracks if there is a lot of overlap. Make sure to set your reminders. Set your milestone calendar dates, create your To Do lists, or leverage your favorite task management tool to keep things on track. 

Implement 

Before this “Implement” phase, everything had been working toward creating your logistics framework. It should be easy to set up (getting easier over time) and hard to manage the project without. Now that the tools are in place, you have peace of mind to focus on the task, or tasks, at hand. All your energy should be focused on solving your project challenges and preparing for delivery.  

There are many ways to approach a challenge, but our recommended method is what we call “working alone, together.” Allow time for your team members, whether in the same function or as a cross-function to ideate in isolation. Take some time to process the objective, conduct your own research and draw your own conclusions or ideas. From there, you regroup and share your thoughts as a team, which allows everyone, regardless of their comfortability in group discussions, to have a prepared and thought-out position to bring to the table.  

Not every project plays out the same way, there are many factors that influence the journey, so spot opportunities along the way that may expedite decisions, spark innovation, or improve the overall experience.  

Real-world example: When working with a long-time client of ours on their university campaign, we knew our client stakeholder loved to be hands on and was able to make quick and informed decisions. So, we brought them into internal concept reviews, with the expectation that they are part of the team and will see work we haven’t even reviewed ourselves. It was an uncomfortable decision for some of the internal team at first, but the transparency and trust we had with each other resulted in a first-round approval and turned our normal review party into an advocate for the work. This won’t always be the case, but we spotted an opportunity that we felt would work, and it paid off. 

Monitor

Lastly, we need to “monitor” our project health periodically to ensure we are staying on track. You will know when something’s at risk because we’ve systematically created an open and transparent workflow, and we have specified our milestone dates – so speak up, or give a nudge when you see possible challenges on the horizon. We also need to monitor our projects post-delivery. It’s a critical step in continually optimizing our processes and allowing us to continue to focus on the project rather than the steps it takes to get there. 

Monitor – In-Project 

  • Are we prepared for milestone check-ins? 
  • Are we meeting project goals? 
  • Are we delivering a quality product? 
  • Are we communicating effectively? 

A quick check-in on a Teams chat goes a long way. Ask if there’s anything you can help with, or if you can be a sounding board. If we’re worried about the quality of the work, or if we’re on brand, meeting goals, let’s surface that up, this is where we rely on that brief that we mentioned earlier. This should be a safe space where everyone feels proud about what we will be presenting to our audience. 

Monitor – Post-Mortem 

  • Is the project a success? 
  • Is there an opportunity to improve the process? 
  • Is there room to optimize profitability? 
  • Is everyone happy with the journey? 

Always be optimizing. Set up some time after your project to discuss how it went. The good, the bad, and the ugly, and offer respectable, constructive feedback. Sometimes everything just falls into place, sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s discuss how we can streamline the process, what we can reuse and what we need to look out for next time. 

Recap 

  1. Collaboration is a mindset  
  2. We have the tools to be collaborative   
  3. Don’t skip your project plan  
  4. Be honest and transparent with your collaborators  
  5. Work hard, be nice and be accountable 

These are some of the fundamentals of strong collaboration. The key is to be consistent in your process, so that your teams can shorten the planning cycle from one project to the next and focus more on being creative or solving the problem at hand. It’s on you to keep things transparent, put in your best effort and keep things fun. Great collaboration makes a great place to work!

At TMP, we’re committed to delivering the talent acquisition results you deserve. Our unified platform intelligently connects you with the right talent across their entire journey.

Want to see what we can achieve together? Connect with us today.

Brandon Spencer

About Brandon Spencer

Brandon is currently the National Digital Creative Director at TMP Worldwide (formerly CKR Interactive) and has been a part of the organization since 2007. Brandon is responsible for providing leadership, innovative and strategic solutions to meet the needs of a very industry diverse clientele. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Brandon is comfortable with making the hard decisions. He has a passion for design and solving interesting problems within a collaborative team environment. Autonomous, competitive, curious and analytical with a tenacious work ethic, he considers the world of design, a labor of love.

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