If you’re active on social media, you’re likely familiar with the concept of the “brand collab”—that is, two brands joining forces and sharing resources to create something neither could have created on their own.
The best brand collabs offer unexpected takes on products like drinks, activewear, home decor, packaged foods, and high-end collectibles—and breathe new life into stagnant categories, ideas, and intellectual property. But less inspiring (and less successful) brand collabs often suffer from mismatched styles, confusing creative choices, and poor synergy.
Workplace collaboration often unfolds the same way.
When collaboration is really working, and the ideas are flowing, it’s sublime and exciting. But too often, we approach collaboration without any real strategy, goal, or purpose in mind, and the results are poor.
So how do we become more consistent at collaborating well?
We’re at an inflection point for collaboration
The move to remote and hybrid work has turned a giant floodlight on the health of every business’s collective collaboration skills.
We’ve all felt the pain and awkwardness of poor collaboration in the workplace that’s left us feeling about as aligned, cohesive, and inspired as a dog food brand partnering with Louis Vuitton.
For knowledge workers, ineffective collaboration might manifest itself in many different ways, like:
- Having collaborative meetings be dominated by the loudest participants or the most senior members of the team
- Having recurring meetings that were previously engaging become pointless “status check-ins” over time, creating a time sink on your calendar
- Struggling to get on the same pages as teammates who have a different collaboration style than you
- Feeling intimidated and out of your depth as the most junior member of a team, causing you to hold back on sharing ideas
- Feeling frustrated with poor meeting structure and facilitation—such as not having agendas prepared in advance, or teammates coming unprepared to meetings
- Generating a lot of innovative ideas in a brainstorming session but not capturing them anywhere, so they aren’t followed up on
- Struggling to communicate naturally in meetings where some members of your team are working from home and some are in the office
Are these 3 common anti-patterns holding you back from better collaboration?Find out
But because the concept of collaboration is treated as a soft skill, it can be hard to pin down exactly what is going wrong when collaboration is not happening effectively in an organization. Teams might schedule workshops to fix the problem without ever really understanding the problem, or conflate “more communication” with “better collaboration” and add a bunch of tools to their tech stack that don’t actually help them work better together.
On the flip side, when collaboration is going well, it can be easy to celebrate the end results—Successful product launches! Huge revenue increases!—without pausing to critically evaluate why your collaboration is working so you can replicate it, experiment, and problem-solve more efficiently during the rough patches.
So what can you do to strategically and systematically improve how well you collaborate?
To improve collaboration with rigor and intention, you need to focus on engaging in high-value collaboration.
What is high-value collaboration?
In short, high-value collaboration is a focus on activities that advance innovation, tangibly lift a business’ bottom line, or improves mission-critical processes. High-value collaboration is the antithesis of what we like to call “collaboration theater”—activities that seem useful at face value but actually just waste time and money without improving anything or creating value.
In a webinar with Lucid, 451 Research’s Chris Marsh proposed a way of thinking about high-value collaboration as the act of engaging in immersive productivity in shared interactive spaces (that is, really working together hands-on versus talking and coordinating only), using visuals to convey complex ideas, and documenting critical information to create a living blueprint of your business.
In other words: High-value collaboration requires active, consistent effort rather than a passive obligation to simply chat and check in on occasion with our colleagues.
It’s important to note that good communication is critical to good collaboration, but high-value collaboration requires a focus on the entire suite of skills, techniques, strategies, and tools necessary to increase your rate of innovation and improve your team’s impact on the bottom line—all of which extends beyond communication alone.
So, how can you improve your organization’s high-value collaboration skills?
Key tenets of high-value collaboration
Low-value collaboration is laden with communication for communication’s sake, bureaucracy, lack of direction, bad facilitation skills, conflict avoidance, and poorly fitting tools for your team.
Conversely, these key principles and strategies can help you increase alignment and innovation on your team by orienting you around high-value collaboration:
1. Focus on context and clarity over communication
High-value collaboration is not a numbers or volume game—you don’t get awards for the amount of chats you ping colleagues with or the number of meetings you schedule (or cancel).
To improve collaboration, you should view chat, email, meetings, and other functions of communication as a means to achieve clarity and share the necessary context you need as a team. Under various circumstances and team structures, projects may necessitate a lot of communication or a little.
The primary question you should be seeking to answer is “Do the right people have the right information at the right time?”
2. Build a foundation of rich visual documentation
Hosting team creative brainstorming and planning in shared visual collaboration spaces like Lucid allows for immersive productivity and deep, contextual understanding you don’t get from calls and text chat alone. Visuals allow you to break down contextual relationships and dependencies between systems and organizations in minutes instead of hours, flattening the learning curve for new employees.
By using visuals to eliminate walls to tribal knowledge and insider language, you’re able to get people on the same page faster and let each team member own their journey to becoming a well-informed, high-value contributing member of the team.
As you continue to engage in high-value collaboration activities in shared visual workspaces over months and years, you’ll also build an innovation repository of all your team’s best ideas, an incredibly valuable asynchronous resource you wouldn’t have if you’d relied solely on ephemeral audio and video for your collaboration.
When innovation is well-documented, innovation is celebrated—and when it’s celebrated, it happens more often.
Learn how to build an easy-to-maintain innovation repository with Lucid templates.Check it out
3. Have a bias toward action
Effective, high-value collaboration is a combination of ideation and execution—it can’t just be one or the other. High-value collaboration leads teams to experiment, remix, repurpose, and launch more often because they aren’t afraid to fail.
When empowered to share, collaborate, and move work forward autonomously, teams do more actual work and less “work about work,” which saves the business time and money in the long run.
4. Embrace conflict
When teams feel comfortable being creative and ideating with freedom, conflict around ideas and direction of work, products, and campaigns is not only normal, but expected. High-value collaboration requires that interpersonal conflict is managed professionally and used to strengthen the team.
You can do this by baking conflict into the brainstorming process, using pre-mortems or ritual dissent frameworks to systematically “pick apart” ideas with the express purpose of identifying the best possible course of action instead of being precious and defensive about any one person’s individual ideas.
Additionally, high-value collaborators are well-versed in effective conflict resolution strategies and proactively seek to resolve issues themselves whenever possible without letting problems fester until a third party is forced to step in and mediate.
5. Be inclusive of varying collaboration styles
Some people prefer to ideate ahead of a meeting, collecting their thoughts and making notes on a shared board that they can then walk the team through. Others prefer 1:1 interaction over large group meetings, and some do their best thinking on the fly during unstructured, freewheeling jam sessions.
No matter what collaboration style you have, you need to deeply understand the makeup of your team and adopt a set of collaboration best practices that will help all team members do high-value work consistently.
How to identify if your team is engaging in high-value collaboration
The most obvious way to tell if you’re engaging in high-value collaboration versus low-value collaboration is seeing if the work you are doing as a team is having an impact on the business: If you’re winning over competitors, customers are reacting positively to new product releases, and revenue is up, collaboration is probably working.
But remember, it’s not enough to be a high-value collaborator—you must also know which levers to pull to effectively stay in that zone. As you practice the principles in the section above, you might look for some key signs that they are being applied correctly. For example:
- Innovation flows organically and autonomously within your business: As teams engage in more productive asynchronous work, more and more innovations may be coming from the bottom rather than the top of the organization. Large, multi-team brainstorms may give way to more effective cross-functional units that need less hands-on direction to tackle specific problems. Innovation could also look like an improvement in efficiency and productivity, where teams are meeting deadlines and milestones they might previously have missed.
- Cross-functional team success: In many ways, cross-functional collaboration is the ideal crucible for testing how well your company collaborates when circumstances aren’t at their most ideal, familiar, or comfortable. When teams that don’t work together every day can collaborate with ease and familiarity because of shared best practices, efficient tech stacks, and common visual documentation, you are likely nailing high-value collaboration.
- Doing more with less: High-value collaborators aren’t overly reliant on tools to do their trade but, rather, use them to supplement deep thinking, strategic insight, and decisive action.
By focusing on the key tenets of high-value collaboration, you can unlock new ways of bringing innovation to market that previously seemed impossible.
Become a high-value collaborator—find out which visual collaboration tools are the best fit for your team (and your budget).Get the checklist
Lucid Software is a pioneer and leader in visual collaboration dedicated to helping teams build the future. With its products—Lucidchart, Lucidspark, and Lucidscale—teams are supported from ideation to execution and are empowered to align around a shared vision, clarify complexity, and collaborate visually, no matter where they are. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucid.co.
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