When people complain to me about the project they are working on it often comes down to what they think about the people they are working with and for.

The majority of my work is usually undertaken solo, in my home office, which for me creates a perfect environment for high productivity, creativity and clear thinking. But the rest of the time I am out and working in other people’s offices and most interestingly, within their teams.

I find these teams scenarios one of the most interesting experiments in human nature.

Walking into different businesses and experiencing the team dynamics provides a unique insight in the culture of any organisation whether it be a multi-national, a start-up or small business.

When people start working on a new group project most of their emphasis is on what the end result or product will be.  Then we tend to work backwards and figure out who will do what and when they will do it.  We wrap it all up in Gant charts and spreadsheets, we schedule up meetings and we email each other furiously. We call it a collaboration and things start.

But put any bunch of humans together and you end up with personalities, some of which will work brilliantly together, some that won’t. Some will also take over, talk too much or drive home their ways only to leave others shut out, frustrated or, worse, unmotivated.

Collaboration as a word now has a big stain on it.  It’s bandied around as something holy when really it’s just people working with other people.

Anyone can collaborate – work on something with someone else or others – but often what this process lacks are two important ingredients; communication and co-operation.

Simply, teams with open and transparent communication do better. Also, people who have learned the art of co-operation bring to the project a willingness to be part of something which is not about them but about the contribution of everyone.

The best time to talk about these two important things is at the beginning of the project otherwise the opportunity becomes lost. Here’s two ways to start.

Introducing the group at a personal level.

When the group first commences work it is important to make time to recognise the  different personalities and skill sets within its ranks. Communication around these two important things provides your group members with perspective about how each person sees their role within the project. And even if people know each other or have worked alongside each other before you need to connect and reconnect people to people each time.

Schedule a meeting or activity outside of the office where you can start a conversation about what each person brings to their role, their own expressed strengths and weaknesses and what excites them about the project. Be creative about how you can do this because this will also balance out the extroverts and introverts. Talk about how you will work together and the shared values of what you’ll be achieving. Most of all consolidate your direction from a personal point of view.

Encouraging  cooperation

Good cooperation within a project requires people to feel secure and confident about their role. But often we experience people who want to guard their territory, withhold information or create problems, all to the detriment of the others and the end result.  We also need to be mindful of introverts within the group and how to ensure they are heard because often they are the best listeners and can bring innovation to the table.

One way of encouraging cooperation within the group (because some people don’t find this a natural skill and this will usually show up in their interactions) is to set up a roles and responsibilities buddy system. It means people don’t have to operate as individuals within the team but instead in a partnership so that day to day  support can be provided between the two.  A problem shared is a problem halved.

How to best to do this without the whole ‘team picking’ scenario we all hated at school?

Put the names in the hat and draw them out linking two people to work together.  These new partnerships will not only provide support for one another but it also provides an opportunity to learn how other people work, how they think, the systems they use and how they apply their skills. They then share their role and responsibilities thus doubling the skills base, supporting productivity and allow the workload to be shared.

The Takeaway

Good collaboration projects need to be underpinned by communication and cooperation, both of which are usually ignored as part of the overall management of a project.  At the commencement of a project the group needs to spend time understanding the people and their skills which will make the project happen. The group needs to consolidate by creating trust and shared values amongst the people involved.  Then it needs to create partnership links which support the individuals within their roles.

Make it more about the people and less about the process.  Then it will work everytime.