The most effective teams strive for frequent collaboration, creating opportunities for knowledge sharing and creative problem-solving.

When working on a project with tight deadlines, there may be hesitance to put processes into place to allow for collaboration due to the fear of distraction or overwhelming the team. Contrary to this, once a team has formed a habit of active collaboration, it will happen organically, which can help to alleviate pressure and stress.

A design thinking approach

Design thinking refers to the cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts are developed by designers and/or design teams. Using a design thinking approach to create a collaborative environment can be a starting point for maintaining an aligned team.

Firstly, empathising with the team and asking questions about their everyday problems can help you define team needs. Spending time working together to ideate on solving these problems is an opportunity for organic collaboration. Prototype the team’s ideal by documenting needs and trialling actions. From there, you can test out the practices by timeboxing and then discussing the impact in a retrospective.

Cross-discipline collaboration has a positive impact on team efficiency, happiness and business benefits. To build a culture of collaboration, it’s important to first uncover the fundamental team needs. Here are some suggestions of team needs and actionable steps we’ve taken on projects which can help you to enhance your own team’s collaboration and transparency.

Effortless remote working

Physical space between teammates can, on occasion, feel isolating at times. Easy-to-make mistakes, such as forgetting to include someone in a meeting, can not only knock a team member’s confidence but also takes away their opportunity to be involved in knowledge sharing. This can create silos and hinder collaboration.

Illustration of post it notes and a vase with flowers

Be inclusive and transparent by default

When reviewing the schedule for the day, have a think about the topics and meetings you are involved in. Does it look like the right people are involved? Do you think someone could provide value on this topic? By using team communication channels, highlighting that an initiative is ongoing during the day can be a small step to making someone feel more included.

Get some face-time

As brilliant as remote messaging tools are, there’s nothing like getting to know someone face-to-face. Schedule a video call with your team, with a loose agenda, to have a coffee and just chat. This doesn’t always have to be 1-on-1s, as everyone’s time is precious, so make it a group effort too. Spend some time finding common ground and see what initiatives they are excited about. This works well during the start of a project, but there’s nothing stopping you from kicking this off again if you start to feel the team is drifting.

Try alternative ways of working

Standing around a whiteboard drafting our plans as a team is great for in-person collaboration, but what happens when you can’t do workshops in person? Using tools that prevent physical distance from being a barrier can increase asynchronous collaboration. Using Miro, a collaborative whiteboarding tool, during ideation and planning allows everyone to be involved in sharing information and developing ideas during remote calls. Giving a team the power to take notes, add their perspective, and any existing documentation saves an enormous amount of time.

Introduce a culture of ownership

When there are many teams involved in building a product, there is a risk that features can be over-engineering or left to stagnate as a result of the ambiguity of ownership. This can often be due to team misalignment or lack of focus.

Create a holistic overview

Spend some time as a team mapping out a holistic overview of all the team initiatives, away from project management tools and onto a whiteboard, real or digital – whichever works for your team.

Create a responsibility map by listing out all of the ongoing initiatives, sort these into categories and use different colour post-it notes for each category. Create columns for each person and ask everyone to copy the post-it notes and paste them into their column.
This allows everyone to visually see the colour balance between each category and see what has been the collect focus. It also allows everyone to see which tasks have multiple people working on them and can highlight initiatives that are missing an owner. This can trigger conversations about individual interests and also act as guidance for the team to understand who to approach for specific subjects.

Variety for repetitive events

Reshuffling the way the team update each other can help to reinvigorate how the team communicates. Instead of catching up in a round-robin session in the morning, suggest moving it to the end of the day or trying out updates via your remote messaging tools instead of a call for a couple of weeks. Not only will the team be thankful for getting some time in their mornings back, but it gives the opportunity to be more experimental in ways of communicating by sharing screenshots, prototypes or polls.

Understand Business Priorities

Transparency allows teams to build trust, which leads to an increase in employee engagement and team security. Sharing the business strategy, goals and expectations also help the team to understand what success looks like. It’s important to align expectations with stakeholders, understand the purpose of initiatives and uncover what problems the team should be solving. Stakeholder interviews will help uncover business priorities and ensure the team is aligned.

Create a trustworthy and supportive work environment

When a team grows and expands, there may be mixed feelings. Change isn’t always easy, and this may cause team members to be apprehensive about collaborative work due to fear of losing ownership of current projects they enjoy. To make sure the team feel supported and has their voice heard, it can be helpful to spend time with an agile coach. A coach can help give the team the right knowledge, tools and training to allow team members to reach their potential.

Identify Team Principles

A principle is defined as “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” Defining your team’s principles can be a very powerful way to inform and assess decision-making and can also give teams the opportunity to consider and review their existing ways of working. Opening a discussion on what has previously succeeded or failed can help build trust and support.

Introduce custom Ceremonies

If you are working agile, you’re likely to be involved in scrum ceremonies. These are incredibly helpful to product teams as a whole but sometimes don’t allow the opportunity to discuss more granular topics. Finding ways to sync up independently from these ceremonies will give the team the opportunity to support each other more directly. Open sessions can allow people to drop by without putting pressure on those who may be already inundated with meetings. Trial it out for a sprint, and then reflect on it during a retrospective to see if it benefited the team and helped with a shared vision.

When suggesting improvements, it’s helpful to focus on the positive impacts it will bring to both the team and individuals. As with all iterative processes, there is not a one size fits all solution. Therefore it is recommended to re-evaluate often to ensure that the adapted ways of working are as helpful and efficient as intended.