Soft skills refer to personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. It’s not surprising to learn then that collaboration is one of the most in-demand soft skills.
With the proliferation of global offices and the rise in pandemic-induced remote workers, today’s employers rely on their employees’ ability to collaborate with colleagues and customers across time zones now more than ever. And when you can effectively connect with others and become a bridge to continued progress, your value multiplies.
Here are the five best ways you can boost collaboration in your workplace:
1. Lead with clarity and consistency
Effective collaboration depends on excellent communication. With teams, clarity and consistency rule. Get everyone on the same page by clearly articulating and regularly reviewing the team’s mission and goals and help each person understand their part in achieving them. Define roles so there is no ambiguity on who is responsible for what, and encourage people to ask for clarification if they’re confused or unsure about something.
2. Model accountability
It’s inevitable: someone on the team will drop the ball on a group project at some point. Without accountability measures in place, this misstep can lead to frustration, resentment, and major setbacks. Rather than point fingers or assign blame, be proactive about asking for and establishing expectations and deadlines on team objectives. Make it your mission to meet those milestones — and own up quickly when you see that you cannot — to model accountability.
3. Practice active listening
Open communication fuels collaboration, which requires you to be an excellent listener. This is especially important with a geographically scattered team and a mix of in-person and remote work environments. When you’re listening to team members, stop multitasking and give them your undivided attention. Listen to understand, not respond, by allowing others the opportunity to be heard completely without interrupting and before saying anything. And learn to listen to what’s not being said by observing word choice, tone, and body language inconsistencies, which are red flags that something’s off. Active listening demonstrates respect, builds trust, and makes people feel valued, which enhances collaboration.
4. Become a creative problem-solver
Conflicts and hiccups are to be expected in a team environment and can bring progress to a grinding halt. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Rather than stew in stagnant frustration, use creativity to adjust your mindset to always look for solutions. Seeing possibilities allows you to reframe situations to envision alternative answers to problems. When you do this, you’ll be viewed as a proactive, creative problem-solver and valuable team member.
5. Use empathy to put others first
In the crunch to meet project deadlines, we sometimes forget this simple truth: people power teams. And those people — who have unique thoughts, feelings, and motivations — don’t want to be thought of as simply a transactional means to an end. Instead, use empathy to put others first. Regularly check in with your colleagues to ask, “Is everything okay?” and make it a priority to get to know them as whole people. Create a safe space for sharing so they feel comfortable opening up without judgment or criticism. And regularly remind your team members that you care about them, understand their challenges, and want to help.
To get the best out of team members, you first need to “see” them as the human beings that they are. When you do so, you’ll create an environment that fosters a deeper connection and shared understanding, which leads to successful collaboration.
This article is part of a multi-week series covering the range of soft skills and how to cultivate and apply them to your career. Be sure to check out my earlier articles on empathy, persuasion, connecting with others, listening, communication, and creativity.