Collaboration skills have always been highly valued, particularly among top-performing organizations.
Indeed, in a joint study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity and Rob Cross (Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College), it was discovered that collaboration is 5.5 times more likely to be incentivized in high-performance businesses than in lower-performing ones.
The results of that study were published back in 2017. Were it to be carried out today, in an environment where remote working has become increasingly commonplace, it is arguable that collaboration skills would be even better rewarded, and more highly sought, by employers.
But what exactly are “collaboration skills?” As with many softer skills, they can be wide-ranging and include characteristics like:
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
- Verbal and written communication
- Ability to handle criticism
- Time management
- Critical thinking
- Conflict resolution
Now, let’s consider five strategies you can employ to improve your own collaboration skills and make yourself even more attractive to employers.
1. Get Involved in Industry Groups
To hone your collaboration skills, you cannot rely on simply working with and speaking to the same types of people day in and day out. That approach will only improve your ability to collaborate with similar people and in similar ways.
One effective way around this is to join external industry groups. Volunteering for a committee outside of your business will bring you into contact with different types of people. You may have few, or no, shared experiences with these people, which will force you to find new ways to communicate and work together effectively.
As a further positive, industry groups are also an excellent opportunity to expand your personal network, which may prove valuable in developing your career and climbing the ladder.
2. Volunteer for Non-BAU Projects
In a similar vein, try to get involved in projects outside the scope of your business-as-usual activity, ideally involving people from different teams and departments. The broader the scope of these projects, and the more teams involved, the more useful this exercise will be from the point of view of raising your collaboration skills.
Take the opportunity to offer your specific expertise whenever relevant, while also striving to learn from those in other roles and departments. Understand the different priorities of each team and find ways to work together to meet common goals.
3. Bring Emotional Intelligence into Your Communications
Communicating with people in different departments is a litmus test for your collaboration skills.
Why? Because it forces you to use emotional intelligence in your communications. Specifically, it requires you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to ensure that your message gets across clearly.
This can be a challenge in interdepartmental communications, because different departments and teams may have their own jargon and buzzwords that are difficult, if not impossible, for “outsiders” to translate.
Additionally, being more emotionally intelligent means considering the other person’s goals and challenges.
What do they want to hear? What are they hoping to avoid? What are their motivations? Understanding these things often holds the key to collaborating more effectively.
4. Focus on Team-Level Goals
The strongest collaborators understand that delivering results means putting the goals of the group ahead of their own motivations and priorities.
While this sounds simple, it can often be anything but. Throughout our professional lives, we regularly find ourselves in direct competition with our peers, so focusing on something other than our individual objectives can feel counterintuitive.
However, if you can master putting the team first, and understanding the specific role you need to play in achieving the desired result, you will go a long way toward improving your collaboration skills.
5. Find Yourself a Mentor
Sometimes, a little outside help is required to hone our skills, and collaboration is no different.
Try asking a colleague with excellent collaboration skills to become your mentor, then have them talk you through some of the collaboration challenges you face.
This mentoring program need not be a major time commitment, nor overly formal. It could simply involve taking lunch breaks together once every couple of weeks, or booking in a regular monthly catch-up. Either way, an outside perspective from someone who truly understands collaboration can be a big help to your personal development.