6 Ways to Strengthen Collaboration at Work

Published: Jul 23, 2021
Modified: Apr 08, 2024


By: American Management Association

Regardless of changes to how and where we work, team members still need to successfully collaborate to get good results and keep a business running. In a recent survey, American Management Association (AMA) asked its members and seminar participants to rank several capabilities critical to thriving in the post-pandemic workplace. Managing and motivating a remote or hybrid team was among the top three priorities, along with improving virtual communication skills and building and maintaining strong relationships.

Whether team members work side-by-side in the same office or screen-to-screen from different buildings, neighborhoods, or countries, good results depend on strong collaboration. But that doesn’t always “just happen.” Building effective collaboration starts with establishing a firm foundation. Key components include shared goals, deliverables, products, or services; agreed-upon guiding values, principles, or norms; disciplined processes, roles, and responsibilities; and sufficient resources. Still, even with all of the essential building blocks in place, sometimes a team struggles to work well together because some people aren’t natural collaborators.

How can managers get buy-in for collaboration at work? A world leader in professional development for nearly a century, AMA stresses the importance of making a clear business case for collaboration, setting an example by being collaborative, and encouraging reluctant collaborators through coaching, support, and recognition. Here are six steps for motivating tentative collaborators and improving collaboration team wide:

1. Be an ally. Don’t be a naysayer or, worse, an adversary. To foster collaboration, welcome input from all collaborators, regardless of their experience or comfort level. Simple statements, such as “I like your suggestions” or “That sounds like an interesting idea,” often speak volumes, letting team members know that you value their opinions.

2. Say what you see or sense. If you observe or pick up on something troubling, say something. For instance, you might say, “You seem a little reluctant to share your opinions.” Do this in a way that’s genuine, caring, and without criticism to avoid making the reluctant collaborator feel singled out and even more uncomfortable.

3. Ask and listen. When someone is having trouble collaborating, take the time to find out why. Ask them to share their concerns or feelings, perhaps starting with, “What can you tell me about that issue?” Then, listen to their response.

4. Reinforce the benefits of collaboration. Talk up collaboration until it becomes a shared value and an everyday best practice. Offer ongoing encouragement, such as, “The team seems to be getting closer to an answer. Let’s keep going.”

5. Seek out suggestions for improvement. Your team members are the ones working together after all. You might be missing something. “What would make this whole process work better for you?” might be a question to ask everyone on the team—weak and strong collaborators alike.

6. Offer choices, not demands. Managers should hold team members accountable when they refuse to collaborate. But when dealing with a person who isn’t a natural collaborator, threats and punitive consequences tend to be counterproductive. Instead, try asking, “Could you give me two or three ideas tomorrow morning?”

With the right approach, anyone can be a valued collaborator. Everyone has good ideas. All it takes is a little time and care to ensure that your team makes the most of them.

About AMA

American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.