Collaboration refers to the combination of tools and processes teams use to work together. It involves integrating problems, solutions, tasks and goals. New technologies help facilitate team communication, resulting in more effective collaboration.
Guiding principles for collaboration
When it comes to collaboration, there are two major points you need to keep in mind.
First, know what your team needs. This refers to more than just tools. You also need to thoroughly understand the organization’s culture — not just the one you want it to have but its actual culture — in order to implement a change to it successfully.
Second, understand that times are changing. And that’s about more than just the fact that we now have five generations in the workforce. Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before.
That means you need to constantly be evaluating how effective your tools are for the team overall and keeping your finger on the pulse of new and developing tools that might work better.
What is collaboration?
In many industries, cross-team collaboration is already the norm. Research by Gallup found that 84 percent of U.S. employees work on several different teams on any given day.
Within marketing, collaboration requires you to unite the many disciplines that make up a successful campaign, like:
- Social media managers
- PR specialists
- Web designers
- Digital advertisers
You get the idea.
Each subset of your marketing department excels at a different task. This difference in knowledge and skills also lends itself to a difference in how each team solves problems.
Consider a campaign you want to launch to increase website visits. Your social media team may argue that a paid Facebook post is the way to go. Your editorial team, on the other hand, may suggest pitching a thought leadership piece to a reputable publication.
Determining not just which idea is the best but how to marry the ideas into a strategic marketing campaign is the goal marketers should have when it comes to collaboration.
The improvements that collaboration brings
Having good collaboration within your team comes with a host of benefits. And all of these benefits stem from the improved relationships you have not just with your teammates but with customers as well.
The team relationship
According to Gallup, less than one-third of teams feel engaged at work, and a majority believe that their organization's performance would improve significantly if their teams worked more collaboratively.
A more collaborative team requires a few special skills, including:
- Strong communication
- Ability to use conflict resolution to keep projects on task
- Being open to listening to each team member’s perspective
Honing these skills helps keep misunderstandings and miscommunications from holding a team back. It also strengthens the team in several different areas.
You learn from each other. When teams work collaboratively, it gives the organization a culture of learning. You learn from each other’s successes and failures and are able to apply these lessons to new tasks moving forward.
You’re able to see all sides, particularly when you’re working across departments. You’ll get a deeper understanding of where each team is coming from in terms of goals and strategy. And this will help you see the bigger, overarching picture of what your campaign needs to accomplish.
Your problem-solving improves. The more time you spend working collaboratively, the more you are influenced by each other’s various skills and knowledge. This boosts your ability to problem solve. Where you may have been stumped before, you can now draw on the knowledge you’ve picked up from another team member to jump over a hurdle.
You’re able to break down barriers. When departments aren’t communicating on a regular basis, it can lead to breakdowns in the campaign. However, collaboration requires consistent communication, and that creates a feedback loop that helps teams deliver on company goals together.
The customer relationship
Your relationships within the team aren’t the only thing that sees an improvement when collaboration comes into play. When a team is able to work together effectively, it results in better customer service.
For example, when you keep departments working collaboratively, the customer and their needs are brought back to the center of attention. This seems like something that should be obvious, but it can get lost in other goals.
Having and keeping a feedback loop going means departments receive customer feedback in a timely manner. And they’re more likely to be held accountable to actually address those changes in a timely manner.
Decisions on customer communication can also be shifted. Many companies choose to have managers and other authority figures determine how customer service reps communicate with the customers.
However, when there’s open communication amongst all departments and their team members, the evaluation becomes more thorough. It’s a faster way to discover problem areas that may need to be addressed, and the proper messaging is developed sooner rather than later.
Challenges of collaboration
It’s easy to say, “Let’s be more collaborative.” However, there are some obstacles in the way of properly implementing collaboration in organizations.
Research from Cisco revealed the top 10 barriers to collaboration according to business leaders. Two major ones that stuck out to me based on the feedback MarTechExec received from experts:
- Poor tool integration
- Misalignment with employee work styles
Too many tools, too little time
There are a lot of tools out there that boast about improving collaboration. It’s not hard to find a list.
However, finding the right tool(s) is significantly harder.
This chart illustrates just how important it is to have a proper strategy for implementing collaboration tools. And in this article by Dion Hinchcliffe, he talks about the mass supply’s detrimental effects.
He’s not the only one who sees an issue. Our experts find that it causes rifts in team collaboration as well.
“Team collaboration tools are a source of endless debate for enterprises, both because the potential is tremendous, but also because everyone has to use these tools on a daily basis.” — Jesse Nieminen, Co-Founder & Chairman at Viima Solutions Oy
“The siren call of technology that will increase engagement and collaboration is something that every professional responds to and many have experienced significant failure.
You would be surprised how many technologies have been forced on teams without any consideration for what people actually need or how it will impact their environment.” — Karolyn Hart, Co-Founder at InspireHUB Inc.
Creating a collaborative-friendly culture
What’s the basis of collaboration? As I mentioned earlier, it comes from strong communication, a willingness to learn from one another and a desire to find ways to work together to achieve a shared goal.
Throwing together all the different tools and strategies at your disposal does not a collaboration environment make. You need these fundamental values in your company culture.
Having those tools and strategies is important. But it’s only one part of the recipe. That cultural shift toward collaboration is the key ingredient that makes it all come together.
Easier said than done, isn’t it? But it’s crucial. You won’t get the results you want otherwise.
How do you select the right technology for collaboration?
Research of over 750 business professionals found that 83 percent utilize digital collaboration tools, with communication and file-sharing tools seeming to dominate the collaborative work landscape.
According to Dimensional Research, the most popular tools include chat and text (51 percent), online meeting tools (50 percent) and document-sharing platforms (24 percent).
One of the most popular tools for team collaboration is messaging applications. They’re great for keeping team members connected.
“And team messaging is growing quickly in popularity as the preferred “home base” for this single communications & collaboration platform. Despite the prevailing feeling of app overload, workers find team messaging to be the least disruptive to their workday.” — Mike Pugh, Vice President of Collaboration at RingCentral
However, you can’t just grab any messaging app and expect it will fit right in with your team and its established processes.
“The first and foremost issue in team communication is the context. Most collaboration is now text-based and will likely be so for the foreseeable future. As text-based communication is slower and more difficult than face-to-face communication (or tele/video conferencing), effectiveness matters a lot and here context is the key. By bringing the discussion to where the work happens, or by bringing the work to where the discussion happens, you immediately know what people are talking about, which makes a tremendous difference.” — Jesse Nieminen, Co-Founder & Chairman at Viima Solutions Oy
For many, it's not always possible to meet face-to-face. That’s why having a tool that allows for an easy, online meeting experience is important.
For those more important discussions, online meeting is what you’ll want to opt for over just the typical Slack message.
You’ll be able to hear inflection and observe body language, which will keep the miscommunication down to a minimum — or hopefully make it nonexistent.
And you don’t need to just settle for a basic online meeting tool. Technology has evolved. There are tools that give you the ability to share data and documents. Many even allow you to share your screen so that your team can see exactly what you’re talking about.
Document sharing platforms
The release of Google’s web-based office software changed the game when it came to collaborating on documents.
Before Google Docs and the like, there was an endless stream of emails going back and forth with amendments. While for some this type of system is still necessary, for others, document sharing platforms are now the norm.
And there are now multiple options available for real-time document collaboration. So whatever your team needs, there’s bound to be a solution for it.
This list from PC Mag gives a thorough breakdown of some of the best document sharing platform options available.
How can we expect collaboration to change over the next 3-5 years?
Nothing stays the same. Especially when technology moves as fast as it does. Keeping up with emerging trends will keep your team collaboration moving in the right direction.
“Whether it's creating a new business process, designing a cool new logo in a graphic design tool or managing financial books for your business, the co-creation of everything will be embedded more broadly into everyday work life.” — Merijn te Booij, Chief Marketing Officer at Genesys
Millennials are changing the way we work
It’s the hot, new trend and millennials, especially, are pushing for it: Remote work. More and more people are doing their 9-5 from home.
You can check out this article for more in-depth data on this coming trend (and some handy infographics as well). But for now, here’s what our experts had to say:
“According to the Zinc survey, IDC expects mobile workers will account for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. workforce by 2020. We see the need for collaboration technology being more integral than ever as businesses work to create a seamless interaction between all their workforce regardless of location.” — Karolyn Hart, Co-Founder at InspireHUB Inc.
“Millennials are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, creating a dynamic workplace where four generations work side-by-side. They bring a mobile-first, text-first mindset that will fuel the continued rise of easy-to-use collaboration tools -- a trend that will become even stronger in the next three to five years.” — Mike Pugh, Vice President of Collaboration at RingCentral
AI affecting collaboration, especially CRMs
CRMs are a must-have for team collaboration. So much so that I dedicated an entire article to them.
But as with most things, AI is poised to give them quite a shake-up.
“Through the implementation of Big Data, AI will learn from our interactions. This will lead to a CRM system that can help answer questions, predict a user's needs and oversee the more tedious tasks, therefore, reducing manual workloads.” — Lindsey Havens, Senior Marketing Manager at PhishLabs
“With the rise of AI, we already see customization of a content with options such as highlighted messages according to topics, people that you interact with, files, etc. However, it is hard to keep all of the content organized and see the bigger picture of what is going on. That is where tools for visualization will come in such as smart concept maps, that work with all of your collaboration tools all of your conversations and content that you generate and help to build a clear structure of your processes and ideas, basically providing a helicopter view and at the same time allowing to zoom in and see detailed structures.” — Timur Shchukin, Co-Founder and R&D Director at NakedMinds
Push for synchronization of tools
It’s been found that 82 percent of business owners, marketers and salespeople lose up to an hour a day logging into and managing different systems.
From that alone, it’s easy to see why people want more tool integration. And that demand is only set to grow.
“The recent trend of incorporating all collaboration functions into one tool will continue for the next few years.” — Sagi Eliyahu, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Tonkean
“The Monolith Era of enterprise software has seen its best days and will gradually fade into history.
This ‘Microservice architecture’ is simply the way of the future.
These aren’t necessarily easy to do, but they are what separate the best collaboration tools of the future from the rest. As these are trends that we’ve witnessed time and again with our customers and that we’ve talked about with industry experts.” — Jesse Nieminen, Co-Founder & Chairman at Viima Solutions Oy
“Due to an unlimited number of collaboration tools on the market, it has become quite distracting to jump from one interface to another. At this moment we see a trend of bringing all communication and collaboration tools in one place.” — Timur Shchukin, Co-Founder and R&D Director at NakedMinds
Collaboration is crucial to a healthy marketing campaign. And while it can be tricky to get that kind of culture started, there are all kinds of tools out there to help make the process easier.
If you want to see your teams thrive, you need to enable them through a push for clear communication across departments and equip them with the tools that make it possible.