How to Successfully Collaborate With Co-workers

In theory, a team should be more than the sum of its parts, with the individual strengths of the teammates contributing positively to the bottom line. In reality, well, a collaboration is only useful if it works. Many factors affect success or failure, including too much time spent in meetings and leaning on others to the point of laziness. When collaboration is successful, it is an incredibly useful tool for productivity and innovation in the workplace. Learn how to do it right.

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Ron Friedman, PhD is a social psychologist who writes in detail about the benefits and pitfalls of collaboration in the workplace for Psychology Today. The following three tips will help you collaborate successfully.

1. Match People With Different Skills

If you are a great writer, there is no point in collaborating with other great writers. Instead, find others whose skills complement your own, not duplicate them. A great writer, an effective public speaker, and a highly skilled technician will likely put together a better presentation than three writers.

Dr. Friedman reminds us that another problem with skill duplication on teams is power struggles. Power struggles defeat the purpose of collaborative teams by wasting time and reducing productivity. Collaborative teams should be comprised of individuals with different, complementary skill sets.

2. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

One problem with collaborative teams is lack of clear boundaries. When people don't know exactly what their own responsibilities are and what they may expect of others, they tend to do less work. The ambiguity reduces productivity.

For a successful collaborative effort, delineate in the first meeting who is responsible for what. Each and every team member should have a sense of ownership for their list of tasks and responsibilities. Also, each team member should understands everyone else's tasks and expectations, so they may count on each other when appropriate.

3. Expect Homework

Homework goes beyond following through with tasks. Of course, after responsibilities are allocated to team members, expect workers to take care of these things before the next meeting. Homework, however, also refers to creative thinking about the problem, long after the meeting is adjourned.

Dr. Friedman points out that meetings are the place we share ideas and give suggestions to others. Much of the creative work is done outside of collaborative meetings, not during them. Separately and individually, we come up with ideas, do our research and prepare to bring information to the meeting. Meetings are when we share and make suggestions to others. This keeps the meetings more productive and short.

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