woman in team meeting
A senior leaders’ guide

Maximising teamwork and collaboration

In this guide

Chapter 1

The importance of teamwork and collaboration

In today's fast-paced business world, senior leaders play a critical role in driving organisational success. But they can’t do it alone. Teamwork and collaboration are essential components in achieving results. When senior leaders collaborate effectively and encourage teamwork amongst employees, they tap into a wealth of diverse perspectives and experiences that can propel the organisation forward in new and innovative ways.

By working cohesively – at board level, alongside other leaders and with the team – senior leaders can also build trust, deepen relationships, and develop more robust communication channels, all of which are crucial for navigating complex business challenges.

This guide is designed to help leaders understand how they can improve their teamwork and collaboration, both through developing their own individual skills, and through fostering a positive, supportive team culture. Throughout this guide, you will learn valuable tips and strategies that can be applied to any workplace.

Man and woman talking in a meeting

How greater collaboration impacts businesses

Building a thriving team is crucial in achieving success in any workplace. Collaboration and teamwork are the backbone of a high-performing organisation, leading to greater creativity, innovation, and problem solving. In fact, nearly three out of four employers rated teamwork and collaboration as “very important.”.

But how exactly does greater collaboration impact businesses? Well, it’s been the focus of many studies and reports over the years with results showing a variety of benefits, including:

Greater overall success

Any business is a complex system that requires a variety of skills and expertise to function efficiently. High-performing organisations are 5.5 times more likely to prioritise and incentivise “individual, team, and leader effectiveness in collaboration” than lower performing businesses. The study concluded that it’s the purposeful pursuit of collaboration which is the primary reason successful businesses can leverage teamwork to achieve goals.

Deloitte explored further what tangible benefits a collaborative working approach can offer, discovering that it might:

27% Increase in sales
41% Improvement in customer satisfaction ratings
34% Improvement in product quality
30% Improvement in product development

Improved productivity

Acting collectively can encourage individuals to stick at challenging tasks for longer – and enjoy them more. In fact, participants working together stay on task for 64% longer, as well as expressing greater satisfaction and generally performing better working together than alone.

Another international study from Deloitte discovered that when employees collaborate they work 15% faster, on average, and:

73% produce better work
60% are more innovative
56% are more satisfied

When team members work together, they can share ideas, knowledge, and perspectives, allowing them to approach problems with fresh perspectives. This leads to better problem-solving, more innovative solutions, and improved communication – all key ingredients for higher productivity.

Enhanced employee wellbeing

Feelings of isolation can gradually derail an employee’s productivity by up to 21%, according to reports. Creating a collaborative work environment can improve not only the productivity of a team, but also the overall wellbeing of its members. When employees feel they’re part of a cohesive team working towards a common goal, they’re more likely to find a sense of purpose and fulfilment in their work.

The sharing of ideas and knowledge within a team can lead to a more positive and constructive work culture, where individuals feel valued and supported. Additionally, collaboration can reduce stress levels by distributing workloads more evenly and allowing for a greater sense of work-life balance. But what amount of time is ideal to work collaboratively? Well, a US study found that top-performing workers spend an equal amount of time engaging in individual and collaborative work spend:

45% of their time on the job working individually
45% of their time on the job working collaboratively
10% of their time on the job learning and socialising
Woman and man in a meeting

Why you should treat employees as individuals

If there’s one thing senior leaders need to know about teamwork it’s that the dynamics of your team will directly affect business performance. We’ve touched on this above with statistics that prove collaboration should be important if you want to retain and engage your best employees, as well as drive productivity and boost results.

But it’s likely you’ll also have experienced what happens when teamwork isn’t prioritised.

A lack of collaboration can be one of the biggest causes of workplace stress and it's common for employees to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed in an environment where teamwork is lacking. When teams fail to communicate and work effectively, mistakes such as the following can happen:

Missed deadlines

Duplicated or inaccurate work

Tensions between colleagues

These are not the conditions needed to achieve results. But the reality is that many senior managers or leaders will have spent more time dealing with these challenges than they have optimising collaboration. If you feel like that’s you, you’re not alone.

When we think of teams, the natural inclination is to focus on the group as a whole. However, strong teams actually start with the individuals that make them up. Each team member brings their unique skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table, and it’s typically when everyone is able to fully contribute and work together that a team can truly thrive.

So what does this mean for senior leaders who want to establish a positive workplace culture?

Well, you should consider how you’re investing in the development and growth of each individual team member. By recognising the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, leaders can help create a cohesive and collaborative team environment where everyone can shine. What’s more, establishing a culture where the learning and development of employees is prioritised shows employees how valuable they are to the company, boosting job satisfaction and employee happiness.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Chidiebere Ogbonnaya, Senior Lecturer at University of Sussex Business School, writes about patterns in workplaces where teams fared better in key performance areas. One of the key factors of success was managers who recognise the benefits of providing the right skills and resources to employees. That includes equipping them with what’s necessary to do their job, but – more importantly – giving them time away from work to attend training and improve their skills. In organisations where this happened, employees were much more likely to say their employer cared about their wellbeing and helped them cope better with stress.

Chapter 2

How to maximise teamwork within your workplace

The need for clear roles, responsibilities and expectations

Another pattern identified by Ogbonnaya in higher performing teams is a focus on autonomy, with managers giving team members reasonable control over the pace of work and input into their own work responsibilities.

Managers and senior leaders have a tough balance to strike. They need to encourage productivity, maintain or build on performance, and drive results. But too much pressure from above can cause employees a lot of stress, leading to poor performance, low productivity, and high staff turnover.

The answer comes in clear role expectations. Research has shown that:

Overall work performance increases by 25% with greater clarity

Employees who experience role clarity are 53% more efficient and 27% more effective at work than employees who have role ambiguity

75% of employees with high role clarity are significantly more passionate about their job and report higher levels of satisfaction

Employees aren’t looking for jobs with endless freedom to do what they want. Clarity over the roles and responsibilities of a given position are important because – while a sense of autonomy, involvement and entrepreneurship is beneficial – people need a framework for their own responsibilities. With clear goals, priorities and boundaries employees know what’s expected of them, as well as what’s expected of others in their team. This means they can work towards success in their own way, while being aligned with the organisation. They’re not getting confused with conflicting expectations or frustrated with each other about changing accountabilities. Instead, they have the space in which to thrive.

Team meeting

Understanding different communication preferences

While there are numerous benefits of teamwork, it can be the cause of issues. In teams, conflict can happen, people may become too dependent on each other or they may feel like the work (and credit) isn’t fairly spread. How you communicate with your team plays a critical role in how effective you are as a leader. Learning to communicate effectively with different individuals, and encouraging them to work on their own communication skills is a way to counter many teamwork issues.

In every workplace, there are diverse work styles and communication preferences to be considered. Some employees thrive in a fast-paced and dynamic environment, while others prefer a more structured and organised approach to their work.

Similarly, communication preferences also vary greatly among individuals. While some prefer face-to-face conversations, others might feel more comfortable communicating through email or messaging platforms. There’s an expectation for employees to learn to adapt and meet certain requirements of operating within a workplace. But for senior leaders, understanding and adapting to differences within your team can make all the difference in creating a cohesive and effective department.

While individuals are more complicated than any framework can account for, it can still be helpful to assess or understand general tendencies when it comes to communication preferences. The main four types are:

Direct (also known as analytical or dominant)

Leaning towards a more blunt style, direct communicators like to focus on the facts – without much small talk or emotional subtleties. They appreciate it when people are clear and concise, and don’t enjoy ambiguity. Most direct communicators are aware they need to work on patience and sensitivity when talking to others.

Functional (also known as conscientious)

Functional communicators will analyse a challenge from numerous angles, focusing on process, precision, and details. They enjoy clear expectations, but will struggle to take in the big picture without the time needed to consider the details. Similarly to direct communicators, they typically don’t engage in much small talk.

Direct (also known as analytical or dominant)

Focused on people rather than facts or processes, collaborative communicators like to find solutions that keep everyone happy. They prioritise things like loyalty or fairness, but might find it difficult to make decisions. It’s important for a collaborator to feel like they’ve listened to people first, and will tend to expect the same in return.

Influencer (also known as personal or expressive)

With a focus on building interpersonal relationships, influencers are great to have in a team. They enjoy informal conversations and small talk, seeing these are essential for building on the connections with people. They may need to lean on these relationships when coming up with practical solutions, which is something they may struggle with more.

Of course, as we’ve suggested, not everyone will fit neatly into a box. But just beginning to have conversations around what people prefer or which way they lean when it comes to communication will have a huge benefit for your team. Building a culture of trying to understand one another more will strengthen how well everyone can collaborate.

Man in a meeting

Tips for maximising collaboration remotely

In recent years, more and more companies have begun to embrace the idea of allowing employees to work from wherever they choose, whether that’s at home or on the other side of the world. This shift has been driven in large part by rapid advances in technology, which have made it easier and more cost-effective for people to stay connected and collaborate from a distance, as well as the global pandemic.

But it has also been fueled by a growing recognition that remote work can offer significant benefits for both employees and employers, from increased flexibility and work-life balance, to improved productivity and decreased overhead costs. There are challenges to overcome, though – especially when it comes to teamwork and collaboration over vast distances or time differences.

So how do employees collaborate remotely? Many rely on technology:

73% of employees who work in fully-enabled digital workplaces report that digital collaboration tools have a positive impact on their productivity, and 70% credit improved collaboration to digital technologies.

83% of workers say they depend on technology to collaborate effectively. However, 59% do face challenges using their company’s tools, highlighting the need to regularly review what tools you use and how effectively team members utilise them.

The technologies you could use to aid teamwork include:

Chat icon
Communication tools

Instant messengers, video calls

Collaboration icon
Collaboration tools

Shared whiteboards, forums

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Organisational tools

Shared calendars, project management apps

Portal software icon
Board management and portal software

With any tool, you must make sure everyone knows how to use it properly and what’s expected of them. With remote working, the lines between work and home can easily become blurred with employees checking their emails in the evenings or responding to instant messages when they’re on holiday. In the long term, this isn’t good for overall employee wellbeing and can lead to burnout.

Senior leaders need to make sure their teams are having enough time away from work in order to recharge and return to the next working day feeling refreshed. Part of this is setting the right example as a leader. Do you email your team out of conventional office hours? Or perhaps you’ll message them over the weekend. Even if you say there’s no need to respond immediately, you’re setting the tone.

Other tips for leading a remote team include:

  • Make sure you’re taking the time to still recognise your remote team – privately and publicly.
  • Foster a sense of connection among team members through virtual events or activities.
  • Prioritise one-on-one meetings with each team member to identify individual accomplishments and areas for improvement.
  • Aim to create an environment of trust and collaboration by encouraging open dialogue, feedback, and ideas from everyone.
  • Make sure all technology is working properly so that everyone can have access to the same documents, tools, and resources.
Chapter 3

Strengthening collaboration at management and board level

Engagement as a strategic priority

Engagement is a huge talking point among business leaders. And for good reason. It has a significant impact on employee performance at work. With engaged employees, productivity and job satisfaction increase, leading to better business outcomes. On the other hand, disengaged employees can cause a ripple effect of reduced morale, higher turnover rates, and poor customer service, all of which lead to negative effects on business.

But a trend amongst organisations categorised as highly engaged (in this case, where an average of 70% of employees are engaged) isn’t to do with the general employees – it’s to do with leadership, according to Gallup. The shared practices include:

  • Knowledge that a culture of engagement starts at the top – the leaders, managers and board members set the example
  • A strategic choice to prioritise engagement, understanding that it provides a competitive edge
  • Open and consistent communication from leaders
  • Prioritising hiring and developing great managers and leaders
  • Using the right metrics to judge success

A culture of engagement isn’t simply about sending around a form to see how happy your employees or team members are. It’s certainly not an annual ‘tick-the-box’ activity. It has to be an ongoing commitment that’s embedded within the overall strategy. And that’s something which has to come from the top down.

Boards should be looking at how engagement metrics relate to performance development and human capital strategies, working with managers and senior leaders to change the way they manage their teams or suggest new initiatives.

In highly-engaged companies, all employees – including managers – are treated as stakeholders. Not only in their own future and development, but that of the company. Maximising collaboration is really about getting people involved in the future of the company, having engagement embedded into the culture.

Feelings of positivity among employees are fantastic byproducts of engagement, but aren’t typically the main aim for business leaders. Rather, they should be focusing on tracking the success of the elements that actually engage workers and drive collaboration, a lot of which we’ve covered here, including:

The opportunity to develop their skills

Autonomy to work in a way which suits

Input into the team and role

Clarity of expectations

Productive co-worker relationships

Some of these themes could be all too easily discussed as buzzwords. But that fails to appreciate the underlying goals of improving employee engagement and collaboration: enhanced business outcomes. That’s why employee engagement should be a fundamental consideration in their people strategy and why measuring the success of your efforts is so important as a leader. You can do this by outlining the key performance indicators (KPIs) you want to be tracked. That way, managers and leaders are reporting about the progress on performance management activities like above, rather than just how ‘happy’ teams are. It’s also important that the development of these managers is also something that’s invested in, so they are able and confident to drive progress.

Man thinking in office

Advice on building trust and overcoming biases

An essential element of teamwork we’ve yet to touch on is trust. A group of employees only becomes a team when everyone feels able to trust and support each other. Trust provides a sense of safety and team spirit that empowers employees to take considered risks, pushing the company forward and sparking innovation – something that’s particularly important among leaders.

In fact, research by Google into their own teams indicated that the ability to take risks – known as psychological safety – is one of the key dynamics that sets successful high-performance teams apart.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to make bold decisions if you believe that you’re not qualified to make them. Whilst senior leaders might have the most experience on paper, sometimes a barrier to openness, trust and collaboration is the idea that managers always know best. This isn’t always true – no matter how long senior leaders have been in the industry, it doesn’t mean that they’re unsusceptible to making mistakes, or wouldn’t benefit from a fresh perspective found within their team.

Part of creating trust within a team is overcoming any bias that employees have around colleagues, whether that’s to do with their ability, attitude or experience – including the idea that senior employees can do no wrong. This works the other way around, too – junior team members can add value, regardless of how long they’ve been in the industry.

Additionally, it can be easy to slip into unconscious bias, and let it affect your relationships at work. This is a hard thing to tackle, but it’s vital that senior leaders aim to eliminate it from the workplace if they are to create a positive culture, where employees can thrive.

Building trust and eliminating bias doesn’t happen overnight. Senior management will need to lead by example, building this culture into every part of the business. They can do this by:

Being honest with themselves about their behaviour

It can be hard to realise that you may be subject to bias or lack of trust in your own communications with various employees. By correcting this, you can set an example to others.

Continue to ask for feedback, and be open to change

It isn’t easy to hear what isn’t going well. But if you rely on your own judgement, you may miss things that you’re doing that cause issues for others. Being open to feedback from all team members shows you don’t consider yourself superior to others.

Practising active listening

Many of us are already thinking about what we’re going to say next when having a conversation. Instead, slow down, absorb what your colleague is saying, and make them feel heard.

Consider unconscious bias training

The nature of unconscious bias makes it hard to spot in your own behaviour. In some cases, training in this area can help you identify areas where you and the business could improve.

Build processes that reduce bias

Bias can often become an issue in recruitment and promotion processes. To avoid this, senior leaders should put criteria in place that are based on fair requirements that are accessible to all.

Normalise failure

Normalising failure, even on a small level, helps others be more honest and open with their own work. In turn, this allows others to learn from their experiences, builds a sense of trust and collaboration and promotes growth.

Improve their emotional intelligence

Leaders with good emotional intelligence can recognise their own feelings, as well as understanding how they affect other people. Often known as ‘people skills’, working on this area will help senior leaders build strong relationships and trust.

Ultimately, creating trust and reducing bias strengthens teams, allowing them to produce better work and improving their resilience in stressful situations.

Group in an office

How to approach challenges and conflict as a senior leader

In any team, however large or small, conflicts and disagreements will arise. But when they’re approached in a constructive way and everyone’s invested in finding the best solution, conflict can result in positive outcomes for both the team and the wider company. Whether there’s a difference in opinion about how to approach a task, or arguments that come as a result of performance stress, these conflicts can highlight pressure points in a business that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

It’s not always possible to preempt any disagreements and cut them out at the root. So it can be productive to allow healthy conflicts to play out and consider the ways in which you can overcome these types of challenges as and when they arise. As much as you would expect your team members to maturely talk challenges through on their own accord, it’s ultimately the responsibility of senior leaders to foster and maintain a strong, cooperative team. This means you need to understand how best to approach these potentially volatile situations, to find an outcome that takes the team forward, rather than setting you back.

Of course, with different backgrounds and experiences blending together in a team, individuals will each have their own preferences when it comes to conflict resolution. However, having a process for conflict resolution in place can help to spark more productive conversations where everyone feels their opinion has been heard.

As a leader or team manager, there are several things to keep in mind when it comes to approaching challenges or confrontational situations.

Accept that you will have to address conflict

Dealing with conflicts within your team can involve some difficult and potentially awkward conversations. But being willing to address any problems with the greater good of the team in mind is key to effective leadership and building a healthy team environment. Failing to deal with challenges can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including a rise in absenteeism, reduced innovation and higher staff turnover.

Encourage healthy conflict

In an ideal world, everyone would have the tools to handle disagreements in a healthy way whenever they arise. But this isn’t always the case. To promote healthy conflicts, you have to start with trust. Employees have to feel like leaders are pulling in the same direction as them, with the betterment of the business in mind.

When team members feel like everyone’s pulling in a different direction to them and they aren’t given the opportunity to express their feelings constructively, disagreements are more likely to result in unhealthy confrontations. In this case, there is very little to be gained from either the individuals involved or the wider company. Healthy conflict involves active listening, balanced conversations and an open mind from all parties – issues can’t be resolved through a one-way dialogue.

Create a supportive environment

Ultimately, one of the most important ways leaders can help to manage conflicts is by establishing a supportive and open workplace culture. Creating a positive environment where feedback and constructive criticism is valued and encouraged will go a long way in fostering a collaborative, responsible team.

More often than not, handling a conflict isn’t about identifying who’s right and who’s wrong – it’s about finding the value in both sets of opinions. When team members are encouraged to share their views openly and constructively, everyone benefits.

Make conflict resolution a shared responsibility

A key part of teamwork and effective collaboration is knowing when to delegate responsibility to other team members, and that rings true when it comes to managing conflicts. Empower your employees to make their own decisions and find some level of compromise, only escalating the matter if a solution can’t be found.

While it remains the responsibility of leaders to uphold the values of their team, staff members are unlikely to respond well to micromanagement everytime a situation arises. Instead, give your team the tools to deal with things as they see fit, while also providing them the option of mediation for any larger, more complex issues. Equipping your team in this way could mean running conflict resolution training sessions, or simply establishing strategies that everyone can follow. Setting these expectations ahead of time also gives the team the confidence to deal with any problems, rather than shying away from them.

It’s also worth noting clear leadership goes beyond your title. It’s how you conduct yourself as a person of influence. What are the types of behaviours you want to encourage within your team? Set that example and you’re already making progress towards leading a better team.