As the manager of a team of professionals, there are a lot of questions I constantly have to ask myself. How do I get the most out of my team? How do I help them work together more effectively and be more productive? How do I challenge them to develop, both personally and professionally?
While there are many potential ways to answer those questions, I find that, as with many business problems, the solution boils down to a single word: collaboration. Collaboration touches everything we do at work. We all have to work together at some point or another to be successful and fostering better collaboration for my team is always at the forefront of my mind.
However, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about team collaboration requires us to drill down for a moment, moving beyond the idea of the team and taking a long, hard look at each individual.
Everyone Collaborates Differently
There’s so much emphasis placed on teamwork that we can forget that each member of our team is a unique individual with their own workstyle, preferences, likes and dislikes. Instead of recognizing and celebrating these differences, we try to shoehorn things like collaboration into one big team-wide mold.
This isn’t necessarily a wholly bad concept; bringing any group together requires some degree of compromise, and everyone’s not going to be happy all the time. And while technology empowers any possible type of collaboration, from real-time meetings to near-time team workspaces and everything in between, choices still have to be made.
However, the onus is on us as managers to identify and recognize the “collaboration styles” of each of our team members and to tailor our approaches accordingly. I’ve managed team members that live and thrive in meetings, feeding off the energy of other attendees to power their productivity. I’ve also had team members that sit quietly through a meeting without saying a word, only to email a brilliant takeaway to the team after the fact.
It isn’t so much about catering to each team member’s individual whims. Rather, it’s about understanding what makes each of your team comfortable enough to perform at their highest level. If I didn’t understand these different collaboration styles, I might think that the meeting-heavy team member was wasting time, or that the silent-attendee member wasn’t contributing. But by knowing where their comfort zones are, I can rest assured as their manager that they’re being challenged and producing their best work.
Over the years at PGi, we’ve learned that collaboration—or more specifically, collaborators—are all different. For my fellow managers out there, it’s up to us to learn and understand how each of our team members works best with others, and to facilitate those preferences and strengths to bring out the best in our people.
Image credit: Creative Sustainability