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In today’s multifaceted and multinational organizations, cross-functional and virtual teams have become commonplace. Comprised of diverse employees with a wide range of expertise, perspectives, and interests, these teams are often capable of delivering better and faster results while also developing unique solutions to complex problems.

Working within the context of a team, however, can present a number of challenges. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen automatically, especially for people who are used to working on their own or within specific departmental environments. Fortunately, many of the skills necessary for facilitating better communication in the workplace can also help to enhance collaboration. By working to develop these skills, team members can spend more time contributing to solutions and less time working at cross purposes.

Learn to Listen

Good communication is absolutely critical to any team’s success. While it’s especially important for virtual teams that include team members from different geographic locations, in-person teams can be derailed just as easily by poor communication. Team members must first recognize that communication is a two-way exchange of information. Delivering the message is only one half of that equation, and if team members are unable to listen to and understand what others have to say, the team can become dysfunctional very quickly.

By developing active listening skills, people can learn to better understand, empathize, and respond to ideas, suggestions, and concerns. Restating your understanding and summarizing what others have said helps eliminate misunderstandings. Asking questions and responding in a balanced way (e.g., expressing both positives and concerns) keeps conversations oriented toward finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems. In many team situations, people may be hesitant to bring up issues that are bothering them, so it may be necessary to dedicate time to having candid conversations that bring potential concerns to light.

Address Conflict

Conflict is often seen as something negative, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with people having differences of opinion or mismatched expectations. The problem comes when the conflict is not managed effectively and leads to negative outcomes. Ignoring conflict in the workplace will almost always lead to rising tensions and reduced productivity, while making collaboration difficult, if not impossible. It’s critical that team members find ways to manage differences quickly, fairly, and decisively whenever they emerge.

Effective leaders generally take steps to seek out potential sources of conflict to intervene proactively and start a conversation about possible resolutions. Exposing these conflicts can lead to a number of positive outcomes. Team members get the opportunity to have their voices heard and understand what issues are important to others. Working together to resolve conflict provides the perfect venue for collaboration because team members have to identify common ground and points of interdependence as the basis of agreement. Since conflicts may not be raised in a timely manner and often fester in a virtual team environment, it’s important to identify them and address them as quickly as possible.

Make an Effort to Get to Know Team Members

Regardless of industry, people spend a lot of time with their coworkers, often more time than they spend with their families or friends. Even in short-term team situations, people may spend a great deal of time in close contact with fellow team members. Effective collaboration is easier to achieve when team members have built rapport and have a solid relationship.

Teams can establish that relationship with a variety of group team-building activities that provide shared experiences, but individuals also need to proactively get to know their teammates. While there’s a fine line between getting to know someone and being intrusive, asking questions or starting conversations about interests and activities can help build rapport and establish a climate of trust between team members. When people feel comfortable confiding in others without fear of judgement, they can be more forthcoming with concerns and more willing to make suggestions that can lead to productive collaboration.

Influence With Impact

Many teams consist of colleagues who come from different departments and therefore don’t possess clear authority. Even if someone is designated as a team leader, they may not be given the same decision power they might have in their own department. In these situations, team members must find ways to persuade others to carry out certain projects or change behaviors without relying on position authority.

Team members can use a number of influencing strategies in these situations:

  • Demonstrate Credibility: People are more likely to take ideas and proposals seriously when the person presenting them has a track record of success or a reputation for speaking the truth.
  • Find Common Ground: It’s easier to build consensus when people have a shared set of values and goals. Even in the event of disagreements, appealing to the team’s common, overarching purpose can remind everyone of the necessity for negotiation and compromise.
  • Clarify Roles: Team members can often resolve conflicts and manage challenges by establishing the roles and responsibilities of their members. Identifying who is entrusted with making final decisions in the absence of consensus or determining who is responsible for approving tasks, for example, can improve collaboration and avoid conflict and confusion in pressure situations.
  • Build Trust: People are more likely to cooperate with someone who they trust to be open and honest with them. Demonstrating reliability by keeping promises and following through on commitments can help to build that sense of trust within a team.

Collaborating in a team may be challenging at times, but there are a number of skills that can help team members overcome these difficulties. From communication strategies to influencing tactics, these skills can enhance collaboration in all kinds of teams and, as a result, improve individual and overall team performance.