Ah, collaboration. That term can mean very different things depending on a person’s previous experiences.

For some, the memory of a professor-mandated group project in college brings to mind a lopsided affair, with a vocal group leader taking the credit, while a few workhorses did the real heavy lifting (and that one guy just put his name on the project got credit for it).

In my case, I usually put all the elements together and presented it. Then again, I’m a talker and extrovert.

I’ve also had some good collaboration experiences, from my social services background. The agency I worked at truly had collaboration down properly. We had monthly meetings with the entire department, where we invited ideas and solved problems while examining case studies over juice, bagels and cream cheese.

Those collaborative experiences really elevated what could have been a top-down, drab meeting, into an opportunity to get around bottlenecks and gain valuable insights that might have been missed otherwise. Our core values were on display, and we were better able to serve our clients.

With big companies, the impulse to put on blinders and stick to your basic responsibilities can be strong.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and each person may have a piece of the puzzle a company is trying to solve in their metaphorical pocket. The key is good communication.

Let’s look at three steps to help drive collaboration in your company:

#1: Look within

Brilliance can come from anywhere, so find the innovators within your company.

“Ask for ideas from your employees,” says Maria Pinelli, Americas Director for Strategic Growth Markets at Ernst & Young. “They have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. Encourage them to contribute to the innovation dialogue.”

Did you know Band-Aids were invented by a guy whose wife frequently cut herself while cooking? Earle Dickinson just happened to work at Johnson & Johnson. His innovation was a hit after he pitched it to his boss. Dickinson eventually became Vice President of the company.

Others who held key positions at huge companies also worked their way up from humble beginnings. Sidney Weinberg, CEO of Goldman Sachs for 39 years, started as a janitor, while Ursula Burns, once an intern, rose to become the Chairman and CEO of Xerox. With the right environment and opportunities, others could copy that!

#2: Collaborate effectively

Hold regular forums and dialogues and maintain a positive atmosphere, where creativity is encouraged and contributions are rewarded.

“Every team member is a knowledge worker in the information age,” says Evan Rosen, Executive Director of the Culture of Collaboration Institute. “Everybody has something to contribute in making decisions and improving processes, products, and services.”

Hershey, Shell, GE, Dell, Samsung, Starbucks and many others hold regular “open innovation” seminars for employees, and with good reason: Companies with highly engaged workers can grow revenue two-and-a-half times greater than those with low engagement.

#3: Use collaboration tools

For the best results, go beyond email. Enable your employees to be productive and innovative by providing real-time tools like video and mobile collaboration. Companies using collaboration software see 25 percent improvements in productivity, and overall, 90 percent of businesses that use social technologies report benefits to their business.

“UC (unified communications) can create incredible value when the organizational culture and structure encourage team members to engage one another, make decisions together, and improve processes, products, and services in concert,” says Rosen.

A big part of effectiveness in that area comes down to focus, and the time spent on simply processing communications across various methods can pile up quickly.

According to data from International Data Corporation, employees spend 28 percent of their day with email, more than any other workplace activity. Making matter worse, 72 percent of email is spam, although thanks to increasingly-effective filters, less of that clogs your inbox now than a decade ago.

Communication in the workplace is often largely nonverbal, with instant messaging, texts and email making up 65 percent of the interaction between colleagues. Emoticons, anyone?

Then there’s the cloud, which can also be a powerful tool for collaboration. Ninety-three percent of C-level executives agree that cloud-based collaboration stimulates innovation.

If companies can foster healthy communication practices, utilize the evolving tools for collaboration and inspire their employees to innovate, who knows what the Next Big Thing will be?

Visit Avaya’s Innovations magazine to learn more about how collaboration can help your business.