Whether everyone in your company works from the same office or you’re part of a virtual team, engaging with others who have complementary perspectives can lead to increased productivity.
The setback of collaboration, however, is the possibility of a series of endless meetings to discuss various problems or issues without making any real headway, warns Nate Kontny, two-time Y Combinator graduate and founder of Draft, a collaborative editing tool that allows users to read, comment on and edit each other’s content, and clearly see and reject changes made by others.
Here are seven of his top strategies for collaborating efficiently within a team.
1. Have an agenda.
Are you trying to engage readers of your blog? Is your team working on increasing conversion rates? Does the speed of your website need improvement? Figuring out specific problems ahead of scheduled meetings ensures the time spent collaborating will be productive and efficient.
2. Keep your meetings short and sweet — and productive.
A common complaint in corporate culture is an endless series of meetings in which little is accomplished. This can be averted by setting a time limit for each meeting and agreeing to not only stick to the agenda but to also come up with specific strategies to experiment with by the end of the meeting.
“I don’t really like brainstorming meetings because most of the time it just degenerates into this conversation [with people saying] ‘I don’t think that’s going to work,’” Kontny says. “We don’t know what’s going to work unless we actually set up some experiments and try this stuff,” he adds. Testing and tracking the outcome can help you strategize what the next step will be and is more productive than endless discussions.
The same is true for conference calls. “I make sure there’s some sort of problem that we’re solving that we can all get around, and as soon as we come up with some options, I like to get off the phone as soon as possible,” Kontny explains.
3. Start small and iterate.
So you’ve had a short meeting and attempted to troubleshoot the problems, but what is your next step? Come up with a quick solution.
“If I want to solve a problem, my goal is to get something out the door in just a couple hours,” Kontny says.
As a software developer, he can spend a day or two enhancing and developing a piece of software. But his goal when troubleshooting is to come up with a minimalist solution within a couple of hours and then test his proposed solution. “Then I can see if it starts to solve the problem and then I can make it better after that, and better after that. I really just like iterating on stuff,” he says.
Instead of spending weeks or even months discussing and developing a strategy, you and your co-workers must agree to first tackle a small project. If the results are positive, move on to the next issue.
4. Allow large chunks of individual work time.
Collaboration isn’t always the solution.
“When I need to work and I want to use some of those things that I just learned, I need to work by myself,” Kontny explains. “I need focus. I feel like too many people get stuck in this teamwork mode where they meet for a brainstorming session and now they have all their work stuck inside a team and nobody takes any ownership.”
Instead, follow up a back-and-forth conversation with long periods of alone time to test and complete the work without interruption. This will allow members of the team to complete their share of the work outlined during collaborative meeting sessions.
5. Determine — and be clear about — who is responsible for what tasks.
Kontny created Draft to allow him and his wife to collaborate together on editing his work. She can leave comments, rearrange content for a better flow and rewrite specific sections. However, he has the final say over whether to ignore or incorporate her edits. Disagreements, however, are quick to flare up when it’s unclear who has ownership or the ultimate say over a piece of work, whether it’s a piece of content or a larger project.
Kontny is intrigued by the concept of holocracy, a system of organizational structure used by companies such as Zappos and Medium, where authority is distributed through self-organizing teams rather than through a traditional hierarchy.
“You break your company into these small groups and every person in the group gets a set of roles and responsibilities and accountabilities that are really well-defined, and they are the master of their domain,” he explains. Best of all, everybody knows who is in charge of each group. The leader has the final say on a specific decision within that area, and takes responsibility for good or for ill.
Even a CEO can’t dictate what must be done in a group he’s not a part of. “Everyone knows who has the power to make the decision. You’re free to share your opinion, but one person is going to make the call and make that decision as best they can,” he explains.
6. Find out a way to receive feedback and suggestions.
If you and your co-workers are passionate about your business, there will be heated arguments. Kontny sees that as good and healthy. “If you think you’re not going to have arguments with people you collaborate with, you’re deluding yourself. Arguments are what make your companies stronger.”
Offering brutally honest feedback (as exemplified by Pixar’s animation studio) and making revisions based on that feedback could lead to tremendous improvement. “In the end, it’ll make the business better and the product better,” Kontny says.
7. Study the data.
Whether you’re running a/b split tests, tracking conversions or checking to see if your prospects are incorporating a new tool, looking at specific metrics and sharing them with your entire team can help you see what’s working and what isn’t. Just make sure to determine what you’re tracking ahead of time, so you can continue to iterate and grow.
Have any collaboration tips of your own? Share away in the comments.
This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at Yaelwrites.com.