Small Business Collaboration: Make It Social, Flexible & Easy to Enter

Date: Jul 31, 2014 8:30:00 AM

If you believe small business collaboration is the what its all about, then you're probably always on the lookout for tips and ideas for creating a more collaborative environment at the office.

At Fanhub, we eat, breathe, and sleep collaboration, and, as result, we have some strong opinions on how to create and get the most out of your collaboration efforts. Here are three of them.

1. Make it Social.

Getting people to work together towards a common goal, which is the very definition of collaboration, is the easy (or, at least, easier) part, especially if it's a company-wide edict. Getting people to work well together can take time. So what can you do to help decrease the amount of time? Think social.

Creating a warm, social environment is an effective way to put people at ease and to show them that collaboration is supposed to be a positive thing—even fun—as opposed to drudgery or something that promotes the competitive, conspiratorial sentiments that work silos generate. 

There are many ways to foster a social culture, including the following:

  • Consider the floor plan and layout of your office. We're not suggesting you gut your offices or go all-out and create an open floor plan (unless, of course, it makes sense for your organization). Rather, think about how you might naturally create areas where people can mingle and casually share ideas. Perhaps it's adding a "candy bar" to an area of the office along with some comfy beanbag chairs. Maybe it's turning one of your conference rooms into a gaming room/lounge, where people can take a break. You get the idea.

  • Hold regular (but optional) "mix and mingle" events where people can do just that: mix, mingle, and get to know one another. These shouldn't be work related—at least not officially (if people end up talking about work, that's fine). Offer different events at different times of day so you can accommodate various schedules: breakfast events, catered lunches, ice cream socials, dinner events, and so forth.

  • Organize a non-work-related collaboration project. If you want people to become comfortable collaborating with one another, then allow them space to practice without fear that the results will affect their jobs. Organizing a company-wide volunteer project, such as a food drive, house-building project, or some other "into the streets" initiative, can help people ease into collaboration without the stress that comes with job-related tasks.

2. Make it flexible.

Collaboration isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. How your organization collaborates is up to you. And here's something you should keep in mind: don't be rigid. Collaboration, by its very nature, needs wiggle room to grow, move, and evolve. That's why one organization's collaborative learning environment will look a lot different from another organization's collaborative learning environment.

How do you create the right level of flexibility? Consider the following:

  • Get input from the frontlines. As in, you should be aware of the types of employees you have (what generation they belong to, whether they're introverts or extroverts, and so forth) and you should find out what sort of collaborative environment they want.

  • Offer the right mix of collaborative tools. From video chat software to collaborative CRMs, there's a plethora of collaborative tools from which to choose. Remember this, however: more isn't necessarily better. You want to find the right mix of tools so that it helps make collaboration go smoothly. Yes, this will likely require some experimentation, but that's what free trials are all about, right?

  • Audit how it's going on a regular basis. How are you going to know what to change (if anything) if you don't monitor how collaboration is working for everyone? Measure teams feedback against one other, conduct surveys, seek anonymous suggestions, and review any other data that will help you adjust your initiative so that you get the most out of your collaborative environment.

3. Make it easy to enter (and exit).

One hundred percent collaboration one hundred percent of the time is not a smart strategy. Variety is the spice of life and a good thing. Sometimes people need breaks, even from things they enjoy like group projects, open workspaces, and lively lounges where people are talking and brainstorming.

In other words, the collaborative environment you set up should allow for an escape, when needed. Think "solitude zones" or providing access to plenty of noise canceling headphones that people can use without explanation.

Your collaboration plan should include a firm understanding of each person's level of collaboration "interest." For those true introverts who prefer working alone, perhaps you require less collaboration or you give the person a choice between a couple of projects as a way to compromise. Likewise, if someone thrives in a collaborative environment, perhaps you find more projects for him or her to be involved in, or perhaps you task this person with mentoring other employees, especially new hires.

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Are you a fan of small business collaboration? What tips do you have for creating a productive collaborative environment? We love hearing from people who live, breathe, and eat it, like we do! Share your ideas in the comments.

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