Teams are a lot different now to even just a few years ago: we spend 50% more time in collaborative activities than two decades ago. And we’re on twice as many teams as we were five years ago. Companies expect us to collaborate and work together on a daily basis, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re based in the office or at home.
Teams aren’t just growing in size and number either. More often than not, teams are split across company departments, age and experience, and even geographical location. This has led to a rise in virtual teams. And where there are more teams, there are more barriers. From physical office space to unused technology, it’s important to make sure nothing hinders your team’s ability to work well and collaborate. So, here are ten tips to help your teams work cohesively, creatively and productively, whether they’re in the office together, or spread around the world.
Changing company culture
1. Start changing behaviours at the top
To be successful, change needs to start from the top and trickle down. If employees are told to start behaving a certain way, but it isn’t mirrored in the executive teams or senior management, what sort of precedent does that set? Likewise, ensuring cross-team collaboration requires strong leadership. Build bridges between departments by setting goals that different team members need to work together to achieve. Involve all members of a team and don’t isolate certain departments.
2. Set teams up for success
If team members are coming from different departments or locations, changing aims and agendas is vital. Departments may have their own goals, so it’s important to ensure that all team members focus on the same mission. Set up a team charter: outline the purpose, objectives, roles and responsibilities, expectations, and time-frames. That way, everyone is aligned and knows what to aim for. Likewise, when creating teams, build on existing relationships. Harvard Business Review found that when 20% to 40% of team members were well connected, the entire team had strong collaboration from the start.
3. Make communication easy
Teamwork in and out of the workplace goes wrong when people stop talking. So, you need to create an environment where communicating is easy. This might be structural: giving people spaces where they can have impromptu meetings without interrupting colleagues. Or using tech to include all team members. According to a McKinsey study on social technologies, 80% of employees who use message-based platforms communicate more often with others in teams, compared to 65% of employees who don’t. Microsoft Teams is a chat-based workspace, so people can stay engaged and informed, without being flooded with emails and meeting requests.
4. Identify the obstacles stopping teams from working together
Despite having the right members, the right behaviours and the right technology, sometimes teams still struggle to work together. If this is the case, the following obstacles may block progress. Firstly, look at physical barriers. An office full of walls, cubicles and private spaces doesn’t lend itself to dynamic teamwork. Successful collaboration comes from having an open space to work in. Next, language and cultural barriers arise when diversity isn’t at the heart of the business. If this is happening, it’s the root of a wider problem and senior management must address it. In an organisation with structured hierarchies, status can affect communication and cause silos in teams. If cross-team collaboration happens at the top, it’s likely to filter down.
5. Teach employees to value ‘self-care’
While teamwork is vital and collaboration necessary for creativity and producing impactful work, employees shouldn’t feel overburdened by their responsibilities. Ensure that employees know how to say ‘no’ to taking on too much, and that they have enough time to concentrate on deep work. One way to do this is encouraging people to block time out. Just as you would book time in your diary for a team meeting, ensure employees book their day out if they need to concentrate and be left alone for a while.
Picking the right technology
6. Find the right security measures for your business
Employees can’t work productively and collaboratively if they’re constantly remembering passwords and requesting permission to view files on external systems and platforms. Finding one piece of technology that ticks every teamwork box is the dream, and Microsoft 365 could be the answer. It’s a comprehensive, cloud-based solution that protects your people, data and devices without interrupting productivity. Your employees can work from one platform, and work together without needing various sign-ins and links to different sites.
7. Help employees – remote and on-site – to understand security best practice
Employee behaviour causes around 80% of security-related breaches, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to promote security best practice. Train employees to create secure passwords and emphasise the need for careful management. When working remotely, choose devices that enable multi-factor authentication, and ensure that your remote working policy has a robust security section. For ultimate peace of mind, choose software with built-in security features. Microsoft 365 lets you create policies and rules around your employees’ devices, so you can eliminate the chance of security breaches when working remotely.
8. Identify what devices would suit your employees
Entire teams are rarely based in the same space anymore. Your devices need to cope with this disparity, and offer the same level of performance and productivity, wherever they are. From our latest research around company culture in the digital era, 58% of UK leaders say that augmenting their workforce with technology is more important for productivity than simply automating tasks. We’re seeing a device-led transformation occur thanks to this growing desire to work remotely. More and more, people want devices that support their life and work-style. Remote workers need powerful devices that enable mobility, while employees in the office need devices that help with teamwork, like screen sharing abilities. To collaborate and function as a team, your employees need to move seamlessly from one device to the next, without worrying about losing work or productivity. At Microsoft, we build our productivity, security and collaboration solutions together with our devices, so both work seamlessly together.
9. Experiment with different collaboration tools to find the best fit
Not all collaboration tools will suit all workplaces. 45% of millennials say their preferred workplace collaboration tool is instant messaging, while 36% of baby boomers believe it’s the least effective. So, give your employees a choice. If a platform includes chat and email, people can use what they prefer. Then, as company culture begins to change, you already have more innovative tools, like chat-based workspaces, installed and ready to use. The best collaboration tool is a device. The Surface Hub lets you connect with colleagues and business partners wherever they are – whether that’s down the road or in a different country. So, you can continue to work as a team, even when you’re not sat together.
10. Promote the healthy use of tools and technology
When you have new collaboration tools, it’s easy to get carried away. It’s important to establish a collaborative culture before implementing new tech, otherwise the overload of software can create more problems than it solves. Take advantage of demos and explainers to understand how to use each tool. Show people the tools that are best suited to specific purposes. For example, you might want all team updates given ad-hoc on a chat-based tool, and all documents saved on team-accessible tabs – rather than legions of emails flying around between team members.
 Collaboration Trends and Technology: A Survey of Knowledge Workers, Dimensional Research, 2015