Breaking bad collaboration habits in a small business

What are the bad collaboration habits in your company, and how do you break them? Meera Sapra gives some top tips.

Bad habits are hard to break. Even harder is breaking bad habits are part of your company’s work culture.

Collaboration is a fundamental part of many of our jobs, whether we work in an office, from home or on the road. Bad collaboration habits can massively reduce productivity. And that may in itself put some employees off actively collaborating with their colleagues.

But this is an impossible way to work. Collaboration is no longer just about sharing ideas or making our work more efficient. There are now so many more dimensions to our work that one man can’t do it alone.

Take ‘making an announcement’ as an example: ten years ago you could just pass it on to your PR team, and the job was done. But now you’ll want to write blogs, add website updates, write Facebook and Twitter posts, upload YouTube videos and so on. The number of skills involved requires masses of collaboration, and sometimes with skills external to your organisation. Never before has collaboration been so important.

Email ping pong

If you use email to make decisions or discuss tasks that require input from several people, you can easily end up to-ing and fro-ing, and wasting everyone’s time. We’ve all been in a position where:

  • we’ve been in an email thread which is too long for people to follow;
  • we’ve found ourselves discussing the same topic over disparate email threads and then struggling to combine all the different input;
  • or just struggling to get everyone on the same page

Not only is ’email ping pong’ unproductive, but recent research by occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell found it can have negative health repercussions on employees.

Instead of depending on emails, a more organised way of collaborating is through creating separate project portals or workspaces for different teams, getting the relevant people to follow the group and contribute to the project. This way everyone knows which team to look to if they need help with a specific task or discussion.

And most importantly, decisions can be made faster as the critical threads don’t get buried underneath the debris of excess email.

Death by meeting

Whilst meetings may have once been a ‘necessary evil’ in the workplace, these days they can be a disaster for productivity. When you consider that a 30-minute meeting attended by ten people takes up a total of 300 minutes (that’s five hours)! of potential productivity, you begin to realise this may not be the best use of everyone’s time.

Use of time aside, some people need a little time to mull different possibilities over before coming out with a great idea. If you’ve only 30 minutes of collaboration time, you may miss out on the best idea. Online forums are great for discussions that don’t need to be in real time, allowing for more personal deliberation.

Meetings are a great place to work together and collaborate, whether that’s through sharing ideas over a brainstorm, or for a bit of team bonding. Save meetings for when they’re genuinely useful.

The con of conference calls

Group conference calls often replace in-person meetings as they can be scheduled irrespective of geographical distance. But like meeting in person, fixing one time slot which all participants must attend is not the greatest way to engage them to work. You also can’t ascertain whether you have their attention – they could be doing something else or having a nap (true story, one time I heard someone snoring over a conference call.)

Like meetings, avoid conference calls unless they’re necessary. If you need everyone to contribute to a discussion in real time, create a chat room for project participants. These are less intrusive then a conference call, and allow people to catch-up or recap by just scrolling back up the conversation. People work best when they’re can think, focus and participate at their own pace, not struggling to be heard above the rabble.

The world of work is evolving, but so are our tools. Businesses shouldn’t trap themselves by following old collaboration practices with so many more options available, which allow teams to be more effective and efficient.

These may take a while to embed, so they must be implemented from the top and senior people must set an example of effective use to encourage people to use them. But once they become embedded, productivity levels will soar.

Meera Sapra, is senior marketing manager at Zoho.

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