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These past few weeks have been crazy busy at Wagepoint as we have been working to launch our US payroll product, finish up our free collaboration tool, start production on our rewards and recognition app, all while servicing customers who are using our Canadian payroll app!
Trust me, there’s never a boring minute at our startup, but it just recently occurred to me that for such a small team of 12 people, about 70% of whom work remotely, we manage to get a lot done every day!
And the reason why we make it work is because we really kick-ass at collaboration. So, from one small business to another, we wanted to share our experience with you in seven actionable tips to help you collaborate better.
Collaboration, not to be confused with coordination or cooperation, is the act of working with someone to produce or create something. Even though the definition seems alarmingly simple, a lot of companies struggle with getting their teams to behave in this way, and it isn’t for a lack of collaboration tools!
So, what was it about our team at Wagepoint that was allowing us to be so collaborative with each other?
1. Start at the Top, Right from the Beginning
The article “Eight Ways to build Collaborative Teams” talks about the qualities a true collaborative team would exhibit. They would “share knowledge freely, learn from each other, shift workloads with flexibility to help out in the case of unexpected bottlenecks, help each other complete jobs and meet deadlines, and finally, share resources”.
These qualities have to be fostered by the leadership at the top in order to create a culture of collaboration throughout the company. Right from Day 1, the employee needs to understand that collaboration is a part and parcel of working at your company. It’s not about helping yourself, it’s about putting the team first – that’s the mantra we follow at Wagepoint, and it is one of the first things I remember our CEO telling me when I started working at the company.
2. Share your Vision
Every Friday, you can find our CEO on Skype chatting animatedly with the team about what’s going on with the company, our future plans and how important the team contribution is in making it happen. Sure enough, at the end of each call, everyone is jazzed up.
As the CEO / Founder of your company, you have a game plan for your company and it’s more than just a high level document. It’s about linking everyday tasks back to the larger vision of the company.
The simple truth is that if you want your employees to be excited about working with you to make your company succeed, they need to know what your vision is, have a clear goal in mind and they need to know that they have the power to shape it with you. What’s more inspirational than that!
Brainstorming is one way of collaborating… and it’s a whole lot of fun! If a problem needs some creative solving, we just get everybody on Skype and start talking. No facilitating, no agenda, just straight-up talking – everybody is throwing in their ideas, lots of talking over each other, excited laughing, or thoughtful silence. In the end, we sum up the ideas / solutions we like best, hang up and move on to getting it done. Over time the behaviour learned by the group is to go through these motions quickly so the process becomes really efficient.
Try it! Even if you don’t walk away with a solution to your problem, I can guarantee you’ll have a blast.
4. Empower your employees to make the right or wrong choices
If all companies operated on this principle, I personally think that people would be a whole lot happier at work!
There’s no penalty for making a mistake at Wagepoint, and precisely for that reason, each and everyone us on the team thinks about our decisions and its impact. Even if we make a mistake, our CEO never makes us feel bad about it – ever!
My advice – you hired these people for a reason, now just trust them to do what’s right. If you’ve covered points 1 and 2 in your company, your employees are good to go.
5. Communicate every day and often
Keep your lines of communication open at all times and practice of freedom of speech. Be honest with each other, provide updates every day, and put your hand up if you are drowning – need I elaborate more?
Oh, and yea, sometimes just call each other just to shoot the breeze. Skype, Google Hangouts, whatever floats your boat. Here’s a handy list of available communication tools
6. Be transparent
At startups, transparency isn’t really a problem because people talk a lot more and decisions are typically made as a group. But when more people come on board, there’s no reason for that attitude to change – the responsibility to keep the culture going lies with each team member and that has to be part of the expectation set right at the start.
In her article “What makes Collaboration actually work in a company”, Kare Anderson talks about the need to be “open and transparent about the answers to three questions – who made the decision, who is accountable for the outcomes of the decision, and is that accountability real.” When you do that, the people in your company will “spend far less time questioning how or why a decision was made.”
7. Encourage teamwork
I spend a fair bit of time working with our developers, especially during testing. Instead of doing it by myself, I loop in the developer and we go through the list of fixes together. You might think it’s a waste of time, but you’d be surprised by how much we get done, working this way.
Sometimes, it’s better to have at least one more person beside you to get a job completed. It isn’t because you can’t do it on your own, but it’s about making you feel like you are supported. And the ideas that comes out of that teamwork is a happy bonus.
Don’t penalize your employees if they are both working on the same project. At the end of the day, it’s about your employees helping each other out when they need it.