For small businesses, making the most out of every team member’s strengths is a must. It’s the only way to compete in the global economy, which often pits upstart businesses against far-larger and more established rivals. Doing so means establishing a culture of collaboration that encourages every employee to work with their peers to form teams that are greater than the sum of their parts.
That’s not just marketing-speak. There’s real science that backs it up. A Stanford research study confirmed that people work best when working collectively with others, so there’s a defined, real-world benefit to encouraging collaboration. In practice, however, this is sometimes easier said than done. To help here is a road map that entrepreneurs and small business leaders can follow to increase employee collaboration and unlock the untapped potential within their workforces.
Building the Right Teams
The first step in the process of encouraging collaboration is to create teams of individuals that will succeed together. That means taking a close look at everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, with no pulled punches. This is something that many small businesses don’t get right—for obvious reasons. After all, nobody ever wants to admit to their failings, and most don’t feel comfortable pointing out the shortcomings of their peers, either. To overcome this, small businesses should create an anonymous peer review system to inform their evaluations. It’s a great way to get a clearer picture of which employees might mesh best into an effective team. Beware, though—the contents of peer reviews should never be shared outside of management, or they can do more harm than good.
Provide Knowledge-Sharing and Collaboration Tools
With the right teams in place, the next thing to focus on is providing the right tools to encourage collaboration. For small businesses, platforms like Slack are a great place to start, since they offer a one-stop-shop for communications, file sharing, and scheduling. They make it far easier for employees to get into the habit of working with the members of their team, toward whatever goals they’re expected to meet. Getting employees to collaborate on internal information also makes it possible for workers to draw on skills and knowledge from outside their own area of expertise, and from outside the scope of the teams they work with. That can foster inter-team collaboration, which keeps the business’s goals at the center of everyone’s efforts.
Balance the Workload
In any group, there will always be individuals that handle teamwork better than others. For that reason, there is a natural tendency for those individuals to get involved in every aspect of what the team is doing, while others take a much less active role. That tendency can lead to bottlenecks that sap the performance of the team as a whole, and must be corrected for effective collaboration. One of the best ways to do this is to employ task tracking software, either through a larger collaboration tool or as a stand-alone app. This helps managers maintain visibility into which team members are doing their part, and allows for redistribution of work when conditions change.
Reward Team Performance
The last step small businesses must undertake to increase collaboration is to create a system that rewards top-performing teams. This reinforces the value of teamwork in a tangible way while calling out good work to serve as an example for others to follow. To do it, small businesses must establish performance benchmarks for their teams to meet, and make each team’s goal public. That will provide each team with a sense that they’re working for each other, as well as for the broader aims of the business. That helps to foster the kind of collaborative spirit that underpins a solid cooperative culture, which is the real key to unlocking the potential of a small business’s workforce.
Make Changes When Necessary
Once teams are up and running, it’s also important for small business managers to recognize that the steps listed here aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it solution. As teams grow into working together, it could become clear that a reallocation of resources or employees between teams is required. Every time this happens, managers should follow the same guidelines they used to build their initial teams. Doing this is not indicative of some failure in the team building process, but rather a reflection of the changing needs of the business itself.
The good news is that once employees become used to collaborating well with others, they will start to move seamlessly between teams as needed. At that point, a collaborative culture will have been established, and everyone should be working to their maximum potential. For a small business, this is one of the keys to long-term success—everyone working together to punch above their weight and succeed, no matter who the competition may be.