“Great, we can collab!” That was what one of my colleagues said to me a few weeks back, which being the geek that I am, inspired me to read about collaboration (as well as think about whether I could ever utter the word collab and not sound like an idiot).

Fortunately for me, a lot has been written quite recently about the science behind collaborative work environments. Here are a few tips for leaders to create an environment that encourages sustained, successful collaboration.

Practically speaking

Collaborations are not just for artists and tech companies. The benefits of bringing people together for a common purpose can result in creative ideas, better teamwork, increased ideation and improved productivity.

Every work environment can benefit from one or more of those characteristics. The first step is to figure out what we want out of a more collaborative environment.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review has a series of articles on collaboration that illustrate the practical benefits of working together. These benefits provide a great starting point for thinking about reasons for implementation in our workspaces.

For example, would collaboration help us expand our reach by adding resources we do not currently have? Can it help us solve a problem that keeps resurfacing or persists by including different perspectives? Would working together make us more efficient? Looking at the ways nonprofits apply collaborative approaches can help us create our own list.

Science to the rescue!

With our reasons for wanting to collaborate at least loosely outlined, the next step is to understand the science behind it. Harvard Business Review cracks the code of collaboration in the November/ December 2019 magazine and provides several videos. In a nutshell, they posit that instead of values or the physical work environment, the key to collaboration circles around a set of skills.

Understanding and then teaching the skills necessary for collaboration is the next step for leaders looking to encourage it in their workplaces.

Those skills include the ability to listen, ask questions, empathize, give and receive feedback, and be clear. While those sound like skills few of us should have problems exemplifying as well as supporting, two other concepts may be a bit more challenging.

The first is teaching people to “lead and follow.” Consider any cop movie or crime show when the Feds come in — there is an inevitable tussle regarding jurisdiction. Leading and following is the ability of the experts in all fields to come together and allow for the expertise of others to be expressed and evaluated fairly instead of arguing about who is in charge.

The second is training people to have “win-win” interactions. This is the idea that, to truly succeed, we have to start by understanding what the other people in the situation need.

The paper’s authors gave two people an orange and without either knowing, told one they needed it for the peel and the other for the juice. If the participants would have talked to each other about their needs, they could have easily both gotten what they wanted. However, this rarely happened.

Next steps

Once we understand the benefits of collaboration in our own workplaces, we can begin to develop ways to train our teams in the skills needed to successfully collaborate. While it may be that most of the skills will be within our ability to explain and exemplify, we should also take the time to explore ways we can improve our own skills before we embark on this adventure.