Skip to content

5 ways to prime your team for collaborative excellence

Jotform CEO Aytekin Tank outlines a strategy for balancing collaboration with healthy competition.
A grayscale image of a man inside a black frame with yellow, gray, and black geometric patterns in the background, subtly illustrating collaborative team skills.
Unsplash / Michael Maasen / Big Think / Vincent Romero
Key Takeaways
  • Collaboration boosts creativity and productivity, leading to happier, less stressed, and more engaged employees.
  • Automation and AI can play a key role in building team familiarity and strong soft skills.
  • While collaboration is golden, over-collaboration can stifle productivity.

Tennis fans will remember the epic rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. On grass, clay, and hardcourt, the two battled 40 times, with Nadal winning 24 of those face-offs. They were fierce competitors, and they pushed each other to improve. As Federer said in an interview, “[Nadal] made me maybe rework my game and go back to the practice courts and think about what I could change maybe to become a better player.”

Whether on the courts or in the office, a healthy spirit of competition can boost performance. But for business owners, it’s critical to offset that competitive spirit with a collaborative culture. Collaboration boosts energy, creativity, and productivity, leading to happier, less stressed, and more engaged employees. Collaborative teams develop and bring products to market faster.

Try Big Think+ for your business
Engaging content on the skills that matter, taught by world-class experts.

As job growth slows post-pandemic, competition for open positions and promotions will likely climb. The onus falls on leaders to foster a collaborative work culture. As Harvard Business Review contributor Linda A. Hill noted, “Leaders can encourage breakthrough ideas not by cultivating followers who can execute but building communities that can innovate.” Here are some strategies that have helped me to build an innovative community at my online form company, Jotform

#1 Seek out soft skills

With the rise of automation, soft skills are more valuable than ever. A Financial Times survey of 70 leading employers worldwide found that employers are hungry for soft skills like the ability to work within a team and with a wide variety of people. It’s relatively easy to vet job candidates for hard or technical skills. Soft skills can be trickier to assess. 

I’ve written before about the power of automation to liberate professionals from rote, tedious tasks and enable them to focus on more meaningful work. When it comes to hiring, using automated tools to pre-screen candidates will leave you with more time and mental energy for the actual interviews. Then, you can ask more insightful, pointed questions about a potential hire’s experience. For example, which role they tend to play on teams and teamwork challenges they’ve overcome. I like this suggestion from Workable: How would you react if a team leader encouraged competition between team members instead of collaboration? 

References are also an important resource for gauging collaboration potential. When interviewing a potential hire, I ask references for a candid assessment of the interviewee’s teamwork skills and how they’ve used them in prior roles. 

#2 Reinforce your vision

Another critical but often overlooked strategy for fostering collaboration is regularly reinforcing your organization’s vision and purpose. I’ve found that team members who work with the same shared goal at the forefront of their minds naturally help and lean on each other. They propel each other forward. Organizations without clear visions run the risk of wasting time, resources, and talent. They rush to innovate with no unifying purpose. 

You may have heard the adage: How do you get a camel? Design a horse by committee. It illustrates what happens when teams lose sight of their common goals. They do too much and create superfluous products. A shared vision helps teams to stay on track and collaborate effectively.

You may have heard the adage: How do you get a camel? Design a horse by committee. It illustrates what happens when teams lose sight of their common goals.

So, how can leaders and managers reinforce an organization’s vision and purpose?

Meet with employees individually to highlight how their work contributes to larger goals; draw links between key performance indicators (KPIs) and those goals. In public forums, like a company newsletter or standing all-hands meeting, consistently communicate your vision and explain how the latest short-term objectives will move the company toward that vision. Shout it from the rooftops to help keep team members’ eyes on the same prize.

#3 Break down silos

Corporate silos are kryptonite for innovation and collaboration. As companies grow, the likelihood of silo formation increases. Leaders are tasked with figuring out how to break them down. 

At Jotform, the solution was to restructure our operations and split into cross-functional teams, which are either remote or in-office — we never mix it up, so everyone is on the same page. Each unit is self-managing — they have concise, single-sentence missions, and choose what to work on based on that mission. Focusing on a single metric helps teams to achieve shorter-term wins and build momentum. For example, our Growth Team aims to increase the number of active users. With their eye on that number, team members never lose sight of their singular goal. 

We’ve been working in cross-functional teams for over a decade and it’s helped us to collaborate and continually release new products for our users. 

#4 Build familiarity

To truly capitalize on a company’s diverse talent pool, employees must know each other beyond the few words of their job title. Nowadays, happy hours and team-building activities are just the beginning. Leaders and managers can also use AI tools to enhance colleague familiarity. 

To truly capitalize on a company’s diverse talent pool, employees must know each other beyond the few words of their job title.

As Deloitte notes, AI tools can connect colleagues with similar interests and help people grow their professional networks within their organizations. Employees simply provide information about themselves — background, specialization, interests, etc. — and a model can periodically send introductory emails and set up meetings, essentially facilitating water-cooler chats. As research shows, colleagues who already know each other collaborate more effectively from the start. 

#5 Avoid excessive collaboration

You can have too much of a good thing, even regarding collaboration. When colleagues collaborate excessively, organizations suffer in productivity, engagement, and innovation. At Jotform, we eliminate as many non-essential sign-offs and meetings as possible. Before you send an email or request a meeting, ask yourself: can I get this done on my own? If it requires just a little extra digging, then it’s worth doing yourself rather than wasting your colleagues’ time — and your time — on unnecessary communications. 

Subscribe for a weekly email

Managers can encourage employees to make calls when possible. This prevents higher-ups from becoming decision-making bottlenecks. They can also deputize employees to redirect misplaced or unnecessary collaboration requests. The bottom line is that employees should work smarter, not longer or harder.

Final thoughts

While competition can be a huge motivator, the power of collaboration can’t be understated. Two or more professionals can amount to more than the sum of their parts. Employees share resources, swap ideas, and propel each other’s creativity, maximizing the entire organization’s efforts.

Unlock potential in your business

Learn how Big Think+ can empower your people.
Request a Demo