How can you encourage collaboration in your projects?

I have received this question twice during the past two weeks and I thought it might be useful for others to share this knowledge.

Dear Emily, I’m an experienced Project Manager but one area that I constantly struggle with is how to encourage collaboration in my projects. Have you got any advice for me? – Thanks, Raj”.

This is a really interesting question. For me, encouraging collaboration starts from the first day of the project and when you are working on team building and managing expectations within the team to indicate what is expected from them and what they can expect from you. I’d also look at who is on your team. Do you have the right people on your team to be able to have an environment of collaboration?

Who should be on your team?

There should be a good mix of personalities, skills, experience and talent. I have found my most successful teams who excel in their collaboration are those with a mix of great listeners, leaders, Senior and Junior members and also having a healthy colleague relationship that has been built through allowing the team to go through the “Storming, Norming, Perfoming” of Team development without being rushed. This does not mean that there is never conflict, but that the team understands know each other enough for how to move past conflict easily.

What’s your role?

As a Project Manager, I think that it’s my responsibility to create and foster an environment of collaboration within the team. How do you do this? A few ideas are below:

  • Same location: Have the team sitting together or in the same location for a prolonged period of time. We used to have a team room and they could decorate/organise the room however they saw fit. I was also involved in the start of the project, if we need to have infrastructure involved to move tables/connections but how the team was organised was up to them
  • Team Charter: This has worked out really well for me. What is important for the team as a whole? What are their key values? Below is an example of a Team Charter from one of my projects. Notice that the team had a “Name” and clear focus for what their team goals are.
  • Give them time to collaborate: I gave them one “free” afternoon a week where there would be no meetings/tasks but instead a focus on “collaboration and improving”. Of course, work did get done during this time but it was also time for the team to put collaboration at the forefront of their mind and look at what could be done better/changed. This also encouraged a lot of innovation within the project and did allow the team to propose changes that would make the end product better/ show more value at the end of the project.
  • Foster relationships: Team building is absolutely critical to a successful collaboration so make sure that you also factor team building activities throughout the lifecycle of the project into your planning. Some of the activities that I have done that were successful include:
    • Pizza Lunch
    • Go Karting
    • Short Film sharing (someone proposes a short film that they think the team might enjoy or find interesting).
    • Team walks during lunch
    • Dinners with the stakeholders (maximum 1-4 times during the project depending on duration).
  • Moderate and be present: This is really important for me. I want to make sure that I can be there to support my team if needed and encourage an environment where everyone feels a mutual respect and trust as well as feeling empowered to deliver what is needed in the project. For me, this also means that I monitor the communication lines and if there are issues, resolving them if appropriate.

Building a collaborative environment and encouraging collaboration within your team is not a one time activity. It is something that you will be needing to do throughout the project to ensure that it remains relevant and adhered to (especially during difficult or busy periods).

If you want to look at some great information available, there is a great book available on what makes collaboration work. I’d also like to hear how you build collaboration within your projects.

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