7 Exercises to Help Build Team Collaboration and Communication

You’ll rarely find a successful business operating without teams that collaborate and communicate effectively. Studies have shown that companies with effective communication are more likely to retain top employees and have lower employee turnover than organizations in which communication is lacking.

With 86 percent of employees blaming workplace failures on poor communication and a lack of collaboration, it’s clear that it’s an area that you can’t ignore. Unfortunately, many teams do. Over one-third of employees feel that there isn’t enough collaboration within their organization.

It’s imperative that you continuously work to improve communication between employees to give your team an edge against the competition. The following are seven exercises you can perform with your team to enhance collaboration and communication on all fronts.

1. Discuss Roles and Expectations

A significant amount of miscommunication between team members is due to confusion around roles. Often, employees are unaware of their responsibilities, those of their colleagues, and the goals of the team as a whole. It may not be the most exciting team-building activity, but regularly discussing the roles and expectations of team members is one of the most effective ways to improve collaboration.

Ensure that task delegations are clear. Conversations between team members become much more efficient when they know who they should be talking to about specific subjects.

As a team, create short-term and long-term goals that you’d like to accomplish. Make these goals public to all members and revisit them often. A Salesforce study found that an incredible 97% of employees and executives contribute a lack of team alignment to negatively affecting tasks and projects.

When employees feel as if they’re part of a team working together toward a common goal, collaboration becomes easy. The tone of conversations shift from “me vs. you” to “us vs. the goal.”

Utilize performance reviews as an opportunity to pinpoint and fix communication issues within your team. If you notice an employee struggling to collaborate effectively with the rest of the group, these reviews are an opportunity to address that issue. Communication evaluations may seem obvious, yet only 18% of employees seem to receive them.

2. Visit the Local Watering Hole

Social gatherings are a great way to facilitate better collaboration in the office. When team members get the opportunity to connect through something other than work, they become more helpful, are less hesitant to ask questions, and become overall better collaborators.

Now, we’re not saying to get your team sloppy drunk every Thirsty Thursday. But grabbing one or two drinks after work a couple of times a month allows employees to loosen up and get to know each other in a more relaxed setting.

Work talk must stay to a minimum during these social outings; the collaboration is for the office, not the bar. If your team has trouble coming up with talking points that don’t involve work, you could try to follow in Evernote’s footsteps. The note-taking software company spun up Evernote University, comprising of interest groups and clubs that employees could join. With shared interests, employees have plenty of non-work topics to discuss.

You don’t need to restrict social outings to bars either. You could have a team lunch one day a week or schedule longer team outings each quarter. If you do choose a bar, emphasize that the event is optional, so non-drinkers aren’t uncomfortable.

3. Participate in Volunteer Work

Doing volunteer work as a team provides a whole host of benefits. Primarily, it’s another exercise that helps boost camaraderie between teammates, which inevitably leads to better collaboration. Don’t believe us? Over eight out of ten employees who have participated in volunteering through their workplace agree it strengthened relationships with their coworkers.

Similar to team happy hours, volunteer activities allow employees to bond outside of the workplace. Managers, interns, employees – everyone is on the same level while volunteering. Therefore, lower-level employees shouldn’t feel as intimidated as they normally would to strike up a conversation with someone higher up on the corporate ladder. Improving those vertical relationships are vital in ensuring that the communication channels back in the office are as transparent and efficient as possible.

The advantages of volunteering expand beyond improved communication and collaboration, though. A study by UnitedHealth Group reports that eighty percent of employees who volunteered in the past year feel better about their employer because of it. Additionally, allowing employees to apply their abilities outside of their work environment broadens their skill set and improves their leadership abilities.

Additionally, there’s a sense of internal gratification that many teams feel when volunteering their time. And alongside everything else, the business receives goodwill for giving back to the community. Employers prefer working at companies that give back, and 85 percent of customers prefer businesses that support a charity they care about.

Taking a holistic view, we can see that when teams volunteer together, it’s a win for everyone involved.

4. Choose the Proper Communication Tools

It’s impossible to collaborate productively without proper communication tools. A 2015 Alfresco survey found that 83 percent of professionals utilize communication tools to work with their team. Because the world is significantly more digital today than it was in 2015, we can safely assume the percentage is now even higher.

Failing to incorporate the communication tools that are best for your team leads to considerable collaboration challenges. In the same Alfresco survey, 59 percent of employees responded that they experience difficulties with the tools that their employer has in place. When employees are spending ample time on communication tool issues, they don’t have time to collaborate.

Identifying a poorly fit communication tool is the easy step. Figuring out which tool your team should use instead may take some time. As with the other exercises, choosing the right collaboration tools needs to be a team effort.

Sit down as a team to analyze problems with the current tools and talk through what ideal communication mechanisms would be. Fortunately, most (if not all) communication options offer a free trial period during which team members can see if it fits their needs.

Remember, each person has particular preferences. Millennials tend to communicate through different means than baby boomers, for instance. You need to find a communication tool that the entire team feels positively about using.

5. Play a Team Sport

Even if your team isn’t filled with athletes, going outside to play a team sport every so often could lead to tremendous collaborative and communicative benefits. (And don’t forget about the standard advantages of outdoor activities and exercise, as well.)

Once again, this team-building exercise provides your employees with a chance to learn more about each other. It gets colleagues not only talking about the sport you’re playing but also about any other sports they may play or watch. Two employees may find something in common that they otherwise would have never discovered.

Additionally, team sports put into practice much of the communication and collaboration skills that the workplace requires. Let’s see how it translates to soccer, for instance:

In soccer, players have to be clear on what player or portion of the field they’re guarding (delegating roles and responsibilities). They also have to let teammates know when they’re open (communicating bandwidth), need help on defense (asking questions), and see a scoring opportunity (discussing strategy).

When you break it down to fundamentals, a sports team is simply a group of people working together to achieve a common goal – winning. In sports, individuals need to put away their egos for the greater good of the team. The same logic applies to business.

6. Get Trapped in an Escape Room

We admit it, using an escape room as a team-building exercise may be a little cliche. But cliches exist for a reason.

If you haven’t heard of escape rooms, they’re effectively live-action puzzles that lock you and your team in a room for an hour or two. The goal is to escape using clues from around the room before the time runs out.

Escape rooms contain every aspect of collaboration that you would expect in a team-building exercise. Communication, rotating leadership roles, high-pressure situations, creative problem solving – escape rooms have it all.

While playing sports improves collaboration through physical exercise, escape rooms do so by stretching your mind. The rooms force you to brainstorm, communicate ideas, and build off each other’s suggestions to find solutions to the clues.

Having a time limit further tests your team by adding a layer of pressure to the puzzle. It simulates a high-stress environment similar to one that you’d find in the office during a busy season or product release, for example.

Escape rooms are ideal for smaller teams as they typically limit the activity to around ten people. Because the focus of this exercise revolves around leaving the room, teammates won’t have a chance to discuss much else. So, you may want to combine this event with a happy hour or team dinner to give participants that opportunity.

7. Start a Book Club

Book clubs are an excellent way to get employees together and talking in a group setting. You may not touch on collaboration too much during book club meetings, but participant’s communication skills will definitely improve.

The success of a book club is wholly determinant on the questions you ask and discussions you facilitate. Don’t just ask yes/no questions or probe for a summary of the reading. Instead, pose open-ended questions that get contributors thinking analytically about their answers. Get employees talking about how they can apply lessons from the book to their work. If you can, prepare these questions ahead of time.

As a moderator, ensure that everyone participating gets to speak during the discussion. Encourage those who are typically less talkative to share their opinion. As they become more comfortable in that role, you’ll see that confidence transfer to workplace communication as well.

For your book club, choose books that are relevant to your business. One month may be a book about general business practices while the next focuses on your industry. Some of the books may even be on communication and collaboration themselves.

You don’t want this book club to feel like homework. Keep the atmosphere laid back, and don’t chastise someone if they didn’t have time to do the reading.

Most Importantly, Spend Time Outside the Office

You’ve probably already noticed, but most team collaboration and communication exercises occur outside the office. The best thing you can do to improve team collaboration is to enable colleagues to feel more comfortable around each other.

Every team (and team member) is different. Some people may enjoy happy hours while others prefer volunteering. It’s crucial that you open a dialog with your team to discover what works best. Likely, you’ll rotate through multiple collaboration and communication exercises.

It doesn’t matter which exercise you end up choosing, as long as your team becomes more comfortable around each other and each individual improves his or her collaboration ability in the process.

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