The last few years have changed the way we work and collaborate, and it doesn’t look like we’re going back to our old ways any time soon. As of December 2022, office occupancy rates are still hovering around 50% in most major cities, and the upward trend looks slow and uncertain.
To be effective, teams need to learn how to collaborate in remote and hybrid environments. Thankfully, we’ve learned a lot over the past few years, and in this article, we’ll highlight 6 effective ways to supercharge collaboration in these settings.
6 Ways to Supercharge Collaboration
From leadership to building together, here are some tips, tricks, and strategies to help you be a more effective collaborator that we’ve learned from creative minds like Dan Pink, Julie Zhuo, and Seth Godin.
1. Be a Collaborative Leader
The first thing that teams will need for effective collaboration is someone to lead them. This is not necessarily a managerial role.
“Management is a job, it’s a role. It can be given to you and it can be taken away. Whereas leadership is a quality that you’ve got to earn.” Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of a Manager, on the Design Better Podcast
The first step in learning to lead is acting like an owner. Business owners accept responsibility and do what’s required to push an organization forward—even when the work isn’t glamorous. They step in when and where help is needed most. It doesn’t matter if a given task isn’t within their job description. Leaders ask themselves: “Who will carry this forward if not me?”
As author Dan Pink says, another part of being a good leader is having fewer how conversations, and more why conversations:
2. Set a Mission and Vision
“If you can describe in writing the change you seek to make and whom you seek to change, just the act of concretizing it will keep you on track.” Seth Godin, Author, Entrepreneur, and Teacher, on the Design Better Podcast
When teams are distributed, there can be even more of a tendency to become siloed, and goals can become misaligned. Mission and vision statements are tools that can be used to help with this alignment. According to Atlassian, “a mission statement defines the organization’s business, its objectives, and how it will reach these objectives. A vision statement details where the organization aspires to go.”
Unless you’re at an executive level, you may not have much influence over your company’s mission and vision statements. But you can help clarify what they mean for your team or the product you’re working on, and you can create a more detailed version of them that relates more directly to the work your team does on a daily basis.
Allowing teams to choose their own problem-solving methods lets them deal with friction more effectively so they can carry out their leader’s objectives (and allows for fewer how conversations).
Create mission and vision statements in our MVP to MLP Freehand template.
If you’d like a framework for creating vision and mission statements at a product level, we have a template in Freehand that was co-created by Shawn Johnson (Former GVP Product and Design for Discovery+). It will help you go from Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to MLP (Most Lovable Product) by focusing on the key cross-functional milestones that matter on the path to successful product launches, including crafting vision and mission statements.
3. Build Together
When you’re building a new product or service or feature, it can be tempting to be sequestered away, working secretively until you’re ready to share something polished with stakeholders. More often than not, that’s a big mistake. Ideas shared in this way will encounter friction, and decision makers often won’t agree on the best way forward. Instead, involve them early in the process, so that they understand why the decisions are being made, and have a chance to weigh in.
A Freehand product planning template
One concrete way to kick a project off collaboratively is to use a product-planning template. The design team at IBM uses their template to prepare for a productive product-planning session by creating a shared product strategy, involving a cross-functional team, and imagining new products or refining existing ones.
4. Understand Your Colleagues
Collaboration comes easiest when we have a good rapport with our colleagues. Each of us approaches our work from different perspectives informed by diverse life experiences. And while diversity of perspective is a powerful asset to any team, if we don’t understand our colleagues and how they see the world, communication miscues can trip up partnerships.
“If you are the newest person to the company that is new in their career, you’re the folks that we’re going to sit down with and we’re going to have conversations because we know that is going to be meaningful.” Steve Johnson, Netflix, on the Design Better Podcast
A healthy rapport with colleagues is foundational for any collaboration. The people you work with are more than fellow employees or project partners—they’re people with hopes, fears, flaws, and virtues. Taking time to get to know your colleagues will help you see that, like you, they bring good intentions to their work. And, like you, they have blindspots and make mistakes. When work gets stressful or collaboration gets hairy, a strong rapport with your colleagues will often help you weather the challenges you face together and make it easier to get your work back on track.
An empathy map can help you better understand a key collaborator and identify ways you can work better together. You can use our Freehand template as a quick way to create an empathy map for your team.
One way to get to know your colleagues and their goals better is to use an Empathy Map, which will help you with the answers to two basic questions: “Who are you working with?” and “What are they trying to achieve?” We have an Empathy Map Canvas template in Freehand that can get you started.
5. Offer Mentorship Opportunities
Intra-organization mentorship programs can help facilitate the kinds of learning and team bonding that is often missing in remote work environments. By learning from a more seasoned practitioner on a regular cadence, newer employees can accelerate their career growth and contributions to the company. And more experienced employees can benefit from the perspective of someone who is newer to the team.
“But as you get older…it’s never too late to have a mentor….I need a mentor or even a sponsor for some of the things that I still want to do as a seasoned individual.” Dr. Sian Proctor, Astronaut and Geophysicist, on the Design Better Podcast
At InVision, we put a buddy system in place between our sales and marketing teams. Though not strictly speaking a mentorship program, it allowed us to forge a deeper understanding of the needs and goals of our teammates, and helps us work together more effectively.
6. Coordinate Teams with OKRs
When it’s time to get all teams tightly coordinated, ad hoc partnerships between team leads isn’t sufficient. You need a codified system of objectives that all ladder up to the core business goals. Objectives and key results (OKRs) are designed to do just that.
There’s an art to crafting effective OKRs. When done right, OKRs help an entire organization stay connected to the vision and strategy of the company while still empowering teams to retain decision-making agency.
OKRs invite broad collaboration across teams and at times challenge us to think beyond the parameters of our teams. The best way to collaborate across teams is often to invest some time and effort in learning more about other disciplines.
We have an OKR Planning template available in Freehand which can help you and your team to plan how each team’s OKRs map to the company objectives, to gain alignment and better focus in the coming quarter.
A New Era of Collaboration
It looks like remote and hybrid work is here to stay, and for many of us that’s a positive thing, allowing for more time with our families and activities we enjoy. We hope we can make your collaborative work more effective with some of the tools and strategies we’ve outlined here.
by Eli Woolery
Eli is the Director of Design Education at InVision. His design career spans both physical and digital products, and he is a lecturer in the Product Design program at Stanford University. You can find Eli on Medium or on Twitter.