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Why do some teams gel while others fail at collaboration?

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Healthy collaboration is a target many aim for but many miss. Why? It’s far easier to say you want your team to work smoothly together without too much stress than it is to actually accomplish the open sharing and feeling of unity, trust and purpose that demands.

Just knowing that collaboration is easy to screw up isn’t of much use though. What would be truly helpful would be a specific taxonomy of the mistakes that frequently hobble teams, including the emotional and irrational complexities that can bedevil collaboration, as well as a benchmark survey of how the best teams manage to get everyone working together well. Handily, that’s just what a new study by Collaborative Coaching and Resonance Strategies aims to find out.

Through two small pilot studies the partners have developed a survey that digs down into what separates mere team members from true team players by asking participants to detail the differences between their ideal team and their actual experiences working in supposedly collaborative groups. Participants also signal their emotional impressions of teamwork by choosing from an array of sketched facial expressions. “These facial expressions are true in all cultures,” explains Yosh Beier, co-founder of Collaborative Coaching. The word disgust, say, may carry different resonance n India and Indiana, so using pictures takes away the danger that differences in culture or language could skew the results.

And even after examining a small sample of just over a hundred responses, Beier explains, he and his research partners are starting to see intriguing patterns emerge, including generational differences, common complaints about the current reality of teams (lack of recognition and excessive workload prominent among them) and similar notions of what moves a team from bearable to exciting.

What we find is there is a certain amount of results that people want to accomplish, so if a team doesn’t even manage to achieve its goals then that is very frustrating and dominates the experience. But it’s a little bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The moment teams reach a critical amount of ability to really produce results then results aren’t that important any more and other factors dominate such as connection and cohesion. People wonder: Do I see purpose? Is this meaningful for me? How much of a challenge is this?

There is also a generational theme. So far, the younger the respondents, the less happy they are with the current state of affairs on their teams.

It’s too early yet to determine if the youngest team members are the most frustrated simply because they have the highest expectations, Beier says, and an insufficient number of remote workers have so far taken the survey to conclusively determine if being virtual changes teams’ interactions or expectations. So the researchers are rolling out the survey to a number of firms, including consultancy W.L. Gore, and are also making it available online to anyone interested in participating. The only criterion for eligibility is experience working collaboratively. So if you feel like aiding an investigation of how to make teams truly gel and explore your own feelings about collaboration, 15 minutes is all you need to complete it. We’ll keep you posted on the results.

In your experience, what are the key factors that make a team really click so they can be effective collaborators?

Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks.

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