Team Talk: How to Collaborate With Anyone at Work

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Great teams don’t source their greatness from being completely the same. Rather, they’re diverse. They have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. And they know how to work together despite what makes them unique. If we want to get really big things done, collaboration is required. This comes in all forms – we collaborate within our own teams, across departments, and sometimes even with external colleagues. That’s why we’re partnering with Microsoft Teams—to help you master the strategies to collaborate with anyone, so you’re guaranteed to have more success.

Teamwork requires flexibility. I remember the first time I worked with a team that was wildly different than me. I was a part of a group of creatives, emotionally forthcoming, dreamers who knew how to get shit done. And I was tasked with overseeing a project that included managing a team of engineers, who were structured in their thinking and very discerning in their timelines and guarantees, and who also knew how to get shit done. A question as simple as “When can we have this feature built by” launched me into a half hour discussion on how no timeline can be accurately promised (and my frustration followed suit). It was the first time I’d come face-to-face with my own rigidness in thinking and process. I had to take time to understand this team’s flow and tendencies in order to make the project a success.

But great ideas, and brilliant outcomes, are born from coming together as a team...across teams. Whether you’re working with a new set of freelancers for the first time or collaborating with teams of hundreds of people, you’re bound to come across someone from a team who works and thinks differently than you do. Person to person and team to team, adjusting tools, methods, and strategies will help you get and stay on the same page with your coworkers.

Here are a few ideas that will help you collaborate across any team:

Work to Understand Them – “The Work” of collaborating across teams isn’t just the day-to-day deliverables. It’s working to understand the personality behind who you’re dealing with. Super effective team collaboration is built on trust. Think about it: if you’ve ever been on a great team (personally, professionally, for fun), there’s this unspoken trust factor. You depend on your team to do what they said they’re going to do, to deliver on their goals and due dates, and provide a certain level of excellence. Much of the collaboration that breaks down across teams happens because we don’t have the shared experience or trust built up with these other people that we’re working with. To better understand and get to know them in order to build this trust, you can consider:

  • How does their mind work? Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur have broken down the talents and mind maps in a book call Collaborative Intelligence – it can help you understand both yourself and those you’re working with. It’s really simple and easy to understand. And it easily categorizes someone’s talents in 4 different categories: Relational, Innovative, Analytic, and Procedural. Those words alone give you an insight into how someone may be approaching a problem or a project. If you want to better know yourself, the people you’re collaborating with, and how each of their minds work, consider taking this quiz created by that team.

  • What are their strengths and weaknesses? To collaborate with different teams, you’ll want to understand who should be on first and for what. You don’t want to throw someone you’ve rarely worked with to present on your cross-team ideas if they hate being in front of people. Take the time to understand what the people you’re now collaborating with bring to the table.

Don’t be afraid to share this information about yourself too. As much as you need to understand them, the team you’re working with needs to understand you, too.

Super effective team collaboration is built on trust.

Align on Best Practices – So much of great collaboration (especially with people beyond your team) comes from a common set of operations or standards. For example, if you want to project plan in a group chat but they want to use their collaboration tools, it can cause a lot of unnecessary frustration for both parties involved. All of this can be solved by asking questions up front and agreeing on some best practices for working together.

  • Share how you prefer to communicate and ask if that would work for them. The more you can stay on the same page, the better. Think instant message, group chats, online meetings, instant message, or a conference call.

  • Share how you prefer to project plan and ask if that would work for them. This may require one of you getting used to new collaboration software, but it’s worth it.

  • Share what you expect for deliverables and timelines and ask if that will work for them. Never assume that everyone knows this already. It’s OK to repeat yourself.

  • Share how you see responsibilities divided, who’s accountable for what, and ask if that will work for them. Make sure everyone understands how they fit into this collaboration.

Pro Tip: You can handle project management, communication, and file sharing all in one place with Microsoft Teams.

Remember, for cross-team collaboration to work, you must be flexible. You’ve got to be open and amenable to new ways of doing things. This diversity in thought, background, and operations will absolutely get you to the best outcome if you do it together in harmony.

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Reiterate Intention and Goals – Making sure everyone is working towards the same goal will help your collaboration function. You’d be surprised how many times one team is operating with one goal in mind only to find another department is operating under the assumption there’s a different goal. Make sure intentions for the project and goals for the project (and how it’s being measured) are aligned from the get go. And make adjustments as needed. Never hesitate to re-state the intention and goals for your work together at each meeting. Sometimes you’ve got to hammer home what’s most important, especially with people you’ve never worked with before (and who’ve never worked with you!).

If you can work to understand the other team, understand and agree on best practices for everything from communication to collaboration tools, and stay aligned on the intention and goals for the work you’re doing together, you’ll have most of what you need to work cross-functionally.

Want a handy guide to working with anyone? Enter your email below to download our Team Talk worksheet!

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We’d love to know: What are your best tips for being a great team player?

About the author: Maxie McCoy is a writer and speaker obsessed with giving women the tools they need to believe in themselves. Her book, You're Not Lost: An Inspired Action Plan for Finding Your Own Way, is one of the top motivational guides for professional women and is carried at Urban Outfitters, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold. Maxie specializes in creating meaningful offline experiences that provide practical action in workshop and group formats. She's worked with top brands, conferences and companies to create original events that engage their target audiences both online and off. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, TheSkimm, Forbes, Fortune, INC, Bustle, Business Insider, MyDomaine, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Billboard, CNN and many more as an expert in women’s leadership.

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