By J.T. Ripton

Collaboration continues to play a critical role for businesses the world over as more companies empower employees with the tools, skills and freedom to work as a team.

The traditional idea of a lone professional sitting in a cubicle, forbidden from chatting to their colleagues and expected to work like a drone, is no longer acceptable. Companies have to build a more collaborative culture, enabling everyone to feel part of a unified team with shared goals.

Below, we explore 6 ways to do just that.

1. Establish Your Goals First

You want your team to be more productive by working together, and you want them to truly care about being the best.

That last part can be difficult, but you can make it easier by identifying your business goals first. When you have a focused mission and tangible targets to hit, you’ll find building a dynamic, collaborative workplace easier.

Take a look at your company mission and values. Do you have a clear vision? Do you make it easy for employees to feel engaged and as if they’re achieving something with their work? If not, start making changes. Even if specific goals change from week to week, your team members need a compelling reason to get creative together.

2. Find Ways to Reward Collaboration and Teamwork

If creating tangible goals is key, so too are tangible rewards.

Collaborating with colleagues is easy for some, challenging for others. Not everyone finds it simple to put ideas out there for others to hear, nor interacting with people you might not choose to otherwise.

Make working as a team more rewarding for employees by offering real incentives. Recognition and bespoke rewards go a long way.

Celebrate the high achievers in your company and integrate a reward system, offering the best performers a choice of:

  • Gift cards
  • Extra paid leave
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Restaurant vouchers
  • Merchandise based on their favorite movies

Or anything else you can think of! Really give your teams something to work towards, and they’ll put the time in.

3. Embrace the Power of Tools

There are plenty of collaboration tools available to make things easier. Here are five you definitely should look at.

  • Idea Drop: This idea management program allows you to drive innovation and collaboration through a simple, user-friendly process. Everyone in a specific team or company can share concepts, earn rewards and make valuable contributions on the fly via mobile apps.
  • Google Docs: Without doubt, Google Docs is the complete package. Documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more can all be collaborated on by anyone with access. The ability to edit files in real-time from your smartphone is a key benefit for last-minute changes and contributions.
  • GoToMeeting: This turnkey video conferencing software makes working together remotely easier, allowing you to share screens, set up meetings, customize team settings and more. Never let miles stand in the way of teamwork again.
  • Trello: Trello is one of the most popular project management tools, giving businesses a simple card-based, drag-and-drop interface for assigning tasks, attaching files, delivering feedback and more.
  • CodePen: This tool enables front-end developers to get feedback on their work from like-minded peers, identify potential issues and explore possibilities before their website actually goes live.

4. Collaborate from the Top Down

It’s no good for managers to insist on a more collaborative workplace if you don’t get involved. Leaders have to be open, communicative and positive — show your employees you’re willing to listen to ideas and accept constructive feedback.

Your workforce should feel that you’re accessible and approachable. If you stay locked in your private office and only emerge to criticize them, why should they go the extra mile for you?

Leave your door open. Show your human side. You may be surprised at the difference this makes to the entire atmosphere in your office.

5. Foster Innovative Thinking

Your current way of doing things might work well—but it could be better. It’s possible that your employees have fantastic ideas locked away in their brains but are afraid to rock the boat.

Encourage your team to tackle the status quo and explore all possibilities to improve, no matter how revolutionary their ideas might seem. If workers’ suggestions are met with positivity and appreciation, they will be more willing to keep trying to innovate in the future.

Offer an anonymous way to contribute, so workers can put ideas forward even if they’re self-conscious.

6. Break Down Barriers with Team Social Events

Encouraging employees to spend time together outside office hours can help to break down barriers and create a tighter bond. They may stop seeing their colleagues as potential competitors or enemies, and realize they’re just people, too.

When they feel more comfortable around each other, they will be more willing to speak their mind and share their ideas without fear of being judged. This can be as simple as drinks in the office on a Friday afternoon, bowling, dinner or a few games of pool. Anything that makes collaboration simpler will do.

Of course, people will be more willing to socialize if it’s on the company’s dime. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money—it’ll only help your workforce think better of you and the business overall.

As you can see, creating a collaborative workplace is easier than you might think, especially with the quality tools available today.

Have you got ideas of your own? How do you encourage employees to work together?

J.T. Ripton is a freelance writer out of Tampa, who focuses on topics relating to business and technology. Follow him at @JTRipton.

Team stock photo by jd8/Shutterstock