Imagine you’re part of a project, say as a designer. You’ve finished a task and are waiting for it to be reviewed so you can finalize it.
Your feedback is still due when you’re given another task, dependent on the previous one. You can’t reach the reviewer, and when you ask your manager when the feedback from the reviewer will arrive, they’re not answering. Then you get a simple “I’m not sure, let me check,” before they disappear again.
You can imagine how working on this kind of project would be frustrating. You could also probably imagine yourself losing interest in doing your best, all because you were exposed to an environment with bad project collaboration. Our goal today — to avoid all of that.
In this article, we will talk about:
- What project collaboration is,
- Why it’s important,
- How it differs from project management,
- An example of project collaboration,
- The signs of poor project collaboration, and
- How to improve it.
Table of Contents
What is project collaboration?
As the name suggests, project collaboration involves the project team working together to better achieve the end goal of a project. If we break it down, it’s the process of:
- Sharing information,
- Dividing tasks,
- Offering assistance, and
- Actively communicating with other team members on the project.
The goal of project collaboration is to bring the team closer together and get them on the same page about their shared project goals. To boost teamwork is to build a sense of community within the project, and thus increase accountability for it.
One of the most important aspects of project collaboration is communication. When team communication runs freely and efficiently, everyone’s on the same page about their tasks and shared goals and how to reach them. In essence — if you communicate well, you can collaborate well.
According to Forbes Council Member Janine Schindler, MCC, in today’s world, where we’re confronted with a number of different communication channels, communication can get especially exhausting and confusing, as per her article on how poor communication can slow down teams.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to be extra careful about the ways you communicate with coworkers.
Why is project collaboration important?
Project collaboration is the backbone of its success. A Forrester study on collaboration technology from 2020 shows that employees can save up to 5 to 10% of their time — around 2 to 4 hours a week — when using collaboration tools.
We’ve consulted experts on this subject to find out why project collaboration makes such a difference.
Reason #1: Successful collaboration improves productivity
Good project collaboration has a handy effect of removing hold-ups in your project. Having team members communicate more successfully leads to a better understanding of everyone’s duties. This helps them prioritize tasks to reduce bottlenecks.
We spoke on this topic with Alexander Weinstein, Development Team Lead at Arctic Wallet, who supports the notion that project collaboration increases efficiency:
“By working together, team members can divide tasks and leverage each other’s strengths. This can lead to faster completion of tasks and more efficient use of resources.”
Reason #2: Open dialogue enhances creativity
Another point that Alexander brings to attention is the increase in creativity that can be achieved through collaboration:
“When different team members collaborate, they can share their ideas and brainstorm together. This can lead to innovative solutions and a more creative project outcome.”
Brainstorming together is a particularly interesting point here. Project collaboration is rooted in teamwork and communication. However, more often than not, team members try to outperform each other during brainstorming sessions, in order for their ideas to be recognized.
If you build a work culture of collaboration, during brainstorming, team members will build on each other’s ideas rather than topple them, leading to overall better solutions.
Reason #3: Team members are aligned toward project goals
For this aspect of project collaboration, we spoke with Donna Franklin West (PMP), Project Manager at The Virtual PM, with over 10 years of experience in the field. She claims that a successful project delivery can only be achieved with project collaboration:
“In my experience, collaboration is essential for successful project delivery. Effective collaboration ensures that all team members are aligned on goals and objectives and can help to identify and address potential roadblocks before they become major issues.”
This notion is supported by Rugilė Žukauskaitė-Žilinskė, founding team member at RatePunk, a solution helping travelers get the most out of their budget.
“Collaboration enables team members to work together towards a common goal, share ideas, knowledge, and expertise, and make informed decisions.”
A great thing Rugilė mentions is knowledge sharing. If your team members are working together, that means they have the capacity to remove any roadblocks that another colleague might be facing.
Reason #4: Inclusion increases accountability
Rugilė brings up another interesting point here — having team members collaborate and better understand the project goals shows increased accountability for the project’s results:
“Collaboration also fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, motivating them to work harder and achieve better results. It ensures everyone’s included & involved in the project, eliminating misunderstandings and conflicts.”
If you just give your team instructions task by task and don’t show them how these tasks fit your overall project goals, they won’t feel involved in it. That kind of approach reduces accountability and produces lesser results.
Reason #5: Collaboration produces better-quality outcomes
Alexander proposes another benefit of project collaboration, i.e. he points out how different team member’s viewpoints can come into play:
“Collaboration can lead to better quality outcomes as multiple perspectives are considered, and potential errors or weaknesses can be identified and addressed.”
Let’s say you have a development team working on a mobile app. The team lead proposes a new feature that can be added to the app. A member of your marketing team gets word of this and proposes the feature be dropped. They mention seeing a similar feature being made in their previous workplace, and it turned out to be a flop during marketing.
Hooray! The day is saved — all because you allowed for a collaborative work environment, where interdepartmental communication is encouraged.
Reason #6: Project teams crave collaboration
Another expert we spoke to, Leigh Ann Gunther (PMP, PMI-ACP), Director of Agile at Project Management Institute (PMI) Delaware Valley Chapter, told us collaboration is not something you need to impose on your team — it’s rather something your team wants:
“Your team members may be craving collaboration – not just when executing project tasks but also in their careers more generally. Recent research from PMI found that American workers highly value fulfillment and a sense of purpose in their jobs. They are also less satisfied in comparison to other attributes with networking opportunities and mentorship opportunities at their current jobs. There is clearly room for improvement here, and collaboration can increase connection between colleagues and team members, which ultimately can help project performance.”
Project collaboration vs project management
The most noticeable difference between project collaboration and project management is that the latter is the primary responsibility of an individual or group in charge of running the project. On the other hand, the former is the obligation of everyone on the project team.
Collaboration is a must, no matter your primary work objective — whether you’re a manager, developer, designer, etc. Management is the task of organizing a project and its intricacies, while collaboration serves as support to propel a project to greater heights.
Coincidentally, project collaboration also takes a big load off the project manager’s shoulders.
For example, let’s say you have a developer and a UI designer on the team. With effective collaboration, they will work in tandem, communicating to create synchronized results that can be put together in a single product. If they did not, their lack of communication would have to be made up for by the project manager — having them both report to the PM, and the PM giving them feedback accordingly.
Project collaboration example
For our project collaboration example, let’s take a look at an industry where collaboration is vital to the result of the project — game development.
For our video game development process, let’s take a look at several team members, and how their communication can help create a successful product — for starters, a game director and a game developer.
The game director will have a vision of how the game should feel, the experience, and the atmosphere that it will convey to a player. The developer will ensure that the game is playable and that all mechanics work properly.
Without working in tandem, they will create a disjointed, clunky product. Say the developer is tasked with creating a mechanic for moving in the game. Without external input, they can create very basic, natural movements.
But the director’s vision is of a horror survival game, so through collaboration, they create a movement mechanic which feels slow, eerie, and restraining — keeping the tension during play and keeping the player filled with unease.
Vice versa, if the director would like to implement a mechanic that involves the player moving across a non-static environment, the developer can communicate how extremely difficult that is to achieve.
The next step is to communicate with the project manager to see if the project timeline and budget can accommodate such a task.
Put sound designers and visual designers into the mix, who not only need to closely collaborate with each other but the director and developer as well, and you see how many threads of connection exist within this project, and why open communication is so important.
This is also why they may consider a few project management tools for game development to help them collaborate in one place.
7 Signs your project collaboration needs improvement
Project issues are tricky. They can often be misinterpreted or even slip under the radar entirely.
Here, we will take a look at the 5 signs that your project collaboration might be at risk:
- Poor information flow,
- Missed deadlines,
- Rise in a silo mentality,
- Increased non-constructive workplace conflict,
- Lack of project objective clarity,
- Lack of trust, and
- Lack of constructive conflict.
Sign #1: Poor information flow
What poor information flow boils down to is a lack of communication. If your team members aren’t communicating, they’re not collaborating — meaning your project collaboration needs fixing. As Alexander puts it:
“When team members don’t communicate effectively, important information can be missed, and tasks can be duplicated, leading to delays and confusion.”
Have you ever planned a road trip with a bunch of friends, but instead of making a group chat, you communicated individually? Those that have, have likely seen the outcome of one friend being late 2 hours, another one an hour early, one bringing full camping gear even though that part of the plan should’ve been canceled, and another thinking that the road trip itself was canceled.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
If you want to know how to improve your communication as a project manager, check out this guide:
Sign #2: Missed deadlines
As a project manager, whenever your project misses a deadline, the first question you need to ask yourself is — why? More often than not, this can be due to poor project collaboration.
Most of the causes of missed deadlines in projects stem from poor communication. With little to no feedback on their work, team members are more likely to be less motivated and less productive, causing them to miss deadlines.
With a lack of teamwork, individuals might not be aware of tasks they are required to complete, thus leaving work unfinished and deadlines unmet. Almost all issues concerning miscommunication lead to missed deadlines.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
For practical tips on how to stay organized at work and never miss deadlines, check out the following blog post:
Sign #3: Rise in a silo mentality
Silo mentality refers to team members working in isolation and neglecting to share information about their work with their colleagues. It can also apply on a departmental level, not just an individual one — departments can also neglect to share information with each other.
Alexander brings this to our attention:
“When team members work in isolation and don’t collaborate with each other, it can lead to a lack of synergy and a suboptimal outcome.”
Silo mentality also demolishes trust between team members, hindering information sharing and ultimately hurting the project workflow and outcome. After all, the project team is the heart of the project.
Sign #4: Increased non-constructive workplace conflict
It’s safe to say that, if there is a rise in conflict in your project, something is amiss. Alexander points out how this can be a symptom of poor project collaboration:
“If team members have different ideas or ways of working, it can lead to conflict and tension, which can negatively impact the project outcome.”
For example, team members from different backgrounds can work at different paces, which could make them clash if not tended to.
Say you have a manager whose background is very hands-on, and who was tasked with doing plenty of diversified work in his last project — working less as a manager and more as a jack-of-all-trades. On the other hand, you have a developer who is used to being given a task and working on it without interruptions.
It’s easy for the 2 mindsets to clash, with the aforementioned manager wanting to butt in the developer’s work, thinking they’d be of use. However, the developer feels pressured and like they’re not shown adequate trust. This creates a clash, which slows down the whole project.
However, it’s easy to get confused — conflict can be good for your project if it is constructive. Only non-constructive conflict is a symptom of poor collaboration. Constructive conflict is actually a show of great project collaboration, as it means that open dialogue is encouraged in the workplace.
The conflict mentioned above can be turned into a constructive one. For example, the developer can be left alone during a regular workday, but once a week, they can have a progress report meeting with the manager. Here, the developer and manager can review the work and brainstorm together, giving the manager that hands-on approach without the developer feeling too pressured.
Sign #5: Lack of project objective clarity
We’ve already explained how project collaboration can bring team members to understand the project goals better and work towards them together.
It’s safe to say then, that if your team isn’t on the same page with the project objectives, their communication might be in poor standing.
If not addressed, a team member who doesn’t understand what they’re working towards is bound to make accidental mistakes, as well as feel isolated in what they are trying to achieve. This feeling can lead to a lack of motivation and low morale.
Sign #6: Lack of trust
Leigh Ann brings us to another issue that might be a sign of poor collaboration. More subdued than conflict, this issue stems from team members not believing in each other’s abilities or sense of responsibility. As Leigh Ann puts it:
“If you find your team members do not trust each other, it is time for a reset. This can come in many different ways – people may not trust that their team members will meet deadlines, work to the best of their ability, etc. By bringing people together, any roadblocks or inconsistencies in priorities can be brought to the table. By realigning to the “north star,” your team can be reassured. Many times project managers – and specifically agilists – will do a “post-mortem” after a sprint or period during a project’s lifespan. I would encourage project managers to address mistrust as quickly as possible – even during sprints if appropriate.”
If you notice any discontent your team has towards another team member’s work, it can be a sign that their collaboration is not on a satisfactory level.
The tricky thing about mistrust is that it festers easily, creating a bias that is difficult to get rid of.
This is why Leigh Ann advises mistrust to be treated immediately, before it can sink its roots into your team’s mindset.
Sign #7: Lack of constructive conflict
While conflict can be harmful, not allowing for constructive conflict can be just as bad. Leigh Ann points to the importance of creating an environment where everyone can speak their minds:
“If your team members are hesitant to challenge the status quo due to not wanting to make ripples across the team, change is needed. Normalizing conflict – normalizing debates and discussions – is a critical component to collaboration. While collaboration by itself is a very positive tool, the honest truth is that there will be hiccups. Project managers must create an environment where these hiccups are OK, and the (healthy) debates to settle them are encouraged.”
6 Tips to improve your project collaboration
We’ve explained how to notice something is off in project collaboration, but how do you address it?
In the next segment, we will consult experts on tips that will help you improve your project collaboration by:
- Improving your information flow,
- Using project collaboration tools,
- Setting clear expectations,
- Creating an open work environment,
- Celebrating your wins, and
- Being adaptable and experimenting.
Tip #1: Improve your information flow
If you notice that your team is lacking in collaboration, there are plenty of ways to improve it — by making project information more accessible to them.
Donna suggests that one of the ways to do this could be regular check-in meetings:
“To improve project collaboration, I have found that regular check-ins, clear communication channels, and a focus on shared goals and objectives can make a significant difference.”
Regular check-in meetings also serve to get everyone on the same page — to raise awareness of project goals. They make team members feel like they’re part of a bigger picture, which is especially important if they’re working remotely.
Meetings are also a great place for your team to pick up tips from other team members if they’re working on similar tasks.
Though do be careful— too many check-ins and meetings can be a strain. They can distract team members from their tasks or drain their energy.
Tip #2: Use project collaboration tools
PM tools can do wonders for your project collaboration, as Donna has pointed out for us:
“Using collaboration tools like shared documents, project management software, and communication platforms can help facilitate collaboration and keep everyone on track.”
Make sure to pick team collaboration software such as Plaky that facilitates communication. In Plaky, you can:
- Add assignees to a task,
- Tag specific team members in the comments of each task,
- Keep all files relevant to the task in one place,
- Keep team members notified of the updates to the tasks relevant to them, and more.
In the last tip, we mentioned that too many meetings can be a bother to your team. Using a PM tool can alleviate this pressure, as most back-and-forth communication can be reduced to a couple of comments and mentions in a task card.
The progress of tasks, and therefore the project itself, is easily trackable — and available to everyone in your team.
Tip #3: Set clear expectations
It’s important to communicate expectations accurately when giving team members their tasks. You should also make sure that the task order is not preventing collaboration. All tasks need to be clear, as Alexander puts it, in roles and responsibilities:
“I ensure that each team member knows what they are responsible for and establish clear expectations for everyone’s role on the team.”
Setting expectations is important to avoid team members going below, but also above them.
Collaboration tools also serve greatly in this regard, as they can be used to set clear tasks that are easy to find and interpret.
Some other tips for setting clear expectations as a leader provided by Forbes’ Expert Panel include:
- Explaining the reasons behind expectations and making them meaningful to the team members,
- Leaving out space for questions,
- Providing them with a clear picture of what “right” looks like, and
- Regularly checking in with your team to see how you can help them fulfill expectations.
Tip #4: Create an open work environment
Donna suggests that to make a step in the right direction for your project collaboration, you need to work on your work environment:
“A culture where everyone’s input is valued, and team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns is key.”
Let’s say all of your decisions and planning is made with the input of managers and team leaders, excluding the rest of your team. The obvious drawback of this is the lack of ideas you might get, as some team members might have very useful input. After all, they’re doing the work in their expertise, so consulting them can be nothing but beneficial.
There’s also the drawback of your team feeling excluded from the project, therefore feeling less responsible and motivated to work on it. Building a work environment open to communication is necessary to avoid this.
Alexander adds to this, explaining how he tries to create this kind of environment in his own workplace:
“I encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas freely, and establish regular check-ins to ensure everyone is on the same page.”
Tip #5: Celebrate your wins
Rugilė brings to our attention that it’s important to take time to acknowledge great work:
“Celebrate milestones and achievements to keep team morale high. It’s crucial to celebrate the wins! It’s the best motivation.”
Whether it’s a shout-out in your team meeting, a party, or just a message of acknowledgement in your team chat app, your team will appreciate it. You can even come up with a powerful team name to immortalize their win. This serves to boost morale in your team, giving them more motivation for the upcoming project tasks.
It also serves to increase a sense of unity, which not only reduces workplace stress and conflict, it also increases the sense of responsibility in your team members.
Tip #6: Be adaptable and experiment
Leigh Ann points out why it’s important to be adaptable:
“Everyone wants to collaborate in their own way, and successful collaboration may look different between teams. This is much more obvious now in a hybrid working world – everyone has their own preferred way of working. The first step to improving your project collaboration is to understand how your team members want to collaborate. Even though hybrid working is “normal” nowadays, we may not have perfected it yet – it is important to look for those ways to adapt. No more can leaders hesitate on creating change, they must foster a mindset and environment where change is simply a normal part of the job.”
As Leigh Ann adds, adaptability means that you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with different ways of working:
“I, personally, have a lot of experience working with and leading agile teams. For those who may feel that their status quo could use some upgrading, I would encourage them to experiment with more agile ways of working. It allows you to use the experience you have gained as a project manager to pivot your team quicker. These pivots can be on how you are executing your project, but they can also be on how you are collaborating with your teams. As someone who has obtained both the Project Management Professional (PMP)® and PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certifications, I find it very helpful to alternate between more traditional project management processes and agile ways of working to determine the best setup for each project. Each offers differing ways to collaborate.”
Conclusion: Improve project collaboration to ensure a successful project outcome
It sounds so cheesy and cheap, at this point, to simply say “communication is key”. However, the phrase itself wouldn’t be so prominent if it were not true.
To a great extent, collaboration builds the foundation for your project’s execution. It allows everyone to be on the same page, which makes it more likely to achieve great project results.
And don’t forget, project teams crave collaboration, and it makes achieving results that much more satisfactory and fulfilling.
✉️ Has this guide helped you understand project collaboration and its importance? Do you know any tips we’ve missed? Let us know at email@example.com, and we may include your answers in this or future posts. If you liked this blog post and found it useful, share it with someone you think would also benefit from it.