Your Guide to Mastering the 5 Principles of More Effective Collaboration

Geoff Whiting

Employees who are more engaged at work report higher levels of motivation, happier work environments, are more willing to take direction, have higher productivity, and can even boost your sales by 20%. But there’s a dreaded phase that can cut against those gains if not done right: group project.

When people go from operating as an individual to part of the team, their dynamic changes and so can their engagement level. Being forced into dull meetings, not feeling valued for their contribution, or frustrations when they miss updates and communication can erode that level of engagement and connection in a significant way.

To keep that decline away — and maybe even foster greater engagement — you’ve got to master effective collaboration. By working together in an environment that is positive and reinforces connections to each other, teams are better able to operate and achieve mutual goals.

Plus, if you can become a company that regularly collaborates internally and does it better than your peers, you set to outperform them by 3 to 6 times. If you want to get on the road to that performance boost, you’ll need to master 5 principles of effective collaboration and build them into your team dynamic.

1. Support communication that’s early and often

We’re big fans of real-time communication, both in the forms of meetings and things like chat services. They encourage your team to react to issues more quickly, exchange information more easily, and foster an environment of cooperation. During a collaborative project, most issues that arise are going to need a team to solve. Real-time communication gives your team the tools to tackle these things together.

These tools also make it easier for leaders to track collaborative behavior and analyze the current status of a team and their work, especially for creative collaboration. If you’re rewarding team members during a project, metrics become easier to track when you’ve got a real-time paper trail. You’ll get a little more buy-in if you ask your team to weigh in on the selection of these tools.

team members show how they communicate and collaborate differently with large text bubbles
Support the many ways your team communicates


Once the tools are in place, show your team how you want them to communicate ahead of a problem or as tasks are completed. Build a set of rules that will help, and work with teams to ensure they don’t get in the way. Two things to try and set as guidelines include:

  • Early communication: Problems, solutions, and thoughts that can make a near-term impact shouldn’t wait for a meeting. Teams should use instant communication tools to raise them as soon as they’re noted, preventing others from wasting effort.
  • Regular communication: A schedule for big-picture communication and consistent check-ins. Meetings, project management board updates, objectives, and other milestone recognition should be defined and you should have tools that make these requirements easy to meet.

Build and reward behaviors that encourage your team to communicate in those two ways.

Communicating early and often still comes with limits! A meeting can be too long for people to pay attention and come away with a coherent message. Updates that are too frequent can get in the way of completing tasks. 

There’s a rhythm that will work best for your team. Try things out and discuss their results so you can pin down what’s best for your group. You can also look for resources specific to your industry, project type, or team size. Here’s a great one for educators as well as people conducting teamwork trainings.

2. Work together in multiple ways

Collaboration involves actively working together and it is more successful and effective when those habits are reinforced. Getting a team comfortable with working together encourages them to reach out when there’s an issue, celebrate each other’s wins, and actively participate in group discussions and project updates.

office team communicates via laptop, charts, sticky notes, and more on a group project
Be sure to support in-office and remote teams in collaboration efforts

Don’t limit your collaboration to just the project or task at hand. Seek out opportunities that connect your team in other ways. There are two elements of working together in this multiplicative way:

  1. Provide multiple tools and enforce their usage. Pick pairs that integrate, like Slack and Trello, but are useful for different aspects of communication — real-time needs versus status updates, respectively. This gets your team thinking about ways to check-in and talk and work together that vary by need, time, and style.
  2. Have multiple requests that require collaboration. Beyond a project or large task, look for ways to turn smaller items into collaboration events. For example, combine the work of two people into a single status update for your weekly meetings and have those two take turns delivering the update. This requires them to work together on the presentation each week, encouraging collaboration and potentially sparking an internal conversation or concerns if one person spots something.

People are social animals and collaboration is a social exercise. Looking for opportunities to focus on our human nature and encouraging these bonds can lead to better work results. Help people look at your efforts as ways to interact, bond, and build camaraderie as well as to complete a project.

3. Focus on actions, not just results

We often view collaboration through the lens of getting a project complete more quickly and effectively. Looking at the finish line is easy and can help propel some people, but it also leads to farsighted approach where teams can easily miss problems or complications happening in more immediate steps.

Get around this by creating a plan to tackle each step and action required for your collaborative effort.

You’ll want to demonstrate the small ways that change is happening and help people understand the why behind actions, not just the how — it’s also a great way to make changes feel more real to your team.

Success should be measured long before a collaboration finishes. 

scratching out past plans and adapting to project changes by moving to Plan C 
Measuring actions makes it easier and less impactful to change plans

By reviewing steps and tracking success with each new phase, your team will get a solid understanding of what to expect. It keeps everyone on the same page and going for the same goals. Plus, it empowers your whole team to look for times when you might need to pivot — so no one sits on a concern until the collaboration is ended.

A core part of collaboration is accountability. Make your focus each action and step, clearly defining who is responsible and how everyone should participate (or can help). Sequentially moving from action to action also helps teams make those pivots more easily because it’s part of the process, not a moment for punishment.

As a bonus, recapping actions in meetings or on your project management tool clearly showcases progress to everyone. If leadership pops in and wants a status, the action-focus ensures you have something to point to at any moment.

4. Keep teams small and agile

Work with what need and keep the fluff to a minimum. That’s a good rule for collaboration in any circumstance, and one that can be applied to teams too. Keeping numbers low can help you make decisions more quickly and get you to a goal faster. You’ve got to make sure there are enough people to do the work but not too many that some end up waiting around — which can lead to envy for the “easy” role.

Smaller teams also limit the time you’ll spend in meetings and in general when waiting for everyone to respond to provide updates. It’s easier to wrangle a small team and find times that work with everyone’s schedule.

Agile development, with small sprints and working on small pieces of the puzzle also tends to go more smoothly when you’ve got a core team. Responsibilities and requirements can be clearer and more defined when not spread too thin to ensure everyone has something to do.

woman collaborating on team project looks at list of participants for easier identification
A smart team size is one where it’s easy to remember everyone


Research on things like the “two pizza team” backs up the small-team approach and how they can be driven by technology. Sometimes that means having the right video tools to build out your communication arms.

The important caveat here is that you’ll want a diverse team that reaches across sectors and viewpoints. It’ll help bust down siloes and present you with the multiple perspectives you may need to tackle a problem. The broader your coalition, without getting too large in number, the easier you might be able to address a new problem or to think about all the people who are impacted by a change you’re considering.

The outside is also a good perspective to add when possible. Getting someone to look at your work and collaboration from the outside can help ensure you’ve got a final product, service, or solution that is reliable and usable for your end target.

  1. Model behavior and infrastructure

Reading this section header and you’ll likely assume that this is just for a team or project leader, but it really is about following the Golden Rule for everyone in any situation.

You want to model behavior that is best for the group to show people who might not know and to demonstrate how you with to be treated. There are a variety of proven behaviors that support collaboration, including working to build trust and active listening. Demonstrating such soft skills can make your fellow teammates more inclined to work together and feel included.

Supporting valuable communication is at the heart of successful collaboration. You get there by taking time to truly hear what someone else is saying and trying to understand where their point of view originates. This ties in heavily with empathy — a useful tool to improve your team and gain more customers — and working to give everyone a voice.

team brings puzzle pieces together to demonstrate how they collaborate on solutions to a problem
Show everyone how they fit in with the project’s goals and needs

When someone feels listened to and appreciated, they have a better chance of doing the same for others on their team. If you’re worried about this in an upcoming collaboration, consider training the whole staff on active listening, responding positively, and keeping criticism constructive.

The infrastructure aspect of this principle may give you pause, but it’s simply about having the processes and resources in place to promote the collaborative behaviors you’re working toward. Ask yourself and your team if the resources for collaboration and clear across all aspects of teamwork.

Let’s think about conflict and healthy disagreement. As a leader, you’ll want to model the methodology you prefer to discuss a disagreement, including how to raise concerns, language to use that keeps the conversation and process and not people, and how a disagreement is resolved.

The infrastructure aspect is all about answer questions around the process: 

  • How does someone signify a disagreement? 
  • Does this work when someone is shy or when they’re disagreeing with the leader? 
  • Are disagreements made publicly or privately? 
  • When they are registered, what does the team need to choose a resolution?
  • Is there only one way to add a concern, cast a vote, or take other steps?

You might need an object to hold or raise so everyone can speak, an established voting system to determine outcomes, or a toolset that other participants can use when a disagreement gets out of hand. A beneficial piece of infrastructure — especially around conflict management — is a clear way to designate leaders and have this shift to different people at specific times. When everyone gets a chance, your entire team gets practice and your protect a project from being overrun by natural or aggressive leaders.

Thinking outside the text box

Collaboration inherently comes back to communication, no matter what element you’re approaching. So, your team needs the best tools to communicate effectively. While the digital world usually relies on text — think your chats, emails, and SCRUM boards — most people are visual learners.

So, you need a visual tool. CloudApp has become a leading go-to for team collaboration because it is a great collaborator too. Check out this integration list to see how it’ll help you add video, GIFs, annotations, and images to the communication and collaboration tools your team already uses.

Give it a try and let them start sharing right away by picking up a free, no-obligation trial here.

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