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Four Tips for Building Workplace Collaboration

Joshua Spears

COO for Traitify | Film, Books & Animals, aspiring Kool-Aid man | Inventor/Visionary in Work

When it comes to corporate buzzwords, few are buzzier right now than "collaboration." And there is growing volume of research to strongly suggest that this is more than a passing fad .

Effective collaboration is closely associated with higher profits, greater customer loyalty, and a more productive workforce, according to experts.

What's more, workplace collaboration is becoming less of a voluntary choice and more of a necessary step for companies in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, and complex – even as workers are increasingly specialized, according to Heidi K. Gardner, a former McKinsey consultant and Harvard Business School professor who studied the issue for a decade and wrote the new book "Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos."

It makes intuitive sense that a multidisciplinary approach to projects and initiatives is becoming the norm, rather than the old silo practice of having one discrete type of expert take on projects alone.

That's why, as we've long said, assembling diverse personalities in a collaborative group is essential. Heterogeneous teams are typically stronger than homogenous groups. We all have different strengths and styles. Collaborative group members can and should complement rather than replicate each other.

But for as much sense as workplace collaboration makes, getting it right "can be a bit painful," Gardner said in recent webinar. One big reason is that we tend to know little about our colleagues, so trusting them is hard, she explained.

What can you do about that? Of course, I believe that administering a high-quality, reliable personality assessment is the best place to start. Without scientific insight into your workers' personalities, you'll always be fumbling around in the dark with them, and they with each other. Yet what matters most is how you use those assessment results.

So here are some tips for helping your employees bridge the knowledge gap in general, and for facilitating collaboration among different personality types.

1. Start Spreading the News.

Don't let those assessment results rot in some HR file cabinet after using them for hiring. In fact, share them widely. The more we know about each other, the better we understand, which contributes to trust.

As our director of psychology, Beverly Betz, says: "I would want every member of the team to know the [personality types] of every other member of the team."

If the thought of disseminating this information spurs hesitation and concern about the risk for embarrassing staffers, Betz says personality tests are not like IQ tests where there are perceived winners and losers. We all have personality strengths, they're just different for each of us, and we're all better served by greater understanding of them.

2. Assemble Team Members with Care.

Hopefully you're already using assessment results in your hiring process. Now use them to carefully assemble collaborative groups. Draft a diverse team with the potential to harmonize personality-wise. You might want to consider opening the selection process up to those beyond the inner circle, which will help you avoid the common misstep of bringing together teams that look, sound, behave, and think a lot like the selectors themselves.

3. Improve the Launch.

In her presentation, Gardner emphasized the importance of "the launch" to overall success. In the launch, someone must explicitly lay out not only the objectives for the group, but also how and what each member can contribute to fulfill the group's goals. In addition to discussing, say, your expectations regarding a certain member's quantitative skills, you could also state your hope that this individual will tap his or her, say, natural conscientious nature to help the group negotiate the trying times that are sure to come.

4. Deliver Feedback that Registers.

High-quality, timely, and constructive feedback  is essential to effective collaboration, Gardner says, citing the old business adage "Feedback on the run is better than none." Taking personality into account can optimize the feedback loop. Introverts may need a little time to process input before responding, for example. Some people may respond better to written feedback, while others prefer verbal. Some may need more diplomacy, while some prefer blunt talk. I'm not saying you should tell them what they want to hear; I'm suggesting you tell them what they need to hear in a way they're more likely to truly hear it.

This is an important topic that I'm sure we'll revisit regularly in the months to come. In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about how diverse personalities can be brought together to fuel collaboration, download our guide, 10 Ways to Build Great Teams Using Personality Data. And if you don't yet use a personality test, consider discovering more about how ours works.

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