How to help your dispersed team work better together

5 ways to improve communication and collaboration

Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, team members have become more dispersed — working apart from colleagues they used to see every day. While the way we work has changed, most of our goals haven’t. We still need to deliver business results, focus on our priorities and overcome challenges. As a leader, you can make a positive impact by helping your employees work better as a team and remain productive.

Use these strategies to help your team be successful no matter what your workplace environment is.

1. Open the lines of communication

A consistent stream of communication is more important now than ever. You don’t need a full-blown, comprehensive internal communication plan, but you should establish a regular cadence of touch points with your team, including:

· Weekly or biweekly team meetings

· Weekly office hours (a morning or afternoon each week — just like your favorite college professor did)

· Task checks (“How are we doing with this part of the project?” Explore challenges and brainstorm solutions.)

· Informal smaller group meetings (coffee chats, lunch breaks, cocktails and conversation)

· Status updates on social channels (“Here’s what I’m working on…”)

Ramping up communication will help team members feel connected and encourage positive working relationships.

2. Make the most of meetings

Now that you have scheduled you touch points, it’s time to think about how to run better meetings. It starts with a solid agenda that is focused on one topic, encourages multiple voices and includes interaction (not just talking heads).

These sessions should include opportunities to:

· Review progress and recognize contributions

· Gather ideas

· Brainstorm solutions to current challenges

· Share lessons learned and best practices

· Agree on next steps

Consider including just-for-fun sessions. It’s a great way to foster those all-important working relationships. Get the party started by asking questions, such as:

· What are you binge-watching?

· Have you tackled any DIY projects lately?

· What’s for dinner?

· How was your weekend?

Feeling part of a community is important to employees — especially during these days of mixed-up work environments. Interaction and personal stories foster that sense of contributing to something bigger.

3. Mix up facilitation techniques

Things get stale very quickly if we do the same activities all the time — in every Zoom meeting, every day, every hour. (You get the picture!) During these days of constant web-based meetings, solid facilitation can mean the difference between an inspiring session or a snooze fest where nothing is accomplished.

Keep things interesting by trying different collaboration methods, such as:

· Setting up 5-minute pop-up meetings for quick problem solving

· Using exercises to encourage brainstorming and group problem solving, such as coming up with bad ideas first, creating a mood board or writing as many ideas as possible in a specified time

· Stimulating dialogue by sharing personal perspectives and stories

· Assigning small groups (two or three people) to a specific task or to solve a problem, and reporting back

When we look at screens (and we have many of them in our lives), we expect things to happen. Ensure your meetings have energy and feel dynamic.

4. Utilize a variety of tools

Web-based meetings (such as Zoom, Teams and WebEx)

Many of today’s meeting platforms have built-in collaboration features that encourage sharing and keep participants engaged, including:

· Chat

· Whiteboards

· Polls

· Word clouds

· Document sharing and editing (such as Google docs)

· Breakout rooms (Perfect for small group discussions or activities!) Here’s how to use this feature effectively:

. Provide clear direction on the assignment

. Set a specific time limit

. Establish groups randomly or by pre-selection

. Open the breakout rooms

. Allow time for a representative from each group to share the results of their discussions

Social media (such as Yammer, Chatter or Workplace)

If you have an internal social media tool, create a group for your team and share updates regularly. Encourage team members to post their ideas, interesting articles and what they’re working on. It’s also a great way to brainstorm, post a challenge or pose a question.

No internal social media? No problem: Make group contributions to a document (think Google Docs). Or capitalize on your web meeting platform’s whiteboard feature.

Blog

Maintaining a blog will help your team stay up to date with what’s on your mind. But don’t think of your entries as essays, instead try microblogging: short, casual posts (50 words or fewer) focused on one topic. Invite comments or ask for input. And try posting a few entries as video — a selfie captured on your smartphone (60 to 90 minutes).

5. Encourage equal participation

As the team leader, it’s up to you to create spaces where everyone has a role to play. Model the behavior you expect from your team members by:

· Being a good listener

· Answering difficult questions

· Admitting when you don’t have all the answers and committing to getting the information

· Taking notice when someone is not speaking up and asking for his/her thoughts

· Asking lots of questions

· Challenging assumptions

· Taking a back seat and letting others lead

Here are additional techniques to encourage participation:

· Round robin answers: go around the table to gather input from every team member or get multiple perspectives on an idea

· Give small team assignments and/or individual tasks that each contribute to a larger project

· Acknowledge team members’ input: When employees know their efforts are appreciated, they are more likely to contribute in the future

We have a saying in our office, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” Improving your communication and encouraging collaboration will set the foundation for great relationships and help the team reach its goals.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit https://www.davisandco.com to know more.