How to work collaboratively

From resolving an issue quickly to motivating an entire workforce, the potential benefits of collaboration are wide ranging.

Workplaces that bring teams together to meet face to face, use web technologies to meet virtually, or encourage individuals to put their heads together more often to find solutions, realise just how effective collective working can be.

Collaboration is all about getting the best results using two or more people. Done well, it helps to distribute work more evenly, empowers workers by giving them more individual and shared responsibility and increases motivation.

When people collaborate, progress can be fast tracked. Instead of struggling with an issue for months, the pooling of skills and knowledge between colleagues and teams can deliver a solution in a matter of hours.

From a business perspective, making collaboration central to the way the organisation works will improve learning and development across the workforce. When people get together they can understand each other’s roles better, see how others work and learn to negotiate and communicate more effectively.

It’s one thing to know collaboration is a good thing, but another to do it well. To achieve results from improved contact between people there are a number of skills that everyone needs.


Everyone involved in a meeting or discussion should be encouraged to communicate openly and freely. Letting others do all the talking or keeping relevant know-how to yourself is not collaboration. Actively listening to other participants, readily sharing your knowledge and offering ideas is.

Plan good questions

From facilitator to participant, asking the right questions will produce the best results. Good questions will help to guide a discussion along, get it started and keep it on track. They will also help people to think differently and provide a whole range of information that they might otherwise not have.

Open ended questions are often better. Asking people what they think works best, or their thoughts on a subject, will encourage more open responses than questions that invite yes/no answers.

Phrasing questions in language that most people are comfortable with, using minimal jargon, will make the session easier for everyone.

It’s also recommended to keep questions neutral, for example by asking what people think of a venue rather than guiding their answer by asking whether they think a venue is fantastic.

Ask for help

Making people aware that their contribution is valuable to the business is key. Putting an issue to the team and asking for their help to resolve it demonstrates that their involvement matters.

Breaking the issue down into individual parts, or getting the ball rolling with a range of possible solutions may help to get everyone talking, encourage people to come up with better ideas, or develop into an answer during the discussion.

Give and follow directions

Collaboration can often lead to people needing to give and take direction from each other.

This can be achieved successfully if you give as much context as possible when making a request of a colleague, provide a reasonable level of detail and ask politely and professionally.

If you’re on the receiving end of direction from a colleague, responding to this positively will help you both. Listening actively, even pretending to yourself that you’ll need to do a quiz on it afterwards, asking any questions if needed and being respectful are all vital.

Start and finish well

Structuring any collaborative session so people know what to expect and recognise its’ value is critical to future enthusiasm.

Discussions should start with a few words from the facilitator on the purpose of the meeting, how long it will last and the topic to be covered. Wrapping up should leave everyone with a clear sense of next steps and who will be doing what.

For more ideas and inspiration:

View our B Guide to Collaboration

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