WORKPLACE COMMUNICATION – Why is collaboration important?

    By Paula Arthur

    Today’s workplace is challenged by the high demands of market conditions,  economics, culture, and intense competition. How we communicate professionally is a critical element in order to be successful. Work environments are transforming to keep pace with international trade, technology, and global production all while retaining a highly skilled workforce. The dynamics of culture cannot be ignored. Culture directly impacts how well we communicate and work together in teams.

    How can professionals collaborate in a diverse workplace? The world we live in is a blend of many nationalities and subcultures that must learn how to effectively communicate and collaborate in business and education. Industry demands more attention to developing a relevant perspective and also capturing a multicultural audience. One person cannot do this alone.

    Collaboration is a process of two or more people working together to meet a common goal or positive outcome. Team collaboration continues to increase in the workplace. According to Hansen, benefits of collaboration include innovation, creative problem solving, operational efficiency, agility, and customer satisfaction. Working in teams can be effective if done right. Research indicates that nine out of ten business professionals produce documents as a part of a team (Cohen). One solution is to combine experiences to create more cohesive groups.

    In the past, society has conditioned us to promote individual performance in order to achieve success. We do not pay attention to other cultures enough. Therefore, we remain unaware of how connected culture is to the root of communication. Culture influences how we approach problems, and how we participate in our communities. Some authors believe that while participating in groups, we are often surprised at how differently people approach their work together. This is a challenge with team-based performance. Blanding summarizes this thought well, “I’ve always been fascinated by how culture changes the way people interact and innovate, and how collaboration is affected by intercultural relationships and intercultural trust” (2). Expectations affect how the world communicates. Communication styles are tricky - driving awareness of six patterns of cultural differences:

    1. Different Communications Styles
    2. Different Attitudes Toward Conflict
    3. Different Approaches to Completing Tasks
    4. Different Decision-Making Styles
    5. Different Attitudes Toward Disclosure
    6. Different Approaches to Knowing

    Marya Axner is an author who offers insight into cross-cultural communication. He believes that in some cultures it is not appropriate, to be frank about emotions, about reasons behind a conflict or a misunderstanding, or about personal information. Human behavior often dictates the tone, intention and expectations of one’s voice and writing style. The primary areas to develop cultural competence include increasing awareness, knowledge,  sensitivity, and understanding.  Although different experiences, roles, and personalities exist, collaborative groups are the inclusive new norm.

    Language barriers are the most obvious challenge faced by project teams in the workplace. If we cannot understand one another, how can we communicate? Challenges may lead people to revisit another’s perspective and behavior. The difficult moments offer the best lessons in life.

    Although translators are responsible for deciphering words, emotions, and body language, they do not always deliver a clear message. Some messages are always lost in translation.

    Virtual communication places significantly more structural, interpersonal, and cognitive demands on individual team members.  It requires constant attention and long-term commitment. Future training should focus on real-life work experience. Case studies are one thing, but practical application is more important to demonstrate a realistic approach. Cross-cultural collaboration is improved by developing a communication plan following these guidelines:

    • Create basic communication ground rules
    • Be prepared for a conversation or verbal exchange
    • Understand your culture and have respect for other cultures
    • Develop relationships built on trust
    • Be patient with others

    Collaboration improves communication by simply exposing us to other cultures. By joining professional groups and attending industry conferences in new cities also provides other opportunities. Tin Brownlee agrees by stating if the focus remains on the common goal and equal power for everyone involved, the collaboration will have a great chance of success. Collaboration is a relevant method to unite a diverse workforce. We just need to have the conversation. Professionals and educators should begin to focus more on problem-solving and conflict resolution.

    Collaboration benefits everyone in the workplace. Furthermore, cooperation promotes sensitivity, knowledge transfer, and improves communication. I invite your teams to give collaboration a chance to improve team performance.


    By: Tom Goebel, Director of Communications, PMI Houston Chapter

    In the movie “The Untouchables”, the Al Capone character gives an inspiring speech to his team of gangster lieutenants gathered at a meeting in Prohibition-era Chicago. Suffice to say, the dinner doesn’t end well for one of the capos – the one who didn’t embrace teamwork!

    How do you, a Project Manager, avoid ending up (figuratively, anyway) like that unfortunate dinner guest? There are things that you can do to beef up your ability to inspire and work with your teammates. Here are some suggestions.

    At the top of any discussion about working with other people is communication. It should be said that real communication involves as much – maybe more – listening than talking. After all, when you’re talking you already know the subject matter, right? By listening to your teammates, you gain insights into not only how they work but how they innovate and create. For most people, external input is probably responsible for more good ideas than internal input. Developing an effective communication strategy and style is the best way for you to maximize that benefit.

    Leadership is critical in a team environment. Of course, somebody has to lead the effort. But other forms of leadership can also emerge. As individual team members become more assertive and gain confidence in their contributions, they begin to exercise their own leadership through influence. The primary leader’s responsibility is to help members develop these skills through encouragement and mentorship, and also by providing a platform.

    Recognition of members’ strengths and weaknesses is an important step in defining roles and allocating tasks. It also helps the leader identify motivators so that he or she knows how to incentivize the team. People perform for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the sense of contribution and recognition for said contribution.

    When a team optimizes input from one of the individuals, all stakeholders win!

    Another key factor is organization. Primarily, this means that goals and deliverables should be established early and reiterated often. Other organizational elements follow scheduling and milestones, task allocation, risk management, stakeholder management, and cost control. All of these Project Management functions depend on the organization of the team and the project parts.

    Finally, members of the team need to achieve two goals. The first is to become fearless in sharing ideas and concepts. Fearlessness leads to assertiveness, which in turn leads to contribution and influence. This trend comes full circle to feed the fearlessness. Individual strengths begin to emerge and contribute to the fabric of the team. The second goal is to cultivate an open mind. In the project world, this is easier said than done. Everyone enters a project with preconceived notions about deliverables and how to achieve them. In reality, maintaining an open mind can result in a change in perception of deliverables/goals. More importantly, an open mind almost always unlocks new opportunities for solution development and implementation.

    Remember that even though there is no “I” in “teamwork”, there is a “me”. It’s important to train the “me” in how to perform productively with the rest of the team.