6 Easy ways to Build a Culture of Team Collaboration at Work


At work the other day, I had a problem. I chatted to a colleague about it and she suggested I talk to someone she knew who was working on a different project. I called them and (despite not knowing who I was or why I was ringing) they answered and spent 20 minutes sharing ideas with me.

This exchange got my project unstuck and was all I needed to stay on track. I’m fortunate to work in a collaborative culture, where helping out colleagues is the norm and we all share common reasons for doing what we do at work.

Team Collaboration

In another organization I know, information is not shared. It’s hard to get hold of people. No one knows where documents are stored and people aren’t generous with their time. I don’t know why that is or how the work culture has ended up that way, but I do know it’s not a place I’d find it easy to do my job.

A collaborative culture is what makes the difference.

What is a Collaborative Culture?

A culture of team collaboration is where colleagues work together to solve problems and complete work tasks. That sounds simple to say, but what does a collaborative culture look like? It’s a professional working environment based on openness and transparency, where good ideas are valued and acted on and mistakes are considered learning experiences. Shared objectives mean that working together is valued more than creating knowledge silos, and connecting colleagues is as important as doing a good job.

In this article, I’ll share some steps leaders can take to build a culture that fosters communication and collaboration.

How to Create a Culture of Team Collaboration?

Let’s look at some different ways to build a culture of collaboration and teamwork, with some straightforward steps you can take today.

1. Where are you Starting From

First, assess where you are starting from. What makes you think that you need to build a better culture of collaboration than the one you already have? You want to improve working practices but why? What are the current blockers with the way that your team is working at the moment?

List these out and consider why you don’t have a culture you consider truly collaborative. What changes would be required before you’d be happy with the environment you had created? When you know what you want to achieve and what the blockers are, it’s easier to create a plan.

You don’t have to do this step alone: the rest of the team will also have ideas about what is working and what could be improved.

2. Get the Right Tools

What tools do your team members need to be able to work together? Without the right infrastructure, they won’t be able to come together and contribute to work.

Generally, even if your team work in the same location, they need somewhere to record team tasks, store documents and hold discussions. Work management tools like Nimble do all of that and more.

Assess the tools in use and consider whether they are fit for purpose. If you’re questioning whether the team could collaborate more, they probably aren’t.

3. Train and Support

One of the things I talk about in my book, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers, is that tools alone aren’t enough to see behavior change. Giving someone a login for a new piece of software won’t make them use it (or use it well).

Offer training and support so that using the tools becomes second nature. Give people the time to migrate their data into the new platform and to get comfortable using it.

Ask for volunteers to be the tool super user. This person doesn’t have to be the most senior, or even a PMO team member. As long as they are enthusiastic and have a good manner so they can help colleagues, they are a good fit for the super user role. Train them up and point people towards them!

4. Set Common Goals

If people have different, opposing goals, they will focus on their own needs to the detriment of the team. Set organizational goals and cascade these down through line managers so everyone’s success contributes to everyone else’s bonus plan.

If you don’t have organizational goals, or aren’t in a position to set them, you can set goals for your department or project team. Project goals are straightforward: everyone should be lined up behind delivering the objective for the project, so keep communicating those goals and remind people about why the project is happening.

5. Focus on Communication

Before collaboration comes communication. People should share what they are working on so blockers can be identified. Get the team together regularly through standups and share progress.

Just get to know each other better as well. It’s much easier to work with people you know than strangers, so get people talking. You don’t have to share lots of personal data, and some people won’t want to talk about their lives outside work – that’s fine. But you should know each other’s strengths as colleagues and feel that you can rely on each other.

6. Reward Collaboration

Don’t give all the praise to the project manager when it was a team effort! It feels obvious, but there’s a reason why project management award season features lots of photos of teams at the podium: projects are done by groups!

Find ways to reward working together, whether that’s saying thank you to a senior colleague who mentored a new starter or a group working on a project together.

How do you Contribute to a Culture of Collaboration as an Individual or Leader?

One of the questions I’m sometimes asked is how to set the tone and contribute as an individual, when you’re not in charge of the team and can’t influence organizational culture?


You can lead by example, even if you aren’t in a traditional ‘leadership’ position. Be a collaborative colleague, share information and value contributions. Offer to talk about one of your projects at a team meeting and share some lessons learned. Reach out to other people in similar roles to you and ask for their experience.

As a leader, make team collaboration the way things are done around here, a habit, the working practice that is expected. Set up retrospectives and get people talking about what works and what doesn’t, and how the team could evolve to be more productive, efficient or collaborative.

Taking the Next Step

Changing organizational culture isn’t easy but set the right tone through your own actions and help the team move towards a more productive, engaging and rewarding work environment. Next, make sure those behaviors are supported by work management tools that make collaboration easier.

And while those things are being embedded, as a very simple next step, answer the phone when a colleague you don’t know calls and be generous with your time.

Share the Knowledge

Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is a program and project manager with over 20 years of experience in getting things done. She’s the author of Managing Multiple Projects and an APM Fellow, and she loves writing about tactics that help you complete your projects with more confidence and less stress.

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