Working collaboratively is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I do. I don’t know if you ever get good at it. With each new collaboration, I feel I learn something new about how to collaborate. The process is difficult and it’s important to pay as much attention to how you work together as to what you work on.
Here are some tips about team work that I’ve been thinking about and would like to share with you:
Clarify the goal
For every thing you need to accomplish, make sure everyone understands what the final product should look like. Discuss it, describe it, have several team members repeat this vision. This ensures you’re all working towards the same goal.
Spell out tasks
Break your work down into tasks and write them down. Make sure everyone understands and remembers what tasks need to be done and who is doing what. At the end of many work meetings, we spends a few minutes repeating to each other who’s doing what tasks, to make sure we understand and remember, and to let others know we understand and remember.
Have each member check the final product
Assemble your final product sufficiently early to give everyone in the team a chance to look it over before submitting. People make honest mistakes. One more round of proofreading will probably find one more spelling error. From an individual perspective, it’s important you check what goes out with your name on it. If you are co-authoring a paper and your co-author plagiarized, you are in just as much trouble. If your co-author’s section has spelling error, this reflects on you, too. I cannot emphasize this enough: If something has your name on it, check it before it gets submitted.
Use redundancy and repetition in your communication
I know some of you get bored to tears when the teacher repeats the same thing several times. I feel you and I’m sorry you have to listen to all the repetitions when you got it the first time. However, as a teacher, I can tell you that even when I repeat something until I myself am bored to tears, there will still be people in the room who didn’t get it. Repetition and redundancy help reduce the probability of misunderstanding. Use them shamelessly in your group communication. This does not mean that one member should be constantly repeating things to others. Each group member should take it upon themselves to repeat back to the group what the common understanding should be. For example, once someone in the group has summarized the tasks until the next group meeting, one or two other group members, should repeat them: “OK, so I do this and you do that, and we post it there when we’re done and then we move on to the other thing.” Also, make sure you write the tasks down and post them somewhere where all group members can access them easily (e.g. a shared file on Google Docs).
This repetition practice may feel silly and awkward in the beginning, but it is very much worth it. The only way to check with the other person to make sure you understood them correctly is to repeat what they said back to them: “So, if I understood correctly, what you are saying is…” Use this in your work and personal communication, and I promise you will communicate more effectively.
Now, it is your turn to share your tips for working well with others. What has your experience taught you? What works well and what doesn’t? Let us know!