Creating a Collaborative Team

Charlie was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. The enemy shot Charlie down during his 75th combat mission in the war. He ejected from his jet and parachuted into enemy territory. Charlie spent six years as a prisoner of war.

When Charlie was released, someone recognized him when he got back home to the United States. A stranger asked him, “Are you, Charlie? Didn’t you fly jets from the Kitty Hawk? Charlie was confused. He didn’t know how this man knew that. “I packed your parachute,” the man said. “I guess it worked!”

If that parachute hadn’t worked, Charlie would be dead. Someone Charlie did not even know held Charlie’s life in his hand. Charlie kept reflecting on how many times he must have seen the guy. He never talked to him because Charlie was a fighter pilot, and the stranger was “just a sailor.”

None of us succeed alone. It takes a team for us to achieve. Many people have a hand in our parachutes. Are we taking the time to acknowledge, thank, and reward them? It is easy to ignore the work of many. It takes many people to build a collaborative team that looks out for each other.

Creating a Collaborative Team

Large, diverse, virtual teams of specialists are less likely to collaborate, absent other influences. To get these teams to sink or swim together, it takes deliberate effort from management. When the team focuses on collaboration, workers feel a part of something greater than themselves. 

Example Set by Senior Leaders

Teams do well when managers invest in improving social connections and show collaborative behavior themselves. Better teams are formed when employees see teamwork as something be prized and unselfishly offered.

At Standard Chartered bank, the executive team will frequently serve as stand-ins for one another. Each of the executives can fill in for the other for nearly any task despite the business operating in 57 countries across the globe. Internal communication is frequent. This collaboration flows throughout the organization. Workers soon recognize that the most desirable way things get done is by informal networks.

Creating a Culture of Mentorship 

Collaboration is higher for the teams where mentoring is embedded into everyday tasks. Employees must be encouraged to appreciate others, engage in purposeful discussions, and creatively resolve conflicts. By instructing employees in those areas, relationships are developed beyond the transactional “tit-for-tat culture.”

Tasks and Relationships Oriented Leaders 

Balance is the key to many examples in leadership. Relationship-oriented leaders create an environment of trust and goodwill so that knowledge is freely shared. Task-oriented leaders make objectives clear, create a shared awareness of the task’s dimensions, and provide monitoring and advice. Both types of leadership are helpful for teams.

In a study by the London School of Economics, the most productive, innovative teams were typically led by leaders showing task and relationship-oriented skills. Those leaders changed their style during the project. At the first stage of a project, the best leaders displayed task-oriented leadership. The goal was clear, and so were the individual roles of team members. Once team members had nailed down the plans, the best leaders shifted to a relationship orientation.

To promote these skills company-wide, an organization can implement the relationship skills in its annual review process. For example, ask employees to describe their peer network and show specific examples of how the network helped them prosper. They should also share instances of how they’ve used relationship-building to get things done. To improve their task leadership skills, encourage people to engage in project-management certification programs.

Understanding Role Clarity and Task Ambiguity

Collaboration improves when individual team members’ positions are clearly defined and understood—when workers sense that they can do a substantial portion of their work independently. Without that clarity, employees will probably waste too much strength defending turf rather than concentrate on the job. Suppose a team perceives the task as one that requires creativity. In that case, its members are more likely to invest time and energy in collaboration. So to foster collaboration, it’s vital to encourage team members to solve problems creatively. 

Encourage Inter-Departmental Task Force

Build trust and cohesion among various departments so that marketing, accounting, sales, and legal work together for a common goal. Cross-functional workgroups help people learn from each other and see how their core abilities add to aspects of the company and the team’s overall success.

Encourage teams to hold brainstorming sessions. It’s great to ask team members to share their ideas frequently. That exchange of ideas will motivate them to achieve and exceed expectations. 


Effective teamwork must be constant and purposeful, with rewards and support committed to its success. The team’s productivity increases by encouraging workers to serve as a team. When people sense that they are part of something remarkable, they all want to win for each other. Collaboration works because developing a shared win is meaningful, bonding, and growth-promoting.

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