5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Team

Warren Barkley, CTO, SMART Technologies
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Warren Barkley, CTO, SMART Technologies

Enabling employee collaboration can be a struggle for many companies in this digital age. When budgets are tight, we tend to focus solely on driving the bottom line. But employee engagement and team collaboration are a struggle worth overcoming.

Employees are consumers and users of technology and social channels. Use that to your advantage 

 Research shows that when the lines of communication are broken, a company’s performance suffers. According to Holmes Report, around $37 billion is lost yearly from lack of communication between employees. When employees collaborate and communicate effectively, not only are they more engaged, but company performance improves.  

 Gallup revealed that when employees are engaged, companies reap the payoffs. For instance, at businesses with more engaged employees, they experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition that same year.  

 Below are five tips on boosting not only office but companywide communication and productivity. 

1. Hire people based on their skills, not their location.  

A company is only as good as its best team members, and millennials are taking the workplace by storm. They expect and demand flexibility. Because they can and will work from anywhere, don’t miss out on their talents and skills by limiting your search. Broaden it. It does not mean that these folks don’t need to meet in person on a regular basis but tools like Astana, Slack and Skype make teamwork across distance possible and real.  

 And it’s not just about millennials, either. Some of your best talent might be sitting in another country altogether. Top talent is everywhere. We often forget to look south and north in instead of east and west. Because of time zones, it is often easier to have teams in San Paulo and Denver work together than Boston and Prague, for example  

 With today’s technology, there’s no need to hire people solely based on their location or yours. Keep an open mind and look for talent outside your local region. 

2. Reengineer the way you communicate with coworkers. 

Regular dialog helps keep people on the same page. Whether it’s in formal meetings or the proverbial water cooler chat, great ideas stem from good conversations.  

 It’s true that distributed teams can be more challenging to keep in the loop. Different time zones make people available at different times and there’s a chance that messages, emails, and ideas get misinterpreted, or even missed altogether. But today’s technologies help to mitigate communication challenges to get all of your employees on the same page when it comes to company objectives and goals.  

 In our always-on world, it’s easy to communicate with your coworkers using IM, emails, conference calls, and increasingly, video conferencing. Adding video to the mix helps to build rapport and makes you feel like you know someone even if you’ve never actually met in-person.  

 Give your employees the tools to brainstorm and collaborate in real-time. Something even as simple as a digital whiteboard helps spread and share great ideas across your company. Create the motion of including the remote people early in the conversation for your meetings so it becomes a habit.  

3.  Keep the lines of communication open.  

Be available to your team, regardless where you – or they – are. It’s critical that you try to listen more than talk. The more senior you become in an organization, the more people want to hear from you and the less raw information you have So take advantage of technology to keep the virtual door open and dialog with your team members on a regular basis. “Pinging” people in your organization on instant messaging for their thoughts allows you to hear a diverse set of opinions and creates open conversations that are devoid of hierarchy. 

In my organization, we hold daily, weekly and biweekly “stand-up” meetings to go over the week’s priorities and accomplishments. This provides an opportunity to make sure we are all aligned as well as uncover synergies that we may not have realized without these quick 15-minute discussions.  
 
4. Make it easy to collaborate

We’re all busy, and one of the last things people want is to waste time on technological hurdles or unnecessary protocols.  
 
In this day and age, intuitive interfaces are expected. Encourage your team to use the tools they feel most comfortable with. The ones they take joy in using so they can focus on the task at-hand rather than become entangled in training and bureaucracy. In my organization, the development team loves using a Wiki. Personally, I don’t like it - so much so that we have t-shirts poking fun at my disdain for it. The point is, we use it because it fits their style and makes them more effective.  
 
To keep the lines of communication open and the collaboration ongoing, encourage your team members to reach out to you using the means that best suit their individual workstyles: email, video, phone, text, and IM. Rely on platforms that offer a single and intuitive interface so that everyone can use them as easily from their mobile devices as they can from their desktop.  

5.  Foster a culture of innovation. 

Employees are consumers and users of technology and social channels. Use that to your advantage. Get your organization buzzing and communicating with internal social tools like Yammer, Chatter, Soapbox, etc. These social enterprise tools offer a seamless way to share ideas and information, and collaborate in real time. Many studies show that if one doesn’t measure and cultivate innovation it doesn’t happen. Energy and effort need to put into the innovation process to ensure a healthy culture of invention.  

 The future of work is only going to get faster, more virtual, and hyper-connected. Put the best practices and the best tools in the hands of your employees. Support them by listening to them and motivating them with the best tools. In no time, your actively engaged employees will be working together as an unstoppable, mighty team and your business will reap the payoffs.

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