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March 30, 2023

The Road to Collaborative Success

In part one of this article, we explained the importance of collaboration to innovation. This then begs the question: how do we collaborate more effectively?

Here, we outline the necessary pitstops on the road to collaborative success.

1. Safety in All Layers

Psychological safety is a trusting behavior. It's the belief that it is safe to take interpersonal risks without fear of backlash. Employees will feel included, and that it's safe to learn and contribute without fear of embarrassment. Trusting each other is vital to effective collaboration, because collaboration is built on trust and dependency.

Leaders can help foster a psychologically safe environment by opening up. For example, they can start admitting to their own errors so others feel it's safe to communicate their difficulties. The team can then feel comfortable in resolving conflict, learning, and moving forward together.

Medium, the publishing company, flattens team hierarchy by distributing decision making power. Ideas can flow freely through ‘hierarchies’, where an intern can feel comfortable directing their ideas to the CEO. This promotes the psychological safety to share and ensure people are achieving their best.

Freedom in sharing is also great for innovation. People will be keen to share different ideas, even if they are ‘bad’ (there’s no such thing as a ‘bad idea’ though).

‘Bad’ ideas are the key to creative problem solving. It allows for out-of-the-box thinking because it doesn’t align with the usual ‘good’ ideas. Hence, you get more innovative with the ideas you think may be bad.

'Bad' ideas are the building blocks to better ones, and you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Voicing out the 'bad' ideas (as long as they have adequate rationale as well) can help move you and your team move forward to greater ideas.

Words of wisdom from Wayne Gretzky, also Michael Scott. Source: The Office

2. Communication (and Reflection) is Key

Teams can collaborate better by organising individual skills to achieve a combined goal. To do that, the team has to set a team goal - a shared mental model that puts everyone on the same page.

A sense of direction reduces ambiguity and allows for better communication when trying to share expertise. It also increases adaptability because the shared goal can guide their direction when in doubt.

A challenge to teams can be sustaining training effects, which are the skills learned through a task or a team building activity. One of the solutions to sustain trained behavior is reflection. Conduct regular debriefings after training to lock in anything learned.

This research on debriefs pointed out that debriefs can help team members better understand their situation and adapt their strategies to collaborate better. Focusing on key events and learning objectives is a good structure to a debrief.

A good model to adopt when building reflection into team building, town halls, and standup meetings is to consider the 'nine team roles'.

  • The Nine Team Roles

Dr Meredith Belbin created the Belbin model of the nine team roles. Belbin studied team dynamics and the factors that influenced their success and failures for over ten years. These team roles are based on observed behaviors and interpersonal styles.

Belbin suggests that people tend to naturally adopt a team-role, but this role is also dependent on the situation and the work being done. But with any holistic models, this is merely a guide that can assist you by providing a framework for reference.

To explore team dynamics, try including Belbin's team roles assessment in a team building exercise.

3. Under One Roof, Promote Breakthroughs

A study from the University of Michigan found that employees working in the same building are 33% more likely to collaborate, versus employees who occupy different buildings. People on the same floor are 57% more likely to collaborate.

Steve Jobs’ obsession with office design (read our post on office design here) is actually supported by social-spatial science. The Pixar headquarters is also designed to only have one set of bathrooms at the center of the building. This gets employees to have more chance encounters and to interact with each other.

Jobs wanted all departments to be under one roof. He created a building that mimics the left and right sides of the human brain, where the creative offices are to the right and the technical offices to the left. The ‘Atrium’ sits in the centre, where people of different fields mingle, and where the cocktail of art and technology mixes.  

Pixar's Atrium. Source: Oh My Disney

With the internet, we can connect at a distance. But there is something about physical proximity that fosters great ideas.

What companies can do is to adopt an open space office, where places of collaboration (and solitude) are both included.

In instances where teams are distributed across different places, teams that collaborate often can work from the same flexible office. Workspace rentals have become increasingly more flexible. Even remote teams can meet, socialize, and work from the same place for as little as hours at a time.

(Booking them on-demand is easy too. Try out the BOOQED app if you have teams in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shenzhen!)

4. Incentive to Collaborate

Source: Verywell Mind

Employees have a choice in deciding whether or not they want to work as a team or independently. If there are more costs to benefits, employees may not actively want to participate in team efforts. To provide the incentive to collaborate, the company has to implement rewards for teamwork.

Collaboration does come with its fair share of conflicts, hence, encouraging employees to 'play nice' at all times is definitely not easy. An increased salary may not be a solution to this either, as with many other things. In this study, it was found that PhD holders in STEM who engaged in teamwork do have higher salaries and voluntarily worked more hours, but their job satisfaction is the same as those who work independently. This shows that higher salaries may not be enough as an incentive.

With that said, collaboration can be driven by the company’s implementation of various ‘reward structures’. Not only is it cost-savvy, it has been proven to work.

Companies can reward the entire team for an achievement instead of individual team members. That way, people will identify collectively as a team and will want to work together. Examples of team rewards can include: company dinners, certain team privileges, or even just recognition from everyone.

For example, PepsiCo has an effective method for promoting teamwork. 40% of their employee’s annual bonus (not just salaries) is based on how well they’ve helped other employees, instead of themselves. It may not sound altruistic at first glance, but it helps to build a habit of giving that hopefully evolves into natural behavior.

Another solution is to provide resources and procedures that facilitate teamwork. Companies can provide teams with training, emotional support, as well as time and space for regular meetings of different kinds. When the company as a whole identify as a team, employees would naturally pride themselves in their teamwork.

5. Forming the 'Right' Org Structure

Oscar Berg created the collaboration pyramid to show the areas that need to be addressed to be a more collaborative organization.

Oscar Berg's Collaboration Pyramid. Source: Oscar Berg

The three overarching layers are community building, cooperation and collaboration.

  • The community layer is about having a shared purpose and vision in the company, as well as a shared attitude where an individual’s abilities are recognised.
  • The cooperation layer is about enabling the team to do things, such as helping each other out on a task through your own expertise.
  • The very top of the pyramid lies the collaboration layer, where a team of people work together for a goal.

The dependency between the layers starts with community building, because individuals need to feel like they belong before they can work together effectively. With a strong organizational structure for collaboration, people can cooperate freely within and across departments.


There will always be a gap between theory and practice since not all models will suit most teams. But as food for thought: collaboration starts with you. Team members have to play their own role in collaboration. They have to want to identify as part of a team, because otherwise, they won't want to do the work in teamwork.

Being in a team lets you be part of something greater than yourself. It's pretty awesome with the right people, too!

The road to collaborative success is a lengthy one, but each step counts towards reaching the final destination.

Collaborate with BOOQED

Collaboration starts in the workplace. To facilitate better teamwork, choosing the right workspace is important. BOOQED offers flexible workspaces such as coworking spaces, meeting rooms and hot desks to help you and your team collaborate, and consequently, innovate. We operate spaces in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen and Shanghai. Download our app now - available in Android and iOS!

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