How can we continue to foster collaborative work when everyone is apart? Drawing on disciplines ranging from improv comedy to international conflict-resolution, our Quartz at Work (from home) July 23 workshop, How to Keep Collaborating, brings together experts in communication, cross-cultural intelligence, and workplace tools, all of which are essential to effective collaboration in remote environments.
Click the large image above for the complete replay of the one-hour event, which was sponsored by Xerox and moderated by Quartz executive editor Heather Landy. Read on for highlights of what we learned from each of our panelists.
Executive presence coach Robyn L. Scott, founder of The Larapyn Group, draws on her experience in sketch comedy to teach people how to listen, share, and build on ideas. Some of the top tips she shares about collaborative communication:
- Try a storytelling exercise where each person needs to start a sentence with the last word of the previous speaker’s sentence. You’ll quickly see what’s different when you are actively listening to people.
- Focus on your intonations—they can convey a lot of different meanings. A simple phrase like “Thank you for sharing that” can sound welcoming or dismissive depending on how you say it and the facial micro-expressions that accompany the phrase.
- Don’t try to create and edit at the same time. They’re separate skills. Accept the information as it comes in during the collaborative process. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. “When we build first, edit later, more ideas are welcomed,” says Scott.
The phrase above is a key piece of the philosophy and culture at Search for Common Ground, an international nonprofit involved in conflict-resolution efforts all around the world. Rebecca Besant, the group’s regional director for central and east Africa, says cultural factors can play a big role in whether a collaboration succeeds or fails.
“I’m American,” says Besant. “I tend to be very non-hierarchical, so I feel comfortable speaking even if I’m talking to someone senior to me.” But that’s not always the case for her Rwandan colleagues, for example, who after years in the office with her still aren’t comfortable calling her by her first name.
Understanding those kinds of differences and how they might influence what happens in a group setting is an important step in building trust, a key ingredient in collaboration, Besant says. “Whether you’re the facilitator of collaboration or a participant in collaboration, it’s looking at both how others participate in that space and how you show up in that space” that ultimately builds trust with your partners, she says.
As vice president of customer experience at Slack, Ali Rayl is used to managing a distributed team. But distributed is not the same as remote, and without offices to bring people together in person, collaboration can be more of a challenge.
“We’ve simply lost the tool in our toolset that makes all of this extremely easy,” she says. “It doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means we need different strategies and different tools to make it work.”
In the absence of impromptu conversations and in-person meetings, written communication has become all the more important, she notes. “One thing I think is really important for anyone to remember right now [is that] who you are in the written word, how people see you show up in your writing, is increasingly who you are to your company.”
She also recommends that managers be more intentional than usual about repeating themselves on important issues like strategy and priorities, in their writing or otherwise. “People can no longer kind of intuit what matters by hearing what’s going on in the office, having casual conversations at lunch,” Rayl says. Finding ways to replace those moments is good for morale, and for collaboration.
“When people are deeply connected to their purpose—when they see why it’s important and when they see how their time investments and how their focus benefit their team, their customer, their company, their business—it becomes much easier to corral that energy and move it in the right direction,” she says.
Find more of our Quartz at Work (from home) workshop replays and recaps here.