Create a Collaborative Work Environment

David Overcash

April 23, 2020

It’s a typical Friday afternoon. But it doesn’t feel like the weekend… Next week’s schedule is already weighing heavy on your shoulders. Monday through Friday is already booked with back-to-back meetings that leave you with a sense of Deja vu… Haven’t you already had these conversations three times with different departments?

Three-week overdue projects are piling up in your backlog, the same projects you promised you would have an update on yesterday. “I didn’t have time” is starting to feel like an excuse, but it’s honest. When time-consuming meetings consume every moment of your working life, there truly isn’t time to run with the projects that are meant to surge your company forward.

Why do these meetings weigh us down? The bottom line is, when your team is out of sync, you spend most of your day playing catch-up. But you’re not alone. According to a Gallup study, “85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.” This is clearly a huge issue. Years of leadership experience have taught me that effective, organization-wide collaboration isn’t feasible if employees aren’t engaged.

We have to stop and ask: Where is the disconnect? Companies are very much aware that agility and collaboration are necessary to achieve success. In fact, 94% of surveyed companies believe this to be true. To me, this feels like a no-brainer situation. It takes time, but companies need to unite their base and make sure everyone is on the same page. Yet still, companies are failing to identify both why communication is poor, and why team members feel disconnected at staggering rates.

Why do so many organizations continue to operate under a cloud of uncertainty? We live in a world filled with tools and gadgets designed to help us engage, collaborate, and communicate more efficiently with one another. These tools are being implemented on a large scale, but businesses are still scrambling – and they’re feeling the financial impact. In the US alone, organizations lose $450-500 billion each year due to low employee engagement.

Our approach to collaboration needs to shift, sooner than later. But are we overthinking this? Is there a simpler solution to achieving successful, organization-wide cohesion?

The answer is, yes. I call it, “The 5-Minute Rule.”

The 5-Minute Rule

We have the power to choose who we become. So, who do you want to be known as?

I’ve pinpointed two types of people that are starkly different in their approach to communication: Hour-Long-Larry and Five-Minute-Francis. While communication is their core difference, it’s important to note that communication style significantly alters the entire organization’s communication vibe. Let’s take a look at who they are, what they stand for, and how others perceive them:

Hour-Long-Larry: Sets long meetings, inviting everyone under the sun. These meetings are based around endless rambles – nailing in repetitive details that usually aren’t applicable to half the people in the room. They think they’re being helpful, but they aren’t respectful of your time, intentional or not. Despite their ability to talk nonstop during these meetings, you don’t hear much from them outside of the stuffy conference room. But if you’re being honest, you’re more than okay with not hearing from them. Because every time Hour-Long-Larry gives you a call, you feel an overwhelming sense of “ugh”… What does he want now?

Five-Minute-Francis: Calls consistently, but never overloads you with information. Gets straight to the point, weaving around any “fluff” that doesn’t help you succeed in your role. Most importantly? They respect your time, always cutting the call around the 5-minute mark. Because of this, you’re always excited to collaborate with Five-Minute-Francis. Conversations with him feel open and honest, which isn’t always the case with other coworkers, supervisors, or clients. It’s a refreshing situation where collaboration feels productive, not like a chore.

Clearly, these two have their differences.

I think of Hour-Long-Larry as “THAT guy”. The person who thinks about communication as something that benefits themselves, not how it can be leveraged as an efficient collaboration tool for teams as a whole.

Remember that effective collaboration isn’t possible when you talk at people. Effective collaboration occurs when leaders, employees, and teams understand each other’s roles, and how exactly they work together. Keeping people up to date, making sure they understand their work environment, isn’t a one-time thing. These are key elements of collaboration, which should never be dismissed as a checklist item. Instead, collaboration should be viewed as an ongoing, everyday task – there is no magical quarterly meeting that will solve collaboration problems for good.

Five-Minute-Francis is a different story. I think it’s obvious that he has a more approachable, widely accepted communication style. He achieves this by implementing the 5-Minute Rule: A simple communication tool that involves quick, but consistent, check-ins with everyone. Team members, partners, and clients included. This rule bridges the gap between formal, scheduled, hour-long meetings as a relaxed, understanding, and respectful communication supplement.

It’s truly that simple. I’ve utilized this rule for years, across multiple teams, and have found major success every time.

The key to making it work: Utilize personable communication methods like drive-by office chats and phone calls, not emails. Emails leave a lot for the mind to misinterpret – whether it be tone of voice or meaning. Too often, a simple sentence can be misconstrued and blown out of proportion. To put it in perspective, 64% of people have sent or received an email that caused unintentional anger or resentment.

Beyond the realm of emails, talking face-to-face or on the phone makes collaboration feel more human. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe there is added value and transparency in conversations when you can hear exactly HOW someone’s words are supposed to sound. This can be a balancing act – transparency is consistently one of the highest valued traits amongst employees, but it’s something that leaders often struggle with. A flat 30% of leaders don’t encourage any sort of open communication or transparency… Don’t be the leader who falls into that category.

Step out of your comfort zone. Be transparent. Pick up the phone and have that 5-minute conversation.

Simple, Organic Collaboration Goes a Long Way

Don’t overthink this – it’s simple. Leverage the 5-Minute rule throughout your daily communications, and you will reap the benefits.

This is your chance to lead, it’s a choice. And believe me, this matters to everyone – peers, clients, employees, and supervisors.  No matter how insignificant a quick phone call might seem, it does make a difference. The numbers show that 70% of employees are more engaged and productive when they are consistently communicated with in an open, transparent fashion. Your team needs you to open the gateway to these conversations – so do it.

The truth is that relationships develop naturally. In fact, 50% of positive communication changes within the workplace are a direct result of social interactions outside of the workplace. So, it’s no surprise that you don’t see a highly collaborative team when its members only spend hour-long meetings together. While you can’t force people to spend time building relationships after hours, the 5-Minute Rule shifts the traditional workplace dynamic to a social environment. All it takes is this simple fix.

Who knows? Maybe with this new social dynamic, people will want to interact with each other outside of work.

Keeping conversations short and simple doesn’t just help with team relationship building – it can make your team smarter. Short-burst learning is a well-studied phenonium that suggests people retain more information when received in…well, short bursts. Oxford University found that students presented with information in short bursts retained 20% more knowledge than those presented with the same information in a traditional learning environment.

Now, imagine if we applied short-burst learning to the information that is traditionally shared during business meetings. Instead of using meetings to share massive amounts of information, we can share this information in short bursts throughout the week prior to said meeting. All of a sudden meeting time turns into collaboration time. Participants are confident, armed with knowledge that the entire team clearly understands, ready to tackle business problems and surge their companies forward.

Create a Collaborative Work Environment

It’s a typical Friday afternoon. Finally, the weekend is yours again.

Next week consists of a few collaboration sessions, but you’re finally free to work on projects. So is the rest of the team – they feel empowered knowing what is happening within the company and where their peers stand.

The 5-Minute Rule establishes the base for trust, openness, and transparent communication. These are the foundations of a solid, all-star team. With this system, nobody loses. In fact, everyone wins.

Team members will experience an improved morale – they will know they’re a part of a team that makes a difference. People will be excited to share their ideas. Respect will flourish throughout the team – respect for each other and the company at large.

Companies will reap the benefits of a highly productive team. Efficiency will boost overnight; projects will run smoothly, deadlines will be met, and turnover will decrease.

Leaders will finally be able to shift the tone of their conversations. The days of “How do we improve collaboration and communication throughout our team” will be gone. Instead, the conversation will shift to “How can my unified team continue to thrive in the market, and how can we provide them with more opportunities?”

Trust me, I’ve watched these changes happen time and time again.

You have all the tools to achieve this and more in your back pocket. But it’s up to you to make it happen.

Who do you want to be known as?

Start today. Make the choice.