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Don’t collaborate harder. Collaborate smarter.

According to the Anatomy of Work Global Index, 79% of workers at collaborative organizations feel well-prepared to respond to challenges—four times higher than weak collaborators.

A well-functioning team is everyone’s ideal, from employers to employees. But collaboration isn’t a matter of effort or volume, it’s a matter of strategy. Think of it this way: Collaborate smarter, not harder.

Asana’s Anatomy of Work Global Index for 2023 reveals that employees who feel they are strong collaborators are likelier to think their work has value. They also are more likely to want to stay at their company.

Asana surveyed 9,615 knowledge workers across Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., focusing on how leaders can boost retention, amp up revenue, and create more innovative and efficient companies.

All of this matters, says UCLA professor Cassie Holmes, author of Happier Hour. Improving collaboration can affect retention and the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees. This is because people enjoy their work more when they like working with colleagues. Think of pre-pandemic happy hours and the ability to enter an office and ask someone by the coffee machine or water cooler about the latest television show or their child’s Halloween costume.

Holmes tells The Workback that when people feel purpose in their work, it feeds a positive cycle of reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, and people are less likely to burn out.

“You’re more likely to share information, and hopefully, that will translate into those positive outcomes of increased innovation and agility,” Holmes says.

Factors that support success can also throw up roadblocks

The oft-cited research of Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, published in their 2007 Harvad Business Review research article, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” observes a challenge that’s familiar to any leader at a large firm:

Factors that support firm success—employing in-house specialists, having a lot of resources, and having large teams to do the work —can also be the same factors that throw up blockers. Essentially, too many cooks in the kitchen can slow the pace of progress. It’s easier to notice on small teams but can be more difficult as layers of oversight are added, and an ever-expanding list of signatures is required for a project to move forward.

Collaboration is vital, but bringing together more people and points of view can add challenges.

So, how can companies ensure that working together is happening efficiently and thoughtfully when colleagues collaborate? It’s a matter of strategic collaboration.

The 2023 Anatomy of Work Global Index data reveals that strategic collaboration is the key to ensuring strong cross-functional collaboration.

The first step to more strategic collaboration on your team is making collaboration isn’t just a word on a to-do list.

First, take time to think about who is on a team. And despite a collaborative approach that adds more people into the room, try to keep that team as small as possible, says David C. Edelman, a Harvard Senior Lecturer, and former Aetna CMO.

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“The point is to create the smallest possible team to get something done. And empower them to do it,” Edelman says.

Clear goals for collaborating on a project are critical

Communicating is vital when beginning a cross-functional collaborative team or project – a step often skipped. When team members openly and honestly communicate with each other about the goals for their collaboration at the outset of a project, the results can be more positive.

In their research, Gratton and Erickson reveal that teams succeed when executives invest in supporting social relationships— like support coaching and mentoring. Also of value: When leaders are strong collaborators, i.e., when they can fill in for other executives across departments.

Outside the confines of the organization, strong collaborators fare better, too: According to the Anatomy of Work, 79% of workers at collaborative organizations feel well-prepared to respond to challenges—four times higher than weak collaborators.

79% of workers at collaborative organizations feel well-prepared to respond to challenges—four times higher than weak collaborators.

79% of workers at collaborative organizations feel well-prepared to respond to challenges—four times higher than weak collaborators.

Smart collaboration starts with smart communication

Axios HQ CEO Roy Schwartz suggests ensuring a regular cadence of communication from leaders to their teams.

“I might send something with just a few updates, ‘Hey, we had a great week, here are a couple of key things that happened,’ or I might send out quite a bit if there’s a lot that’s happened in the last week and I want to make sure people know about it,” Schwartz says. “What’s important is creating that habit and also asking for feedback — so people can email me, they can ask questions, give me a thumbs up, thumbs down.”

Eliminate unnecessary meetings

Improving processes is vital for business velocity, especially for those in leadership roles. Unnecessary meetings account for 3.6 hours per week for those in leadership roles, according to the Anatomy of Work Global Index. The average for all knowledge workers surveyed was just 2.8 hours. 

Avoid duplicate work

Using time inefficiently can also mean duplicate work or missed deadlines. Among workers who use more than 16 apps, 25% reported missing messages and actions, compared to 8% using 1-5 apps and 15% using 6-15 apps. Loss of focus is another side effect of app overload: 23% of workers using 16 or more apps said app-switching was chipping away productivity.