Can you hop on that meeting?
Will you take a look at this graphic?
Give me your thoughts about this initiative quickly.
What do you need me to do here?
Here’s a task I need you to complete by the deadline.
Which of these common workplace requests sound like collaborating? I’ll give you a hint: it’s none of them.
The truth is, most of us aren’t really collaborating at work.
Even with the rise of various softwares from the age of remote work, true collaboration seems to be a myth. Where have the days of Mad Men gone, where intelligent people sit around a room and pass around ideas and insights (and cigarettes), nailing down the very best concepts?
Most think that their constant group chat and handful of “face-to-face” meetings every week is enough to create a collaborative work culture. But these things almost always create distractions, not collaboration.
True collaboration isn’t the same as asking for your co-worker’s opinion on a design you made. True collaboration isn’t blindly assigning tasks, stripping all sense of agency and problem solving from your employees.
It’s difficult to create a culture of collaboration. But when you do, you’ll walk away with higher quality, more innovative work.
Project Collaboration vs Team Communication
Many managers will point to their communication software and calendar filled with recurring meetings and call that collaboration, when in truth, you could barely call that communication. Just because you’re talking to a coworker about a project doesn’t mean you’re collaborating on it.
Project collaboration is the very intentional act of putting different minds together to solve problems, generate ideas, and fulfill goals. It encompasses the process from ideation, decision making, and actions to complete the project.
Team communication is simply sharing information, updating colleagues on the status of those action items, voicing when you need more resources or help, and bubbling up any issues that have been uncovered.
Though many may think communicating is collaborating, this is just not true.
What Happens When Collaboration is Missing
Have you ever tried to wrangle multiple people together for a barbecue at the beach? You drop a question in the group chat asking if anyone is up for it. Two reply they’d be down, another few drop a thumbs up on the message, and then…nothing.
You provide a few dates, to which some people say it doesn’t work, others thumbs up. You’re still left unclear which date would work best.
Finally you just pick one, and that’s the day. Most people can join and it’s exciting! You let them know that you’ll bring sunscreen and munching snacks.
Then that Saturday arrives, the skies are blue, the weather gods have smiled down upon you for this planned beach day. The potential for this day is so high, you can’t help but smile.
Then you get there and meet the others.
You’ve got a towel, aforementioned sunscreen and snacks, but someone else also brought chips. As did another person. There are four tubes of sunscreen.
At least someone managed to pack the beer, but only enough for themselves. You have beer and chips. For the entire beach day. Your “barbecue” beach day.
Project collaboration is the act of avoiding all the reasons that beach day went to hell.
Collaboration would mean deciding what you wanted to do together. Would it be a barbecue or just a few hours of hang time? It would’ve meant figuring out who would be taking on which part of the festivities. Who brings the meat? Who grills it? Who brings buns? What about condiments?
When you don’t collaborate effectively, the potential of what’s possible rapidly declines. Things go unconsidered. You lack owners for important areas.
Not only does collaboration help your projects from going off the rails, it also opens up new areas of opportunity.
For instance, true collaboration on your beach day may have led to the idea to set aside time to go see some live music by the pier. Or play some spike ball. Or bring an instrument and sit around a fire late into the night. But none of these were considered because collaboration never took place.
The same goes for your projects.
Collaboration Tools for Project Management
If you truly want to collaborate and not just communicate, there are certain tools and functions that make it easier. Whether you work in a remote company or in-person, here’s what to look for.
1. Project Tracking
No matter what industry you work in or whether you’re remote or in-person, you need a way to keep track of what you’re doing and when. Otherwise, people will spend more time determining what to do than actually working.
This is where project management software comes in.
The tool(s) you need will depend on your industry and team needs. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that more features means better, and stick with something that’s all-in-one.
You’ll want something that can easily separate different projects. This will help the most with collaboration, because you won’t have cross-over that causes confusion.
With Basecamp, for example, you can create projects that show up as individual cards on your dashboard, and you can click into them to view those project specific details, to-dos, message boards, and more.
2. Action-Item Bucketing
Not all project management software will have this option, but it’s useful for collaboration because of the ability to group together items that need collaboration to fulfill.
You can group action-items by department for company-wide projects or by type of work within a specific department or campaign. If there are certain items that need decisions and collaboration before other work can be done, they can go into a bucket with a name like “Group Work”.
In the example below, the campaign has been broken up into specific type of work, including Launch Day items, Press, Design, and more.
3. Multiple Owners on Action Items
One of the best ways to ensure collaboration is to assign a to-do or card to multiple people. This way, both feel responsible for its completion and are more likely to collaborate in order to get it done.
This isn’t a common function with project management software, but Basecamp includes it.
You can use it by going to that item and simply typing a person’s name, selecting their user that pops up. Remember to add people to the project, otherwise you can’t search and select them.
4. Varying Levels of Commenting
You can collaborate on the project as a whole and also on individual action-items. Whether you’re using a to-do list or Kanban board, you want to keep item-specific communication in one place.
But if you have broader project-specific discussion items, you also want a place where that can live for everyone to see, respond to, and keep track of—that doesn’t require exiting the program you’re working from to log into another one (distractions, anyone?).
Plus, if you want to get rid of a third-party communication software (like Slack) but still want a space to keep casual conversation with the group, Basecamp has that as well as the other options above.
5. Files, Documents, & Assets in One Place
It’s ineffective to have 5 tabs or windows open just to work on a single project. More flipping between pages leaves more opportunity for the kind of distraction that rips people away from quality deep work in addition to making it harder for everyone in the project to find what they’re looking for.
By being able to upload access to files, sheets, and anything else your company needs, it will allow your team to easily find the assets, collaborate on them, and house the final items. This is particularly useful for industries like software development, website design, and social media managing.
It can look something like this:
6. Calendar Syncing & Management
What happens if you set a date for a to-do that you need a coworker’s help on, only to schedule it during a time they’re out of office?
It’ll get pushed down the line and potentially hold up the project. Along with project collaboration, you want to build in an effective calendar for project management that facilitates that collaboration.
This will allow you to skip those mistakes by taking a peek at scheduling to-dos during available times so you can truly collaborate with the other person.
Caption: Option to sync your Google Calendar, Outlook, or iCal with Basecamp’s software from the “Schedule” option inside your project.
How to Build Collaboration into Your Team & Project Management
Even if you have all the best tools and features for project collaboration, it doesn’t guarantee your team will use it. The fact is, project collaboration is a company culture facet, not a software or app.
Stop thinking about how to best work together and start thinking about how to do the best work together. This subtle distinction allows you to put more focus on project collaboration, and bringing together your teams in a way that not only helps them communicate, but helps them thrive.
And if you’re searching for a tool that will help you build a culture of collaboration, look no further than the all-new Basecamp. For nearly 20 years, we’ve been optimizing our project management tool to help teams like yours organize, communicate, and most importantly, collaborate together in a way that brings out the best in everyone on the team.
It’s free to get started, and we won’t even ask you for a credit card. What do you have to lose?