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9 Tips to Reward Team Collaboration

July 29, 2015

9 Tips to Reward Team Collaboration

The range of collaboration tools available to teams continues to grow. But we can't let the technology outpace our human ability to collaborate. The folks who make up our work teams are the source of genuine collaboration. As leaders, it's our job to encourage and reward the right behaviors.

It’s not always easy to identify which behaviors are the right ones to encourage. We often tend to reward individual achievement – and associate individual talent with group success. However one study looked at sports teams to see if increasing the individual level of talent meant more team success. It didn't.

The study found a point of diminishing returns on individual talent in highly interdependent sports. An individual’s need to jockey for position within the team competed with the need to coordinate actions as a team member.

Researchers looking at how scientists work together found a similar dynamic. Working in collaborative groups increased creativity and the value of the scientific research. Yet individual scientists weighed the effort required for collaboration against their individual productivity — and the share of credit they could expect.

The net takeaway? View rewarding collaboration as another tool in your collaboration toolbox. Like file synching and comment threading. Collaboration doesn't happen without it.

1. Don't only reward individuals – reward the team

You have team goals. Team milestones. Make the team achievements the focus of your reward system.

2. Include collaboration and team goals in individual reviews

Don't ignore the individual. Each team member is still thinking about how their individual performance reviews will go. Include their individual performance towards collaboration and team goals, not just individual goals, in their reviews.

3. Reward the act, as well as the outcome, of collaboration

You need to keep the team focused on achieving outcomes, but reward acts of collaboration as well. Especially if your team is in the early stages of creating a collaboration culture.

4. Give permission to speak freely

Creative, productive collaboration occurs when people feel free to speak their minds. Get rid of rigid hierarchies where questioning the leader's ideas risks blowback. Or where team members make disagreements personal and ugly. Israel often leads in global indices on creativity and innovation. Why? Many attribute its success to its direct, argumentative style of business. Everyone gets challenged. Everyone gets questioned. Check out Intel's hilarious guide on doing business with Israelis. It explains more of how Israel's lack of hierarchy encourages fierce conversations.

5. Address challenges and screw-ups as a team

I'm combining points 1 and 4 here. When something goes wrong - and it will - come together as a team. Hold everyone accountable, but do it as a team. In that spirit, give people space to fail. No one should feel terrified into silence or inaction because they don't want to be the person with the idea that went bad. It happens. Make failure a prelude to learning, not punishment. Those are some of the how and when tips for rewards. Here are some tips on what kinds of rewards to hand out. You won't find money on this list because you've already thought of that. In any case, employees are often motivated by far more than money.

6. Say thanks

In private. In public. People genuinely appreciate being appreciated. You can send an email. We'll post thanks in a comment thread on one of our Samepage project spaces. The thanks should go to individuals and the team. Thank the team in front of the rest of the company - say, in the newsletter. Or at a company-wide gathering.

7. Show trust

Trust is a key ingredient to effective collaboration. The more trust you build, the more collaboratively the team can work. So find ways to show increased trust in team members as a reward. If there's a meeting with senior people, send two deserving team members to give the update. Employees love work flexibility. Show some trust by having a work-from-home day for the team.

8. Provide new opportunities to learn

Any team working well to achieve one goal is likely eager to develop new skills. Buy access to some online learning courses or certifications. Send some to a seminar or conference. They'll improve their own professional development, and the company gets rewarded too.

9. Have off-site fun

An oldie but goodie. People bond away from work in ways they can't in the office. Don't bother with those "team building" events. Just go out one evening to an improv show, get tickets to a ball game. Anything the team will enjoy. The Right Reward Structure Makes a Difference The right reward structure reduces the friction between personal interest and group dynamics. Look at the success of the Chicago Blackhawks. What sport is more interdependent than hockey? Players have to collaborate in milliseconds, buzzing by each other at 20 miles per hour. Dallas Stars’ GM Jim Nill explained it best, "The Chicago Blackhawks have not won three Cups in the last six years because they have played the way they wanted to play. They all bought into playing the right way..."