8 Collaboration Habits of the World's Most Effective Managers

February 28, 2018
7 minute read

What are the core collaboration habits of successful managers? Are there any steps you can take to improve your team’s collaboration and performance? In this article, we’ll share 8 essential collaboration strategies that will make you a more effective manager.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key collaboration habits from this article at a glance:

  • Successful teams are purpose-driven, have a balanced mix of personalities, and communicate frequently.
  • Involving team members in assigning project roles and setting goals can improve their performance.
  • Adopting mentorship programs and developing signature relationship practices can improve collaboration.

1. Focus on the ‘Why’ of the Work 

In his oft-quoted TED talk, Simon Sinek lays out a simple paradigm for leadership success:

Start With ‘Why’

The ‘why’ defines the purpose of the team and its work. It tells your team members why they’re doing what they’re doing, and how it ties into the larger goals of the business - yours, and your client’s.

Focusing on the ‘why’ helps you meet one of the four fundamental needs of your employees: their yearning for meaningful, purposeful work.

There is a clear business case for purpose as this E&Y study reveals. Most leaders agree that purpose-driven businesses have more loyal customers, happier employees, and better overall performance.



But that’s at an organization level.

For team leaders and managers, focusing on the team’s purpose has another benefit: it keeps employees motivated.

As BCG points out, purpose is a powerful intrinsic motivator. In challenging situations, it acts as both a propellant for better performance and as a glue that helps teams stick together.



There are three ways you can highlight the ‘why’ of your work:

  • Focus on the net impact the work will have on the client’s business or society at large.
  • Align the project with the broader goals of the business as well as other team members.
  • Emphasize how the work ties to the team member’s own broader goals for developing skills and furthering his/her career.

Your aim should be to expand the project’s vision beyond immediate tasks and connect it to the long-term goals - of each team member, the business, the client, and society.

2. Involve Team Members in Setting Goals and Objectives

As a manager, you probably already know the value of setting SMART goals, i.e. goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Related.

What the SMART goals paradigm doesn’t discuss is the importance of setting goals collaboratively. Too often, targets are chosen by bosses with little input from team members.

When this happens, the organization might meet its goals. The goals of individual team members, however, get overlooked.

Your responsibility as a manager should be to pick goals that align with the business objectives and meet the personal and career development needs of your team members.

As this Oracle whitepaper says, a goal is a “contract” between managers and employees. Without collaborating on goal setting, you’re essentially neglecting one end of this contract.



A research study on the value of collaborative goal setting concluded that employees who were involved in setting goals for themselves felt “more involved, (and) satisfied with the system.”

Thus, when setting goals and objectives, keep the following in mind:

  • Understand each team member’s individual objectives, especially with regards to personal and career development. If possible, give them goals that align with these objectives.
  • Ask team members to set their own goals for performance. Use this as a guiding framework for setting performance benchmarks.
  • Consider setting a range instead of a single figure to accommodate team members with varying skills and capabilities.


3. Collaborate on Assigning Specific Team Roles

A recent LinkedIn survey of ad agency professionals revealed that 54% of people left the industry because of a lack of career development opportunities.



For a manager, this is an alarming statistic. If so many people are leaving their jobs because they can’t develop their careers, what can you do about it?

The solution lies in adopting a more collaborative approach in setting project roles.

Instead of setting roles based solely on the team member’s skills, you take their broader career aspirations into account as well.

For example, if a junior developer hopes to expand his skillset, assign him to a team role where he can work on a new programming language - at least in a limited capacity.

There are additional approaches you can adopt to make team members happier with their team roles:

  • Consult team members on their preferred role and what role they think their colleagues would fit into. Use this to build consensus on different roles and learn more about how team members see each other.
  • Document each team member’s strengths, skills, career goals, and weaknesses. Use this to figure out what role they’ll fit into.
  • Rotate team member roles so that everyone gets the chance to develop new skills and explore different facets of their personalities.


4. Develop Signature Relationship Practices

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Lynda Gratton, a professor of management at London Business School, notes that

“The most collaborative companies had what we call “signature” practices—practices that were memorable, difficult for others to replicate, and particularly well suited to their own business environment”

Which is to say that collaborative cultures are built on something distinct to that culture.

Gratton goes on to give the example of British Petroleum which rotates executives from newly acquired companies to different positions across the organization. This is meant to train them for new roles and add diversity to the leadership team.

Your goal, as a manager, should be to find and develop similar relationship practices at a team-level.

Ask yourself: What distinct practices can you adopt that would strengthen the relationships within team members?

For example, Alex Turnbull, founder of Groove, shares a “signature” practice that helps his remote team collaborate better. The team has a meeting every Friday at 10 AM EST. This meeting follows a very strict schedule:



You could perhaps encourage team members to communicate more freely on a common Slack channel. Or you could encourage them to attend meetups and conferences to collaborate on things outside of work.


5. Make Mentorship a Habit

In his book, Superbosses, Tuck Business School professor Sydney Finkelstein notes that the ‘Best leaders are great teachers’.

He says:

“The exceptional leaders I studied were teachers through and through. They routinely spent time in the trenches with employees, passing on technical skills, general tactics, business principles, and life lessons. Their teaching was informal and organic, flowing out of the tasks at hand.”

As a manager, you might recognize this teaching-focused leadership as ‘mentoring’.

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of successful teams is that mentoring and coaching seem to be embedded within the very fabric of the team’s culture. Senior members in such teams go out of their way to guide their junior counterparts, even if there are no formal mentoring programs in place.

This close mentor-mentee relationship also results in better collaboration and stronger job performance.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of Business & Economics notes that:

“Mentors with a higher level of job performance before the relationship engaged in more collaborative projects with protégés and that their protégés exhibited higher job performance.”

It’s important that this mentor-mentee relationship be collaborative. That is, it shouldn’t be a one-way transfer of knowledge and experience from the mentor to the mentee. Rather, the mentor should be as invested in learning as the mentee.

As Finkelstein writes:

“Star leaders also take a page from Socrates and teach by asking sharp, relevant questions, often in the course of furthering their own learning”

The question now is: how do you encourage mentorship?

The easiest solution is to adopt a formal mentorship program. Chronus has a detailed guide on creating a program from scratch.



Another approach is to shift focus away from formal mentoring and towards a more distributed “development network”. This de-emphasizes the role of the mentor and encourages mentees to collaborate with seniors, juniors, and peers.

Here’s an example development network:



The development network approach is particularly useful if you want people to collaborate vertically as well as horizontally.


6. Focus on Personalities, Not Just Skills

Every member in a team performs two roles:

  • A functional role based on his/her skills
  • A psychological role based on his/her personality

A range of studies show that the most collaborative teams are built when team members’ personalities align.

For example, a meta-analysis of team diversity found that team members’ personalities influenced information sharing and cooperation. Teams that displayed higher levels of curiosity and interpersonal sensitivity were more cohesive than teams that simply had skill-alignment.

For a manager, this means that when you’re building your team, you need to emphasize personality as much as you emphasize skill. This is as much a part of hiring (such as Google’s focus on inherent “Googliness”) as it is of team building.

Research by Dave Winsborough and Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic shows that successful teams have a mix of the following personalities:

  • Results-oriented people who are confident and energetic.
  • Relationship-focused people who are empathetic, approachable and diplomatic.
  • Process-focused people who pay attention to rules, processes, and are well-organized.
  • Innovation-focused people who challenge the team with new ideas and innovative approaches.
  • Pragmatic people who keep the team grounded and focused.

A lot of this borrows from Belbin’s Team Roles model, though it is easier to measure with some simple personality tests.

Try to have a mix of the above personality-types when you’re building your team. While it is important to hire for skill, it is equally important to look for a well-rounded “group personality”.


7. Facilitate Communication

You might have a perfect mix of skills and personalities in your team, but if the team members don’t communicate with each other, your collaboration is going to suffer.

Research conducted at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory suggests that the quality and quantity of communication between team members determines the success of the team. The stronger and more frequent the communication, the better the team collaborates.



Google’s research into its own teams backs these findings. The most successful teams at Google were those that had a balanced set of personalities and strong communication habits.

As a manager seeking to improve collaboration, managing your team’s communication should be one of your top priorities.

Besides developing stronger communication plans, there are several tips you can follow to facilitate communication:

  • Emphasize high-value communication: In MIT’s research, face-to-face communication was deemed to be of the “highest-value”. Email and text messages were deemed to be of the lowest value. Your goal should be to encourage more high-value communication between team members.
  • Focus on communication energy: “Communication energy” is a measure of the pace and frequency of communication within teams. Teams that respond to messages quickly and frequently outperform others. Try to get your team members to keep messages short, and to respond to them as fast as possible. This, in turn, can facilitate more communication.
  • Encourage non-work communication: MIT’s research also shows that teams that communicate outside of work or carry on side conversations with team members are more collaborative than others. You can facilitate this by encouraging your team to talk to others, even if they’re not directly tied to the task.


8. Use the Right Collaboration Tools

The quality of the tools often dictates the quality of the craftsman.

This isn’t any different when it comes to management. If your goal is to collaborate effectively, you have to use the right collaboration tools.

For example, a wide-ranging study by McKinsey found that using social technologies can improve collaboration by up to 20-25%:



Another study published in MIS Quarterly found that using social communication tools improved people’s “metaknowledge” (i.e. knowledge of where to find knowledge) drastically. Teams that used such tools were 31% more likely to find the right people to solve their problems within the organization.

One of your key responsibilities, therefore, should be to adopt tools that can help you collaborate better.

At the very least, you should have the following collaboration tools in place:

  • A collaborative project management tool to help you manage tasks and projects better.
  • A communication tool that enables rapid, relevant, and targeted communication.
  • A resource management tool to help you manage your resources, especially if you work in an agency setting.

Back these tool deployments with effective communication and collaboration practices to see a big improvement in your team’s productivity and performance.



Becoming an effective manager means juggling a number of responsibilities. You have to be a good leader and a strong communicator while also adopting new tools and best practices.

Good managers can motivate their teams by focusing on the purpose of their work. They can give team members greater visibility into the team’s objectives by involving them in goal setting. And they can work with team members when assigning them specific roles.

Beyond this, managers can facilitate communication by adopting better collaboration tools, institute mentorship programs, and develop teams built around a good mix of personalities.

Which of these collaboration habits have you adopted? Which do you plan to adopt?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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