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3 Ways To Set Rules When Collaborating With Coworkers

3 Ways To Set Rules When Collaborating With Coworkers

It almost sounds like a riddle: When people have to work together, the first thing they need to do is figure out what works. Whether employees are sitting next to each other or dialling in from home, in other words, nothing will get accomplished unless everyone is crystal clear on the

It almost sounds like a riddle: When people have to work together, the first thing they need to do is figure out what works.

Whether employees are sitting next to each other or dialling in from home, in other words, nothing will get accomplished unless everyone is crystal clear on the expectations, the processes and the timelines of each project or task.

Sounds like common sense, right? If only it were more common within companies.

Though lots of businesses provide training to their employees on their HR policies, and the basic tools they’ve given to do their jobs, they don’t always think through the ideal approach to collaboration.

Instead, employees often develop habits or approaches that work well for them, not a group of other stakeholders. They might have common ways to format a document, for instance, a place they always store files and tools they prefer to share and edit content.

The picture might look entirely different for others in the business, even if it’s not a large business. Those individual approaches can work well, but when people have to begin sharing information and making decisions as a team, problems can emerge.

Sometimes these are innocent misunderstandings. A sales rep might let leads generated from sales pile up because they prefer to qualify or score them at the end of the day, or even the week. The marketing person might not know that, and wonder why their leads aren’t being followed up.

In other cases employees might steam ahead with a project or task because they don’t want to take the time to collaborate. A marketing person could decide to go ahead with posting something on social media without running it by their manager or the company’s owner first. This could lead to misinformation, errors or worse.

Rather than allow these issues to get in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish as a team, have a discussion early on so that everyone’s on the same page.

The advantage of working in a small and medium-sized business is that there may be fewer parties involved. But still:

1. Determine who needs to know — or be consulted

Sometimes email and other forms of messaging can become overwhelming. People feel like they can’t keep up with it all. The danger is that they tune out completely, or at least miss out on what’s relevant for them.

This often happens because people make assumptions about who should or shouldn’t be involved in a project or task. Take a few tasks that crop up often in your business — such as purchasing equipment, creating a custom offer for a customer or producing a marketing asset —and determine:

  • Who needs to know about the status or completion of this project or task so that they can move ahead with their own work, avoid duplication of effort or negatively affecting the customer experience?

  • Who needs to be consulted before this project or task could be completed? If you need their direct input or sign-off, what kind of timelines are reasonable before you follow up? Is there an order or chain of command — from sales to marketing to the CEO, for example?

Just coming to agreement on these two questions will save you a lot of hassle down the road.

2. Standardize on the channels you’ll use for discussions and decisions

Collaborating internally is not unlike serving your customers in some ways. They want to be approached in the channels they like best, whether it’s on the phone, in person or some other means.

You can’t always cater to individual tastes in a company, but you should be prepared to be consistent about the channels for sharing and acting on information.

Don’t send an email asking for feedback or a decision if the other person expects to get a text message. Don’t arrange a meeting if the other party thought sending an email would be sufficient.

There are many other digital tools available to simplify the back-and-forth of many team conversations. Think about how you might like to save records of what was said or discussed, and how these could be organized in a way where you can refer back later. That way, you can study how to improve the process the next time.

3. Centralize the way you store, produce and change information

There’s nothing worse than someone taking hours to edit a document or file and then learning there’s a more recent version they hadn’t even seen.

When flies get passed around in an email chain, or left on paper that sits on someone’s desk, it becomes much harder to collaborate with speed, accuracy and ease. Find a tool that makes it easy to keep files and other assets in a place where everyone has access to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Beyond that, though, develop policies and practices on how information should be edited, finalized or put into action.

Use the contacts you might have customers sign as an example. Assuming you have a cloud-based tool to keep these handy, be clear on whether employees are allowed to make changes. If so, should these changes be treated as suggestions that others could view first?

If there needs to be multiple versions of a contract (when they pertain to specific products and services, for example), how should they be labelled or organized? If a new version has to be developed, who will take the lead and see it through to completion?


Of course, you can set rules for collaborating with employees, but that’s just part of the journey.

You also need to think about how you communicate these rules to everyone across the company. This not only includes who’s working with you today, but new employees who could get hired and onboarded without learning them.

Finally, make sure the rules are enforced. This could become part of how you manage and coach employees about their performance, because the ability to collaborate will have a huge bearing on everyone’s success. Working together takes ongoing effort — to some extent, it’s always a work in progress.

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