Knowing how to communicate with workers, managers, and even customers is vital to your business’s success.
This is especially true as the workforce turns virtual, and companies may have workers spread across the globe.
To maintain a productive workforce, train your managers and workers in collaborative communication, which can improve alignment, productivity, and workplace satisfaction.
Collaborative communication definition
Collaborative communication involves two or more individuals working together, and requires seamless communication (in person or virtually) to discuss ideas and topics. The purpose is to create an environment where everyone in the group can easily share and receive information from one another to complete a task or goal.
It’s best used in scenarios where a group needs ongoing contact to leverage each other’s expertise on a subject.
For example, marketing, product, and sales teams have unique perspectives of the brand, product, and customer experience that make them excellent contributors to the planning of a new brand strategy.
So they open a Slack group to allow open discussions throughout the day to share information about competitor research, market research, relevant news stories, and ideas to guide the brand strategy’s planning and execution.
What makes collaborative communication unique is that it emphasizes sharing knowledge and responsibilities between everyone — without collaboration, the project, task, or goal wouldn’t be reached.
Everyone’s feedback holds weight in decision-making. Other communication methods are just that — a way to send information, but don’t require consistent back and forth to complete a task.
Collaborative communication in business
Collaborative communication can improve a business’s performance and positively impact internal and external stakeholder relationships.
Internal collaborative communication
Internal collaborative communication is when individuals within a company work together and share their opinions, ideas, and expertise to complete a task or reach a common goal.
Adopting collaborative communication methods in your business can enhance your teams’ efficiency, productivity, and creativity. It empowers your people to draw knowledge and experience from one another, so they can make better decisions and provide better outcomes in their daily tasks.
Plus, it shows workers you care about their success. A 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Report reveals 76% of employees feel an empathetic company can inspire and motivate workers. When done right, it removes hierarchical barriers, enhances work processes, and streamlines distributed/hybrid/remote teams.
Businesses can foster collaborative communication by:
- Hosting virtual brainstorming meetings to give everyone a voice.
- Creating a forum where employees can ask questions about company policies, culture, and initiatives.
- Building a knowledge database or wiki where teams can share information and learn from each other.
- Encourage cross-team meetings and create chat channels to make it easier to reach people across the organization.
External collaborative communication
External collaborative communication is when individuals within a company work with individuals outside of a company to share opinions, insights, and knowledge to complete a task or goal.
For example, an online clothing store may partner with multiple brand ambassadors or influencers to promote its products. So the company builds an online forum where the chosen ambassadors can communicate with the brand and each other about ideas for upcoming launches.
The ambassador’s connection with the brand’s customer base means they’ll have insights into how to reach them effectively.
Another example is a finance company building a tool to help customers track business expenses that enlists the help of current customers. The company provides a free demo account to 20 customers and opens a Slack channel.
In this channel, the company and customers discuss problems and ideas to improve the product design and functionality before its release.
Using current customers means the company will get insights from the people they’re targeting, increasing the odds of attracting more buyers in the future.
Other scenarios in which a business may use external collaborative communication:
- Research projects
- Educational partnerships
- Joint ventures
Collaborative communication skills
Constantly communicating may not come naturally to everyone. To hone in on your collaborative communication skills, try to work on the following skill sets:
Active listening: Hearing what someone is saying while actively participating in the conversation. Active listening involves understanding, paraphrasing, summarizing, asking clarifying questions, and offering suggestions.
Communication etiquette: Knowing how to interact with others to foster positive relationships. This includes understanding the different dialects and tones used in the conversation.
Organized thinking: Organizing your thoughts, ideas, and data — and presenting it in an easily understandable format.
Confidence: Having the courage to stand up for your ideas and beliefs while still considering the thoughts of others.
Empathy: Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. Empathy allows for better problem-solving and a deeper understanding of the different perspectives of the group.
Negotiation: Reaching agreements with stakeholders and successfully managing conflict in a respectful, helpful, and productive manner. Negotiations can create a shared understanding between the group and move them closer to the desired outcome.
Team building: Creating a shared vision among stakeholders and an environment of trust that inspires cooperation among team members.
Critical thinking: Analyzing situations and coming up with solutions based on facts and logic. This skill is crucial during important conversations, as it helps everyone stay focused while considering different perspectives.
Creativity: Thinking outside the box and generating innovative ideas that meet the needs of the team. Allow everyone to express their ideas and thoughts during collaborative conversations, so the team can come up with unique solutions.
Relationship building: Building trust and rapport with others, understanding how different people think, and connecting with them in meaningful ways. It also includes handling conflicts peacefully and bringing the group closer together.
Resilience: Handling stress and coming back stronger than before. Resilience allows people to stay focused on their goals while dealing with setbacks.
Leadership: Knowing how to cultivate trust, encourage participation, and ensure everyone stays motivated. A strong leader ensures all aspects of the conversation remain productive, while finding ways to help each person understand the others’ points of view.
Guidelines for collaborative communication
While sharing information is critical in the workplace, there’s a right and wrong way of doing it.
For instance, employees state that 41% of the information they receive isn’t relevant to their role. This means businesses are mass-sending business communications versus segmenting them to those who will find them most useful.
Here’s a look at best practices to make collaborative communication more effective:
- Encourage participation from all team members by asking for input from everyone (be mindful of introverts who prefer to send comments after)
- Set clear expectations and goals, and assign roles for the collaboration (who will be involved and guiding the collaboration)
- Be open and honest about ideas, opinions, and disagreements
- Acknowledge and respect the contributions of each team member
- Encourage active listening and eliminate distractions like notifications and noisy backgrounds (if on video calls)
- Take responsibility for mistakes and focus on solutions
- Provide and accept constructive criticism
- Avoid assumptions and seek clarification when needed
- Exercise empathy for all team members
- Prevent information overload (and sending irrelevant information)
- Accept creative conflict to show teams how to critique in an open and safe environment
Collaborative communication examples
Collaborative communication in the real world is unique to each business. Some use it for internal teams only, while others regularly engage with customers to collect valuable feedback.
Antonella Pisani, CEO of digital marketing and consulting firm Eyeful Media, uses a mix of one-on-one and small group meetings to discuss shared lessons and projects.
Communication tools they use include:
- 15five to facilitate meaningful one-on-ones
- Google Meet for small group meetings
- Slack for real-time and asynchronous conversations
- Asana to track and hold people accountable for deadlines
While collaborative communication is excellent for meetings and project planning, Althea Wiles, CEO of J Althea Creative, a florist education consulting program, uses it in the field. Her team uses voice calls, emails, videos, texts, and social messengers to communicate with each other and their clients.
She also runs a floral design studio, Rose of Sharon Floral Design, where her team collaborates with local florists to maintain an inventory of flowers.
“Someone may get an order for red flowers and not have them in inventory,” says Wiles. “They [can] send out a group text thread to see what others have available. They can then buy a few to fill the order, which allows them to make a better profit and allows others to move some inventory.”
But what about fully remote businesses? David Ellis, founder of SEO agency Teranga Digital Marketing, thrives on using tools like Loom, Slack, and Clickup to reduce meeting overwhelm.
“Working in a remote business with people from nearly six different time zones can get difficult without a foolproof communication and collaboration strategy in place,” says Ellis.
So he introduced the MyCheckins tool for teams to share daily updates each morning, and created three questions everyone must answer:
- What have I accomplished since our last meeting/yesterday (1-3 highlights)?
- What are your priority tasks for the day (1-3 highlights)?
- Is there anything you’d like support with or want to discuss in our meeting today?
“This helps everyone stay on the same page, plus we don’t waste time during our half-hour daily check-in to share updates that can be shared via a simple message.”
Tools for collaborative communication
Having the right tools makes it easier to collaborate with teams, no matter where they are in the building or world. A Gartner Digital Worker Experience Survey shows nearly 80% of workers used collaboration tools in the workplace in 2021.
Here’s a list of commonly used collaboration tools:
- Slack: Communication platform that can facilitate discussions and share files between teams in real time.
- Trello: Project management tool that monitors the progress of projects, assigns tasks to individuals, and tracks deadlines.
- Asana: Task management tool that can assign tasks to team members, set deadlines, and track progress.
- Google Docs: A collaborative document that allows teams to work on the same page.
- Zoom: Video conferencing software for virtual meetings.
- HubSpot's AI Content Assistant Tools: Generate agendas and mission statements to coordinate different teams towards one common goal.
- Google Workspace: Integrated workplace suite that can manage emails, calendars, and collaborative documents.
- Loom: Screen and video recording tool for sharing audio and visual information.
- Hotjar: Website analytics tool that can measure user engagement and send feedback surveys to gather customer insights while they’re using your site or web app.