We all have different personalities, both at work and at home. Some of us are the life of the party. Some are the wise, Yoda-like reflective type. Some are dominant, competitive high-flyers. Still others are the lone wolves who prefer the quiet of solitary work.

No matter our personality, we all need to collaborate in order to work effectively. Every person has something unique to bring to the team, and it is up to each team leader to make sure a culture of collaboration develops and that the best is brought out in each team member.

Today, the strongest teams are often the ones who are most diverse. With team members from several different generations, with different personalities and different backgrounds, we’re offered a fresh new set of perspectives that let us think outside the box and come up with creative solutions.

To put this diversity to its best use, everybody must have the same basic collaboration skills. A positive social atmosphere not only boosts productivity, it also increases well being and reduces stress levels. The workplace is like a big, intricate ecosystem: and like any ecosystem, the actions of one member of the group will inevitably impact those in his or her surroundings.

Think of it as the Lion King’s circle of life: one of the most important lessons the young Simba learns is that he needs to care for his entire kingdom. The antelope eats the grass, the lion eats the antelope, and when the lion dies it becomes the grass. Therefore, all three need to be nurtured for any one of them to thrive.

The same is true for a team. For any one member to succeed, the entire ecosystem needs to be thriving. The highly interdependent nature of the modern workplace means that when we accomplish something as individuals, it’s because we’ve had a solid team behind us to help us out.

So what can you do to work on your collaboration skills and boost productivity?

Listen first, talk second

Especially if you’re the manager. While it’s a good communication rule between every team member, it’s especially important as the team leader that you can have an open and constructive dialogue with your team. Employees need to feel comfortable enough to share their concerns, to pitch new outside-the-box ideas, and to communicate in an honest and open way. Once they feel their thoughts are being listened to and respected, they also become more receptive to your feedback and constructive criticism.

Don’t say yes to everything

Doing so will inevitably result in you spreading yourself too thin or neglecting some of your tasks. Even if your intentions are good, you need to carefully evaluate a few things before saying yes. Do I have time? Am I the right person for the task? Does it fit with my goals and objectives?

It can often be difficult to say no because we want to please our boss, our coworkers, and ourselves. However, saying no to some projects is what gives us the time to excel in others. None of us want to be the team member who says yes to everything but delivers nothing. So say yes to the projects you can do well and finish on time.

Communicate directly: avoid email

To minimize the risk for misunderstandings and to speed up communication, face to face interaction is the best. Giving someone a call also works. Using a kind of instant messaging (IM) app is pretty useful. But email is the absolute worst.

The average worker spends over a quarter of their day processing email instead of focusing on their work. Instead of getting an immediate answer from someone, you get caught up in a chain of back-and-forth messages that slow down response time. So if you have the option to speak to the person directly or IM them, don’t email them. You and your coworkers will not only save time, you’ll also be more in sync with each others’ work.

Free up some mental space: use a trusted system

You have an imperfect memory. You remember things based on time and place, but things easily slip through the cracks. So learn how to get everything out of your head, and into a trusted system. This trusted system is your external support system that helps you remember when your brain forgets. It can be a task manager, a to do list, any physical reminder that you use to remember things.

The term “trusted system” comes from David Allen’s GTD philosophy, a time management method designed to free up time and organize your day-to-day work. When you get things out of your head and onto a physical device, you can focus your attention on taking action on tasks, not on recalling them. With all your tasks written down and organized, it becomes easier to actually get things done.

And a trusted system shouldn’t be just for you individually, it’s one your whole team should use. If you share things with your team, make communication more transparent, and make information easily accessible, it becomes easier to reduce misunderstandings. Team task management tools are the way to go to collaborate effectively as a team. They let you easily share tasks and work with others on important projects.

Express genuine interest for your coworkers: get to know them outside of work

Two thirds of your life has nothing to do with work. It’s important to share those parts of your life with those you work with, to get more comfortable with them and simply have a good time. Encourage social outings, take lunches together, or meet up for drinks after work. A study by the British Medical Journal in 2008 showed that happiness reaches to three degrees of separation within our social network: so if one person is happy, chances are it’ll spread to other members of the team. And happy people are more productive.

The more comfortable you feel with your coworkers, the easier it is to ask for help. Getting to know them better and being on friendly terms does wonders for the atmosphere at work and your general productivity. Problems are resolved faster when you know that you can turn to others for help.

Never let a good crisis go to waste

Look at a crisis not as a failure, but as an opportunity. Jean Monnet, father of European integration and one of the key players in reconciling France and Germany after World War II, once wisely said:

“People only accept change in necessity and see necessity only in crisis.”

In short, a time of crisis is the only time when people accept drastic change.

The reason your team is in crisis is probably because something is not working right. A strategy may have failed, your work may have strayed from your company values, or there’s been friction between team members. But if you make the best out of the conflict and use it as an opportunity to fix past mistakes and implement change, your team may emerge stronger for it.

You learn a lot about your team during a crisis: how they respond, how they act under pressure, how they manage stress. That knowledge can be key to helping you collaborate smoothly in the future.

Ultimately, you need to handle conflicts openly and honestly. No passive aggressive bullshit.

What collaboration skill do you find essential for your team to work smoothly? Let us know in the comment section below!