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Fostering Collaboration Amongst Diverse Teams

Corey Loehr
September 5, 2021
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While people used Zoom meetings to engage with others in different states or overseas, they are now commonplace due to the pandemic. What becomes more noticeable in this online environment is that some people on the call aren't participating. That doesn't mean they would have contributed had it been an in-person meeting. Instead, their non-participation may seem more evident in the close-up camera environment that is Zoom. Fostering collaboration in a time of remote work is simply different, but not impossible.As the leader running these meetings, what can you do to foster more collaboration across the entire team in this situation?

Start with a question

Before getting into the business aspect of the meeting, ask one question. Make that question something that everyone can answer, like "What one word would describe your week?" or even something more personal, "Are you a football fan or a hockey fan?" Then ask everyone to respond. This type of open and non-work-related question breaks the ice and has every participant provide a response.

Mix up the meeting to foster collaboration

While consistency is good, it is also of benefit to mix things up by changing the order of the meeting plan. Switching items around keeps engagement at a higher level as people need to be paying attention more.Sabina Nawaz recommends mixing it up by "Creating a variety of ways to gather input. In addition to verbal comments, ask for responses via chat, do a quick poll to calibrate opinions, or have everyone add text to a shared document." Remember to celebrate achievements. Remember to show appreciation for team members in Zoom meetings. Simply because you are not meeting in person and presenting them with a certificate of achievement doesn’t stop you from doing that in the online environment.

Invite topic discussions

If a particular team member is noticeably silent across several meetings, ask them offline to present on a specific topic at the next meeting. Talk to them about any knowledge they could share with the group that would be valuable. Focus on a strength area of theirs. Support them if they feel uncomfortable about presenting by discussing their talking points and helping them come up with a schedule for their segment.

Ask for input and be patient when fostering collaboration

Often in meetings, as the leader running the session, you ask for input and expect that the team will respond instantaneously. Instead, participants may need time to think through their responses. Learn the art of patience and be comfortable sitting in silence while team members gather their thoughts.This is not always easy to achieve, especially when your focus is on timekeeping. However, being aware of that agitation and letting it be okay is an exercise in resilience and character building for you.If, after a few moments, no response has been made to your question, then ask someone for an answer. Don't be afraid of calling on a team member who hasn't participated in the discussions.

Call for collaboration directly

Set up projects where team members with different areas of knowledge can work on fostering collaboration collectively and report back to the meeting. For example that may mean asking a member services team member to partner with a personal trainer to devise a short survey for members to fill out regarding how they are feeling being back in the facility.

Share the chair for fostering collaboration

If core team members aren't engaging as much as you would like, share the role of meeting chair. Ask that team member to be the leader of the next meeting. That gives them responsibility and requires them to engage and learn. Sometimes all it needs to have more collaboration and involvement is for a person to be put on the spot.

End with some fun

Meetings don't need to be so formal that team members wish they didn't have to attend them, which could be part of the reason for non-participation. While the focus on fostering collaboration during the core part of the meeting is about getting down to business, there is room for fun.Maybe that is all about something as simple as getting them to dress in their favorite sports gear for the meeting or bringing their favorite juice. Doing this adds items that can be discussed as part of the warm-up or close out of the meeting. This more general discussion engenders camaraderie amongst team members, and that supports more engagement.

Don't be afraid to talk about feelings

With the changes that impacted everyone during this entire pandemic, many people are experiencing feeling unsettled. While you don't want to be the counselor, there is no harm in openly talking about feeling frustrated or uneasy about the changing work environment that your business finds itself in. This helps create a sense of connection between team members and offers opportunities for them to share their own personal stories.Ask the team what they are noticing about how your members are feeling also. They may have even had discussions with members who have returned to the gym after the lockdown, who may still be unsettled being there, or are very happy to be back.The more open and willing you are to engage and be involved in the meeting at more than a "this is business, let's get on with it" way, the more your team members will engage and become involved.

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