4 Ways to Build Team Collaboration in Your Lab

While business costs like employee wages and supplies are easy to calculate, the cost of poor team collaboration can be harder to pinpoint. Specifically, this cost can vary widely depending on the industry, products or services being offered, and company size.

A 2017 Mitel survey of organizations across North America and Europe, for example, determined that businesses with 500 or more employees could be losing $5 million per year due to inadequate communication and collaboration. That size far outstrips the scale of the average water lab, but when viewed through the lens of per employee losses in productivity of $11,000 annually, that can add up to real money even for water labs.

The Causes and Consequences of Poor Collaboration

Most employees are introduced to the benefits of collaboration via training programs, often participating in myriad team-building exercises. Still, it can be difficult for employees to set aside certain perspectives and commit to true collaboration. The following mindsets may impede your team members' willingness to commit:

  • "What's in it for me?": Salary increases and promotions are two of the potential benefits to standing out as an employee, so some employees may worry that more collaboration will result in less personal recognition.
  • Control of outcomes: Similarly, collaboration might be seen as giving up the chance to maximize personal performance and achieve the best possible result. For some, there may be a fear of losing individual control of one's activities as a collaborator.
  • Comfort of specialization: An obvious advantage to working alone is, ideally, you get to do what you do best, and some employees might be reluctant to step outside their comfort zone.
  • Reluctance to recognize the purpose: By focusing on their role in the process, some employees may simply not understand the purpose of team collaboration as it relates to overall efficiency and outcomes.

As for the consequences of poor collaboration, they may be challenging to pin down in financial terms, but they certainly can add up to a substantial sum.

  • Poor project management: Whether you achieve a level of effective team collaboration or not, it's important to put in the effort. From your perspective as lab manager, it's safe to assume that if you don't successfully develop effective teams, your employees may stop focusing on collaboration efforts and return to work habits that won't maximize either skills or resources.
  • Poor strategy execution: Whatever the specific reasons for your team's ineffective attempts at collaboration, the net effect is likely to be a failed or feeble strategic plan with a clear effect on your lab's bottom line.
  • Time wasting: This may be the most difficult consequence to monetize, but labor costs money, so every minute wasted due to sub-par collaboration efforts is likely to hit the bottom line.
  • Negative impact on morale: If your team finds collaboration efforts challenging or counter-productive, morale may take a hit. Your employees want to do their jobs well, and the stress of feeling impeded by new, ill-considered approaches may reduce their enthusiasm both for their jobs and your lab's overall goals.

How to Improve Your Lab's Team Collaboration: Buy-In

There are a number of goals you should keep in mind as you create a strategy for developing or improving collaboration among your team, but the most important consideration is ensuring you have the buy-in of all your employees. The foundation of any successful team is the shared understanding that all members actually want to be a part of it. But beyond that baseline, make sure to do the following:

  1. Clarify the value of team collaboration to the lab: In both the short and the long term, your collaboration has a better chance of succeeding if all members understand how their efforts will contribute to the benefit of project outcomes, the lab's bottom line, and their own careers and job satisfaction.
  2. Clarify expectations: Lay out for your team the specific approach you would like to take, both when it comes to developing better overall collaboration and working toward specific goals.
  3. Nurture the process consistently and regularly: While teamwork is generally part of a lab's working strategy, frequent feedback will help them keep their sights on new goals while also helping to improve their efforts to reach them.
  4. Maintain accountability: New goals — particularly those focused on improving processes — invariably present new challenges, so continue to encourage and check in with your team often.

The Benefits of Better Collaboration

Just as the costs of poor coordination can be difficult to monetize, so are the benefits your lab is likely to realize with a strong, effective team. Among the benefits you are likely to recognize are deeper employee engagement, a more flexible and resilient workforce, and more effective transfer of critical knowledge and skills.

Perhaps most importantly, effective collaboration requires a willingness to look beyond one's own specific assignments, and as you recognize who among your team members is most willing to develop and communicate new skills, you may also be determining who has the potential to step into a leadership role for your lab.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.