A Guide to Project Team Collaboration
How to Plan, Act, and Track Work Together using SharePoint
Successful project management relies on team collaboration. Collaboration refers to two or more people working together to achieve a goal and typically ends in a deliverable or product.
As technology changes the way we work, collaboration within and between teams is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Unfortunately, the more teams collaborate, the more obstacles they face. Many teams don’t know what collaboration entails, how to collaborate, and what value collaboration can add to a project or an organization.
Combine this confusion with numerous collaboration tools and competing deadlines – it’s little surprise that poor collaboration can quickly derail a project.
In this guide, I’ll help you to improve project team collaboration. I’ll explain why collaboration is vital to your project and how to get your team planning, acting, and tracking progress together. I’ll also outline why SharePoint is an ideal tool for project teams.
The guide ends with a list of useful resources to make collaboration easier for your team.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Click on any chapter to jump directly to it.
Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook
Learn how to create the ideal team environment for effective collaboration.
What is Collaboration?
As explained above, collaboration refers to two or more people working together to solve a problem.
This may sound like teamwork, but there are notable differences between a team and collaboration.
Typically, a team is a group of people with similar skills who regularly work together with one person making key decisions. Teams take several forms including cross-functional teams, virtual teams, and self-managed teams.
Collaboration brings together people with different skills and experiences to solve a problem or work on a project.
Everyone involved is united behind a common goal and authority is shared.
Collaboration takes place in teams; however, simply putting a team together does not mean everyone will collaborate effectively. It’s a distinct way of working.
Collaboration is becoming more embedded in how we work. According to the 2017 WorkPlace Productivity and Communications Technology Report, over two-thirds of employees’ time, or 6 hours out of nine hours worked, was spent communicating with other people.
Similarly, a study conducted by Planview found that:
- 38% of respondents worked on cross-functional teams.
- 70% worked with people both inside and outside of their organization.
- 28% worked with team members located in different countries.
Why is collaboration becoming so popular?
The fast-paced global economy means organizations must do more with less and respond quickly to customer demands. Organizations need cross-functional teams to innovate and improve processes to remain agile.
Remote working also continues to grow, with around 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) working from home at least half the time.
These needs are met by – and indeed, accelerated by – the sheer volume of collaboration apps and tools available in the market. Teams can now chat, share and co-edit documents, assign work, create reports, automate tasks using workflows and more at any time, from any location.
Collaboration is part of the digital revolution; these new tools make collaboration easier.
As we’ll see below, collaboration delivers numerous benefits to organizations, including increased productivity and higher levels of employee engagement.
Now we’ve discussed collaboration, you may be wondering what it means for your projects
Collaboration and Project Management
When applied to project management, collaboration means bringing together a team from different departments, offices, companies, and countries to complete a project.
Projects create the innovations needed by organizations to grow. Successful projects are delivered by collaborative, engaged teams.
As explained by Daniel Goleman in his 1998 work, Working with Emotional Intelligence, each of us only has part of the information and skills we need to do our jobs. We rely on the collective experiences, skills, and knowledge within the team to fill in the gaps.
Completing a project requires diverse skills and experiences, delivered by a cross-functional team who don’t typically work together day-to-day.
Collaboration is also important for new project managers, inexperienced team members, and “accidental project managers’” – individuals who manage projects but are not formally trained in the discipline.
These individuals lean on the skills and experiences of the wider team to contribute successfully. It also helps if tools, processes, and project templates are in place to support common ways of working.
Emphasis on project team collaboration reflects the changing structure of many companies, which are becoming less hierarchical with more interaction between departments.
In Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook, Éamonn McGuiness (BrightWork CEO) notes that:
‘Collaborative project management is transformed from the old command and control structure – ‘’You’ll do what I tell you’’ – into “Let’s work together to get this done’’.
If collaboration is the essence of modern project management, ineffective collaboration or the lack of collaboration can undermine your project.
In fact, the Chaos Manifesto 2014 found that 33% of projects failed due to a lack of involvement from the whole team. Similarly, a study from Salesforce reports that 86% of respondents noted a lack of collaboration as the root of failures in the workplace.
Poor collaboration impacts every stage of the project – from gathering requirements to visibility, communication, reporting, feedback, and stakeholder engagement.
We’ll take a closer look at some obstacles to collaboration in the next section.
Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook
Learn how to manage meetings, make effective decisions, and apply the best leadership approach to different situations.
Team Collaboration – Advantages and Challenges
Collaboration is key to organizational growth.
In a 2017 survey published by the Harvard Business Review:
- 81% of respondents felt both internal and external collaboration was key to their current success.
- 68% of those who were prioritizing collaboration were ahead of their competitors.
- Organizations reporting 10% growth in the previous two years were also focused on collaboration.
Effective collaboration delivers several positive outcomes, including:
- An improved customer experience
- Engaged employees
- Higher productivity
- Faster decision-making
- Continual learning
- Better communication with remote teams
- Streamlined project planning
- Clear accountability for tasks and deliverables
- Greater alignment within and between teams
- Reduced administration on projects
- Balanced skillsets within project teams.
Facilitating collaboration in a project team requires strong leadership and clear guidance from the project manager.
Collaboration calls for an extensive skill set. Team members with the following skills are likely to work easily with others:
- Communication skills, especially active listening
- A willingness to compromise
- Openness to new ideas
- The ability to learn from mistakes.
In addition to these skills, a project manager also needs to:
- Create a positive team environment.
- Know the strengths and weaknesses of their team.
- Delegate tasks appropriately.
- Set team goals.
- Deal quickly with conflict.
- Understand when to coach or mentor team members who need extra support.
- Build consensus for ideas.
- Celebrate successes.
Why does collaboration fail?
By now, it’s clear that collaboration can enhance team performance and improve projects, helping organizations to reach their strategic goals.
Unfortunately, we also know that collaboration can and does fail, or is not always practiced successfully within a team. Managers may worry about losing control over projects whilst individuals fear an increased workload and more meetings.
Obstacles to team collaboration include:
- No support or vision from senior management.
- Silos within an organization.
- Previous negative experiences with collaboration.
- Personality clashes.
- Competition for promotions or performance-related compensation.
- Forcing collaboration from the top-down.
- Too many tools and processes within teams and departments.
Collaboration can also fail if there is no clear route for decision-making or teams rely on email to communicate.
Choosing the right tools for collaboration is critical. For many teams, email, spreadsheets, and phone-calls remain their primary communication tools.
In their study, Planview found that:
- Respondents were using 4.5 different tools to collaborate on projects.
- 33% reported that everyone was using different tools.
- 40% failed to find information at the right time.
- 39% struggled with poor visibility into tasks and workloads.
The result of poor collaboration and miscommunication? Teams reported losing up to 9 weeks per year due to collaboration issues.
From wasted time to duplication of tasks, late projects, and low-quality deliverables, poor collaboration leads to huge costs for teams and organizations.
Projects such as the Airbus 380 and the Mars Climate Orbiter failed due to poor collaboration. In both cases, the various teams working on the projects did not communicate with each other, leading to one-sided views of progress and data.
Now that you know why collaboration is important to your project, how can you overcome the outlined obstacles and get everyone working together? You need an easy way to get the team planning, acting, and tracking progress with one tool.
Let’s take a look at each step in more detail below.
How to Improve Project Team Collaboration
Project team collaboration requires engaged team members who understand the goals of the project and their role in reaching this objective.
Below is a three-step process to help your project team collaborate effectively. You’ll also learn why SharePoint is a powerful collaborative tool.
Note – the following section assumes the project team is already in place. For tips and suggestions on picking the right project team, please see the Resources section at the end of this guide.
1. Plan Together
Involving the project team in planning will create a high-quality, robust plan with more buy-in from everyone.
There are three ways to plan a project collaboratively:
- Run a planning session with the team.
- Develop a draft plan and review with the team in a workshop.
- Use a combination of these approaches; begin the plan and work with the team to finish the planning.
The first option can take longer, but will often yield better results. By drawing on the various views and skills of the project team early on, it’s easier to spot risks and solve problems before work begins.
Agreeing on key elements such as the project methodology, the project statement, requirements, and responsibilities from the outset will avoid confusion during project execution!
As we’ll see, this information should be maintained and updated in your collaborative project site for clear communication and transparency.
2. Act Together
Collaboration is impossible if everyone is working in their own way in a silo. Team members are often working on multiple projects at once, which have to be balanced against non-project work. The bigger picture gets lost among competing deadline and different project management tools.
It may take some time, but you need the team to act together as a cohesive unit.
Firstly, your team needs to navigate the five-stages of team formation in a short period of time.
The five stages of team formation are:
- Forming: The team are getting to know each other and are looking forward to the upcoming project.
- Storming: Conflicts and disagreements arise as the team becomes more comfortable with each other and the project plan. Many teams get stuck in this phase!
- Norming: Increasingly focused on the goal, the team starts to work together, building on each other’s strengths and skills.
- Performing: The team is fully engaged and highly motivated. At this stage, the real work of the project takes place.
- Adjourning: The team disbands as the project ends.
The objective is to move to the norming and performing phases, where collaboration and high-quality work takes place, quickly and smoothly.
Start by establishing agreed ways of working such as meetings, decision-making, and dealing with external vendors.
Next, you’ll need a clear communication plan, a blueprint for communication during your project. The communication plan should help provide the right information to the right person at the right time in a format that works for them.
The plan should also detail your stakeholder engagement plan and how to communicate with remote team members.
Although you shouldn’t overly rely on meetings for communication, meetings can play a positive role in driving collaboration. You just need to take a considered approach to running team meetings.
Try this sample agenda for your next session:
- Review and agree on the agenda.
- Review, discuss and resolve open issues.
- Look at upcoming tasks in your project site.
- Discuss tasks and milestones completed in the previous work.
- Any other business.
Be sure to conclude meetings with clear actions and task owners.
Bringing these elements together – successful team formation, ways of working, and communication – to facilitate team collaboration requires a positive working environment and leadership.
Let’s start with the team environment.
At BrightWork, we describe our ideal team dynamics using the 4 Cs:
- Companions (friendly and enjoyable)
- Collaborative (working together towards the same goals)
- Challenging (be comfortable asking and answering uncomfortable questions)
- Can-do attitude.
Feel free to use the 4Cs as a starting point for your team. You may like to add other habits that are in keeping with the project.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take responsibility for your own deliverables.
- Be open and expect new tasks outside of your deliverables.
- Learn from mistakes.
- Deal with issues quickly.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, team collaboration needs leadership. As the project manager, it’s important that you set goals and demonstrate the qualities you wish to see in your team – clear communication, commitment, a willingness to learn from mistakes and so on.
A research team at Google identified psychological safety, ‘’a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking’’ as a defining habit of high-performance teams.
Psychological safety makes it easier for individuals to be themselves at work, and engage with others with empathy, honesty, and understanding.
Consider elements such as:
- Regular progress check-ins, for example, a daily huddle.
- Providing constructive feedback when needed.
- Ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak at meetings and workshops.
- Processes for dealing with conflict quickly and fairly.
Remember to store all files and documents in your project site so everyone can easily find the information You can also use collaborative features like forums, chat, and surveys to get feedback on your proposed ways of working.
3. Track Together
Once the project is planned and the team is collaborating effectively, it’s time to track progress.
This ensures everyone involved in the project – the project manager, team members, and senior executives – can easily find out how working is progressing and contribute to the project outcome.
Depending on your project tool, you’ll want to track items such as:
- Tasks (In progress, late, upcoming, and unassigned)
- Project health (time and cost)
- Issues and risks
- Resource allocation.
For at-a-glance visual updates, use metric tiles, scorecards, charts, and Kanban boards.
Where possible, use automated email reminders to keep the team on track, for example, schedule a weekly tasks update every Monday morning.
Some collaboration tools also include instant messaging or chat, video conferencing, and tagging.
One Tool: SharePoint
Collaboration cannot be achieved by software alone but the right software can help. Collaboration tools should help teams to access information and update tasks in one place.
A collaboration tool helps teams to plan, act, and track together by centralizing all project information in one secure location. The tool should include:
- Pre-defined templates
- Easy project planning.
- Real-time updates.
- Task management
- Document management with co-editing and versioning.
- Notifications and alerts.
- Strong security and permissions.
There is no shortage of collaboration and project management tools on the market today. At BrightWork, we recommend teams use Microsoft SharePoint. Launched in 2001 as a web-based collaborative tool, Microsoft SharePoint is used by over 400,000 customers in 250,000 organizations worldwide.
In addition to the items listed above, capabilities such as forums, wikis, integration with Microsoft products, and knowledge management make SharePoint an ideal and secure collaborative tool.
Using SharePoint for project management aids collaboration in numerous ways.
- A SharePoint site helps to centralize all project information and documents in one place, increasing visibility and tracking.
- SharePoint includes four security levels – public or private sharing, protection for sensitive documents, and data encryption – and other security capabilities.
- SharePoint lists simplify project planning and task tracking.
- With permissions, the project manager can control who has access to project information.
- The document library is a powerful feature, with co-editing, versioning, and search.
- Workflows save time and boost productivity by moving work forward without increased administration.
- Track all project and non-project work in one place to prioritize tasks.
Using Microsoft Teams for chat? You can easily add a link to your SharePoint site to the relevant Team to bring chat, @mentions, video calls, and project information into one place.
Quiz: Do you need to improve team collaboration?
Q1. Are projects delivering as expected?
Q3. Is your team trained or experienced in project management?
Q2. Do you have real-time visibility into your projects?
Q4. Are any project templates or processes available in your organization?
If you answer no to these questions, you should consider working on collaborative work habits with your team. Try the advice outlined above and in the additional links below.
Start with one or two new ideas, and gradually add more over time.
Plan, Act, and Track Together Using SharePoint
Forming a Project Team
- 6 Tips for Choosing Effective Project Team Members
- Build the Right Team for Project Success using Belbin
- 4 Ways to Boost Project Team Performance
- 10 Tips for Successful Teamwork
- Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook
- Successful Team Collaboration in 2019: Everything you need to know (Zepel)
- Effective Team Collaboration in 2019 – Benefits, Strategies & Tools (Chanty)
- What Collaboration Really Means (ThoughtFarmer)
- 10 Must-Haves for Successful Team Collaboration (Zenkit)
- Everyone is a project manager: A study and guide to successful project collaboration (Planview)
- How Collaboration Wins (Harvard Business Review)
- 12 Crucial Strategies for Promoting Team Collaboration (HubSpot)
- How to Plan Your Project with Your Team
- Do You Use These Steps for Succesful Project Planning?
- 10 Ways to Gather Project Requirements [Infographic]
- Choosing a Project Management Methodology
Ways of Working
- 11 Ways to Improve Collaboration Between Departments (Workzone)
- 9 Strategies for More Productive Meetings
- How to use Consensus Decision Making for Project Management
- Sharpen Your Decision-Making in 5 Steps [Infographic]
- How to Reach Your Professional and Personal Goals
- How to Tackle Poor Project Communication
- How to Create a Project Communication Plan
- Top 5 Tips for Managing a Cross-Functional Team Project Team
- How to Work Effectively with Your Project Sponsor
- How to Manage Difficult Conversations with Team Members
- How to Deal with Conflict in Project Teams
- How to Motivate Your Project Team
- Can Emotional Intelligence Improve Your Projects?
- How to Use Emotional Intelligence for Enhanced Team Collaboration
- How to Boost Project Team Engagement in 3 Steps
- A Quick Guide to Project Teams: Types and Benefits
- Do You Know How to Build a Stellar Project Team?
- 7 Habits of Effective Project Teams
- How to Improve Your Project Leadership with Coaching and Mentoring
- How to Build Trust with Your Remote Project Team
- 4 Practical Ways to Demonstrate Project Leadership Skills
- 15 Ways to Cultivate Your Project Leadership Style
Leverage SharePoint for Collaboration
Collaboration and Project Management
- Free SharePoint Project Management Template
- Picking the Right SharePoint Project Management Template
- 3 Ways to Get Your Projects Under Contol Using SharePoint Templates
- Five ways Microsoft SharePoint can help teams collaborate (TechRepublic)
- What Makes SharePoint a Collaboration Tool? (Digital Doughnut)
- 7 Components of an Effective SharePoint Project Management Site
- 5 Ways to Improve Team Collaboration with SharePoint
- 3 Ways Your Project Team Can Collaborate Using SharePoint
- 4 Tips to Enhance Your SharePoint Project Management Site
- 4 Elements to Consider for Your Collaborative SharePoint Site
- 5 Ways to Get Users to Follow Your Local Project Methodology
- 4 Ways to Manage Project Documents with SharePoint
- Co-authoring documents in SharePoint (SharePoint Maven)
- Co-Authoring Documents with Office 365 & SharePoint 2013 (ShareGate)
Permissions and Security
- Understanding SharePoint Permissions (Netwrix)
- SharePoint Permissions Simplified (SharePoint Maven)
- Keeping SharePoint Secure: What Executives Need to Know About SharePoint Security (ProServeIT)
- Five Crucial SharePoint Security Tips You Must Know (ShareGate)
- 6 SharePoint Workflow Ideas to Save Time and Boost Productivity (New Horizons)
- The missing link: The importance of workflow connectors in modern organizations (Nintex)