Soft Skills Spotlight: Collaboration

Back in high school or college, were you the one who always did the bulk of a group project, then wondered why the teacher wouldn’t just let you work by yourself in the first place? Your teachers didn’t make you work in groups to frustrate you. They aimed to teach you a critical career skill: collaboration.

Collaboration is multifaceted. It includes different abilities, such as clear communication, problem solving, empathy and accountability. This is an important soft skill for any accounting and finance professional. Projects involving audits, budget creation and grant reporting require working together in teams and across departments. Interdepartmental projects can have their own challenges because different parties may have different priorities, skill sets and sometimes even conflicting personalities.

Consider the following five tips to develop your collaboration skills:

1. Participate in team-building activities. Sure, spending 15 minutes trying to untangle a human knot might seem silly, but time spent working with a group toward the same goal helps strengthen collaboration abilities. If your organization doesn’t offer team-building activities during retreats or meetings, you might suggest the idea to your supervisor. Team-building activities can improve office communication, a top morale booster according to a recent Accountemps survey.

2. Work with colleagues outside your comfort zone. Collaborating on projects that fall outside your area of specialization forces you to rely on the expertise of others. For example, if you have the opportunity to assist in the audit of a company with international operations, don’t shy away just because you’re new to international accounting procedures. Take the chance to learn from your team.

3. Find a mentor. Some organizations offer formal mentorship programs. Even if yours doesn’t, you can ask a colleague with strong collaboration skills to mentor you. A mentorship relationship doesn’t have to require a big time commitment. It could be as simple as eating lunch together several times a month.

4. Seek training. Enroll in a class at a local college or attend seminars that focus on boosting collaboration and teamwork skills. Courses and webinars are available online as well.

5. Join up. Industry associations are excellent resources for the professional development of both hard and soft skills. For instance, volunteering on a committee can be a good way to expand your network while honing your collaboration skills when you’re away from work.

Once you’ve developed your collaboration skills, it’s time to put them into action in the workplace. For starters, recognize when coworkers have expertise in certain areas and ask for their input. Likewise, use your expertise to help others, even when there doesn’t seem to be a direct benefit to you.

When you work with a team, put the needs of the group ahead of your own. When you work on interdepartmental projects, be especially attuned to differing perspectives and knowledge bases. For example, if you work in the accounting department of a nonprofit, you’ll likely need to coordinate with the development department on a frequent basis regarding grants and fundraising campaigns. Share your ideas, but also be careful to listen to the input of others. Recognize when someone else has a stronger idea than your own and support it, being sure to give credit where credit is due.

Related post: Soft Skills Spotlight: Written Communication Skills