The way that we work is changing. Any thought of 80s style, blocked off cubicles is long gone, where any discussion is seen as damaging and problematic.

More than ever, business is taking advantage of new ways for their employees to communicate and an ever increasing number of employees aren’t even working within the office environment at all. The latest reports suggest that more than 13.9% of the UK workforce works from home, and that was in 2014.

What does all this mean for small business? Well, with an increasingly disjointed workforce, new channels for communication and 96% of executives citing lack of collaboration as the main source of workplace failure, it’s time we all thought a bit more carefully about how we work together.

Whether you’re looking to improve knowledge sharing, unify your company message or help aid idea creation, here’s how you can start thinking about encouraging more and more collaboration within your small business.

Select team leaders who care about tasks and relationships

When it comes to instigating a proper culture of collaboration, it begins with the people you choose to lead your teams. Leadership best practice is a debate for the ages, and there will always be a difference of opinion over the best way to manage your employees.

Specifically when it comes to collaboration, the debate centres on a task vs relationships strategy. One idea is that building open, fair and genuine relationships contributes the most to knowledge exchange, as you create an environment of trust.

On the other side of the coin, a focus on tasks involves everyone understanding their place and the place of others within the team, fostering clarity and understanding which in turn allows people to work as a unit more effectively.

So which is it? Well studies suggest that the most effective leaders have both. In particular, the best tend to focus on tasks first, before looking at building lasting and effective strategies. This way, everyone has the kind of clear understanding that allows them to work towards a clear, single goal, before going on to build an environment that encourages trust and knowledge sharing.

Do you know each other’s roles?

Is everyone at your business able to explain exactly what role everyone else has? Do they know their skillset, their day-to-day workload and what they excel at?

If the answer is no, then you’ve got a pretty obvious obstacle to open collaboration.

If we don’t know what others do, then we can neither approach them with help nor ask them for it when they are the best person for the job. Clearly defined roles are crucial for success, but knowledge sharing in unfamiliar areas can also be hugely beneficial. The better the understanding, the more skills and talent can be utilised b your team.

If you think this is problem, consider implementing some training where people get to explain to others how they structure their day, and what the demands of their role are. Transparency starts at the top, so get your managers to open channels of understanding too.

Instil a strong sense of company vision

One of the most divisive factors in business is when your employees have no clear direction, vision or an understanding of the effect on the rest of the company.

Transparency and communication is hugely important to focus and productivity, as an employee is much more likely to take pride in what they do as they see the wider effect of their work. It’s also integral to shift any collaboration focus to working towards the best for the company and the team.

Awareness encourages knowledge sharing and assistance on tasks that work towards your business goals. Direction is everything.

Encourage informal relationships building

Let’s be clear, mandatory fun is not good for any business. If your team is bonding through their shared dislike for laboured team building sessions, you’re probably not building the type of collaboration that’s going to be useful for your business.

Having said that, within a small business personal relationships are absolutely essential to your success. Having a close friend at work can boost productivity by 50%, for example. What’s more, when people form genuine bonds, they’re more likely to help each other out and share ideas; if you’re paranoid enough to think work relationships are a threat, the problem is unlikely to be with your employees.

To help form this kind of interaction, you need to encourage people to find shared interests and concerns, and give them the space to foster relationships.

Relaxed socials during worktime encourages everyone to get involved, no matter the kind of commitments they have outside of the office. Even simple changes like using large lunch spaces to encourage group discussions and conversation between people who otherwise wouldn’t interact can have a really positive impact.

Restructure your meetings

When it comes to encouraging collaboration, many managers are understandably concerned with the idea of never-ending brainstorming meetings where nothing actually gets achieved.

At its best, collaboration encourages getting the most out of everyone but admittedly, uncontrolled efforts can lack focus and quickly muddy the water. To solve this, make sure there is a common focus to any meetings. Keep them short. Make sure everyone walks in understanding the problem that needs solving.

It’s important to encourage a non-judgemental environment to allow ideas to flourish, but you also need to maintain an air of objectivity. Spending time discussing ideas that are a pipedream isn’t a good use of your time, so make sure that you come out of the meeting with something to action or experiment with.

This urgency will help to increase focus and collaboration as the team moves together towards a clear and unified goal.

Make mentoring valuable

One key part of ensuring good collaboration is understanding the talent that you have at the senior level of your business. These people will often be the most effective source for passing on invaluable knowledge, and you need to use them.

When you have a new employee, take a leaf out of the big companies’ book and provide them with a list of team members who could help them progress. Whether it’s about understanding the company, or a more specific skill or competency relevant to their role, encouraging mentoring straight away ensures a positive attitude towards knowledge sharing going forward.

If you can find a way to utilise your existing talent to benefit your newest employees, then you’re creating stars for the future while encouraging the best collaborative culture right from the beginning. It’s a win-win.

By Matt Arnerich, graduate jobs content writer for Inspiring Interns