One of the benefits I garner through my work are opportunities to collaborate with different groups and individuals. Through these collaborations, I not only get the chance to learn and understand different perspectives, but to discover new ways to work with people who have different approaches to guide things forward.
Of course, as with anything in life, not all collaborations are created equal. Although I look forward to future collaborations with many of the people and groups I’ve worked with in the past, there are some collaborations that were not as satisfying or rewarding. Not so much in terms of how successful we were in attaining our objectives, but in how certain parties approached the collaboration process.
Interestingly, it’s a problem that my two oldest daughters also experience in high school where teachers assign them projects to collaborate on without providing any guidance or support on how to do this effectively. This no doubt mirrors our own educational experiences, where we were somehow expected to know how to collaborate with different partners in order to achieve a successful result.
Taken together, what this reveals is an uncomfortable truth about the nature of work: we understand the importance of collaboration, but most of us haven’t learned what that involves [Share on Twitter]. And in light of today’s rush to just get things done, leaders are not engendering a supportive environment for their employees to learn how they can successfully collaborate with different teams and departments in order to achieve their organization’s shared purpose.
As such, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from my past collaborations, lessons I’ve shared with both my clients and my daughters on how we can learn to be successful in our present and future collaborations by gaining a better understanding of what it entails.
1. Clarify expectations in terms of involvement and contributions
When I look back at the various partnerships I’ve had with different groups and individuals, one trait that these collaborations shared in common was how there was this collective drive and enthusiasm to roll up our sleeves and dive into the work.
And yet, if I look at those collaborations which I enjoyed the most – those that have fuelled an interest in finding opportunities to collaborate in the future – there was something we did before we mapped out any plans or began assigning tasks.
Namely, before anything else was done, we made time to talk about the expectations we had about the project – both in terms of what we wanted to achieve, as well as what we expected in terms of our individual contributions. This initial conversation proved critical not only to avoiding potential conflicts down the road because of misplaced assumptions, but it also helped to keep everyone accountable by clarifying how we would work together on these projects.
In terms of promoting an environment that breeds successful collaborations, this is a critical factor to support in your organization in order to avoid future conflicts due to assumptions made over what each participant should be expected to do, not to mention their level of responsibility to the initiative.
Again, in our rush to simply get things done, it’s easy for us to focus more on developing implementation plans and time frames for completion at the expense of articulating the working relationships of those involved in this collaboration.
We have to remember that the long-term goal of collaboration is strengthening our ability to work together [Share on Twitter]. That we’re helping to create this sense of community where our employees are not operating from a mindset of scarcity – of one person’s gain being at the expense of another – but from a mindset of abundance brought on by putting our collective talents, creativity, and insights towards a shared goal.
2. Intentionally leave gaps to allow others to contribute
One of the reasons why we want to encourage collaborations in our organization is in order to create opportunities for our employees to share their experiences and insights with others and consequently, help to bring their best efforts to the table.
And yet, when it comes to promoting a collaborative environment in our organization, it’s important to remember that not everyone is quick to throw their two cents in for a variety of reasons. Some have introverted tendencies that have fostered the habit of pulling back instead of stepping forward with their ideas and solutions. And for others, it’s more about needing to see the full picture before diving in to address specific points.
That’s why it’s critical that you demonstrate to your employees the value in leaving intentional gaps so as to encourage everyone in your team to participate and be heard. Granted, there will be problems or issues that you or others may not have considered. However, leaving these intentional white spaces in the process of collaborating will reinforce the message that answers or ideas need not come from a select group of individuals.
Leaving these intentional gaps in the collaborative process also allows contributors around the table to insert themselves into the overall narrative, thereby enabling a sense of shared ownership not just in the end result, but in the overall process being used to achieve that outcome.
These gaps will also help your collaborative partners to not look at their contributions as fully realized concepts, but as rough drafts that they should be open and receptive to being changed and modified over time.
After all, the key to a successful collaboration is being comfortable with change; to adapt, learn, and grow [Share on Twitter].
3. Being successful at collaborating is learned through trial-and-error
In today’s highly competitive, faster-paced business environment, one of the goals of collaboration should be to get our employees out of their comfort zones and meld different perspectives and ideas to generate new opportunities and solutions.
Indeed, your organization’s ability to innovate requires employees moving beyond teaming up with people who share identical ideas, experiences, and insights, and instead partner up with people who can compliment their native talents and expertise in order to reveal previously unseen opportunities and paths to explore.
Of course, by moving outside our comfort zone to work with people who complement our talents, skills, and insights as opposed to mirroring them, it’s a given that not every collaboration is going to be successful or effective.
But one of the real benefits of encouraging collaborations in our organization is that it helps our employees to get out of their usual line of thinking; to take risks in exploring ideas borne from our collective efforts in order to see where this might take us. In so doing, we gain the benefit of seeing things from different vantage points that can help us become better informed going forward about our future decisions and choices.
This is why successful firms like Pixar Animation Studios and Google continue to be viewed as these well-springs of creativity and innovation – their leaders understand that they have to create a culture and organizational environment where their employees are compelled to look beyond their team and departmental lines in order to expand their horizons to discover and learn.
That their employees have the freedom to explore and understand the gaps in their understandings, and how those from different teams and departments can help them to fill in the missing pieces in order to create a fully-realized vision or product. And that their employees recognize that being successful at collaborating is a trial-and-error process where failures are as valuable as successes because it helps us to uncover areas for us to learn, grow, and evolve.
Indeed, the power of collaboration is not found in sticking to what you know, but in taking risks to learn what you don’t [Share on Twitter].
There’s no question that the ability to foster collaboration in today’s organizations is important, but it’s only effective when we provide our employees with the right environment to move beyond their own perspectives, beyond their roles and responsibilities, and see the common bond that binds them to this shared purpose.
When it comes to collaboration, we have to walk the talk through our leadership [Share on Twitter], not only to preserve our credibility, but to help emulate and promote those behaviours which are required for collaborations to be effective.
We have to promote and support an environment and culture that breeds trust and open communication because our employees are not focused on protecting their turf, but on how they can help move the organization’s vision one step closer to reality.
We have to ensure that our employees are not only able to see the value of their contributions, but the value and benefit those around them also bring to the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.
In other words, we have to demonstrate to our employees that collaboration is not about coming to the table with all the answers, but in how working together we can discover a better solution than we could on our own.
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