Tips for Successful Collaboration
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro
While it is the duty of every individual to become the greatest force they can possibly be, to achieve the fulfillment of their absolute potential, the next (and higher) goal is to discover how to utilize individual strengths for a greater good. The power of collaboration is the single greatest advantage of any species; it is the foundation of civilization; it builds cities, cures disease, and sends explorers into space. Collaboration is not about you or me – it is about WE, and all WE can accomplish.
It is also a required skill for business.
If collaboration is such an essential aspect of daily life, why can it still be so hard? For many, the balance between individual needs and group processes can be challenging. When should we fight for what we believe, and when should we acquiesce to the group? If it is true that we are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain, why not break free, excel on our own, and let others falter as they may?
Every situation, like every member of a collaborative group, is different. One of the reasons many still struggle with collaboration is because there is no magical panacea to the myriad challenges of group process. Luckily, there are some basic foundations upon which productive cooperation can flourish.
Here are a few steps you can take to improve your team’s odds at collaborative success:
Pre-Plan: Don’t just hop right into a project, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Of course the project tasks and desired outcomes will need to be outlined in advance, but so will the way in which working members interact with each other. Not just the “who is doing what and when”, but “how do we communicate with each other?” Set ground rules and make agreements. Define your stake by clarifying the group’s common purpose and goals. Share the manner in which you prefer to receive criticism – is it in the moment, or privately? Is it face-to-face or via email? Remember, in an actively creative and forward-moving process, different opinions aren’t just likely, they are mandatory. Decide in advance how differences will be made assets rather than liabilities.
Create a safe environment, not a comfort zone: There is a reason many meetings and workshops begin with light-hearted games and fun ice-breakers. In order for people to give their best, they need to lose their inhibitions and speak up. Group creativity requires voluminous input from everyone. Often, fun and humor are the shortest distance to a safe environment, where people feel they can be themselves, express their true feelings, and not have to worry about being judged or criticized. This safe environment should not be mistaken for a comfort zone, however. Regardless of the environment, people are often content to sit on the sidelines and let others battle it out. Keep the room safe to speak freely – but insist on full participation from everyone, even if that means having difficult conversations .
Evaluate altruistically: In a project with multiple players, tasks, and timelines, it can be easy to become critical of those you perceive to be unsatisfactory. Rather than leap to assumptions about an individual’s character or motivation, examine areas for process improvement. Assume greatness in everyone. Evaluate performance and contribution to the common goals from a place of compassion and kindness. This is not to say you should ever settle for mediocrity. The trick is to look at each situation with an inquisitive, but respectful eye – to explore improvement-opportunities rather than find fault.
Document: Keep active records of where you are on the trail to where you want to be. Regroup often and share success and challenges. Prepare milestone timelines in advance so you know when you are on track and when you’ve been derailed. Leave nothing to chance or assumptions. Identify when it’s time for brainstorming and when it’s time for elbow grease. If there are problems, decide if they are process or relationship-driven. It may be time to re-write protocols or re-visit agreements.
Experience Success and Failure as a Group: Celebrate your victories and grieve your losses together. If one individual or department succeeds, it is a victory for all. Likewise, if one department or task is struggling, it is the responsibility of all. To excel as a team, you must think and act as a team. Every problem is the group’s puzzle to solve. One ostracized individual is the failure of the group, and every personal achievement emboldens the entire organization. The genuine shared ownership of success and failure is a key element to a group’s continued success.