The Nuance of Collaboration

Collaboration is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: the action of working with someone to produce something. For example, "he wrote a book in collaboration with his son". Synonyms are: cooperation, alliance, partnership, participation, combination, association, concert; something produced in collaboration with someone.

Collaboration enables access to other people’s knowledge and skills. It means, like the word synergy implies, it is about doing more with less. The trick with collaboration though is to be in sync not only as a team, but with the objective. All collaboration partners should be able to articulate their part in the project; the shared vision if you will. Other team members need to feel involved, listened to, respected and valued for the contribution they bring to the table. There is no easy route to this. Every individual communicates in different ways. Each will have their own agenda relative to the project or importantly, for their own day-to-day activities. Each team member will have grown up in different family eco systems and cultures. Every individual will have their own personality and their own character; their own life values. Enabling strong collaboration then, creates an interesting dynamic. Sure we can discuss leadership and the impact of that, but at core, does the collaborative team feel like a team and is it allowed to act like a team.

Valuing difference within the team is not the same as showing respect. Respect can also mean calling out and challenging the team to take a breath. Shy or reserved personalities also need to feel that they are not dominated out of the conversations. The difference between and extrovert and an introvert is just that, a difference. In no way does it devalue the contribution or effort that each can make to the team. Recently I was in a business setting where a group of people were enrolled into a project delivery by the salesman. He was articulate and enthusiastic. Also at that meeting was a quiet and yet knowledgeable individual. Later I spoke to the customer and talked about that meeting. They remembered the salesman really well. They did not realise that the quiet individual was the power broker. He was the ultimate decision maker in the delivery of the solution. Could that meeting have been managed differently; certainly! Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Ultimately though, the successful delivery of any project will reside in collaboration. The scope of the delivery to ensure clarity of deliverables; time and cost must happen and be driven by the customer with input from the supplier as to the art of the possible. Resources, risk, methodology, systems, timeframe and other relevant aspects where marketing and PR may be added to the delivery mix. They will also have agendas.

As you can see from this example, communication and values are at core for the parties involved. Team and collaboration cannot operate without levels of transparency that enable something quite critical to the collaborative process; trust. Where people trust others in the collaboration team, communication and delivery is easier. Hidden agendas are not evident because personal and/or company agendas are known; they are on the table early so later confusion and lack of trust is avoided.

The following are a few top tips that enable good collaboration:

  • Ensure that the shared objective is clear to all, along with their individual responsibilities and accountabilities for their part of the outcome. Setting these ground rules early helps the whole team and all stakeholders.
  • Define and make known the roles of the various team members – especially at meetings.
  • Be honest and own mistakes – These will invariably happen. Better for team members to feel supported when things go awry. Transparency and honesty engenders trust.
  • Have an online shared working space for document sharing and involve the team in the decision making process.
  • Adopt an open communication style – Listening and, validating rather than criticising is a success element.
  • Make sure that the team knows who the internal and external stakeholders are.
  • Have an ethos of fun and achievement within the team. A good energy vibe helps mould a great team.
  • Look for opportunities to ‘bond’ and ‘acknowledge’ the team and its members.
  • Build trust within the team. This will come from team members feeling validated and respected; and from all team members completing their assigned roles.
  • Enable clear communication between team members. Have each others back’s. Talk up the team and its members when dealing with stakeholders. If the project is challenged avoid apportioning blame rather recognise the organism that is the team; all of its component parts.
  • As a team, celebrate wins, no matter how small.

There are many examples in sport, science, the arts, and community support; local, national and international politics where collaboration can excel or fail. The relationship between team members; between the coach and athlete or members of a band are all examples where collaboration to create excellence is key. What is evident is the synchronicity between the various team members and how they function rather than dysfunction.

This article then is more about principles rather than case studies. Talking about collaboration is not the game. Behaving collaboratively means doing things differently. It means allowing others to take the lead when necessary or when appropriate. It means listening. It means putting aside egos in favour of creating something strong and dependable, something vibrant and fluid. Creating a team that not only faces challenges but one that adapts to challenge and stays solution focused is a significant result.

The analogy of an orchestra bringing to life a melody across different musical instruments – wood, wind, string and percussion is an amazing piece of collaboration. Multiple players in each section and sometimes enhanced by a soloist or a choir. Can you imagine the collaborative nuance for a three to five minute piece of music? The harmonies are the result of continual practice and playing always to each others strengths. Practice and yet more practice.

Creating a strong collaborative team is not only born in the heat of the delivery, it can take time for the culture and ethos of the team to emerge. Be prepared to enable that time. Allow mistakes. Celebrate successes and enable the whole team to take their collaboration learning’s as best practice to other teams they collaborate with. Spreading the good word through a successful collaborative team goes a long way.

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