Unless you herd sheep on your own in the outer reaches of Mongolia then the likelihood is that you’ll need to collaborate at some point in your working day. And even if you do herd sheep on your own, you’ll need to collaborate with others at some point to sell by-products such as wool.
In other words, collaboration is an essential component of performance in today’s world. Whether that’s collaborating with one other colleague; or teams in an organisation collaborating on a project; or several organisations collaborating to deliver regeneration of a local area.
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggested that there is too much collaboration. In particular, I was interested in the idea that collaboration falls squarely on the shoulders of a few in an organisation. These ‘serial collaborators’ are natural networkers – people who are able to bring various groups together to work towards a common goal. However, this additional pressure on these individuals puts them at risk of burnout.
So, how can more people become effective collaborators? Here are six ideas to help:
- Contract clearly at the beginning: Nowhere near enough time is spent on this bit, in my experience. I see many individuals, teams and organisations dive straight in to getting on and doing whatever it is that needs to be done. Spending some time agreeing roles, responsibilities, how disagreements will get sorted, how information will be shared etc. can make a serious difference. For particularly big collaborative projects, you may want to get a facilitator in to help you develop the contract.
- Use technology: Collaboration doesn’t have to mean a face-to-face meeting every time, if at all. When people are coming from different parts of the country, or different countries, then technology is your friend. Skype, webinars, private social media feeds such as Yammer, web-chats etc are a great way for people to collaborate. These approaches can also provide you with transcripts, thereby saving some poor soul from sorting out action minutes.
- Reverse engineer – focus on the end game: ‘Begin with the end in mind’ is one of the habits from ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’. Focusing on the outcome that needs to be achieved will help with the contracting (see the first idea). It will also help ensure that collaboration meetings (virtual or otherwise) don’t degenerate into irrelevance.
- Be prepared to compromise: The need to ‘win’ is something I see a lot of, particularly in collobaration between teams and some organisations. There is still a block for some people where to win means someone loses and they’ll be damned if it’s them. In their book, ‘Getting to yes’, Roger Fisher and William Ury come up with a great framework for getting to win-win. The key? Focus on the problem not the people.
- Be open to learning: One root cause I’ve seen, when collaboration efforts have failed, is one or more of the parties thinking they have all of the answers. Those people who are curious and genuinely open to new ways of thinking and doing things tend to be the ‘super collaborators’. If you’re collaborating ask questions more than making statements. Why not set yourself a target of asking x amount of questions at your next collaboration session?
- Suspend judgement and preconceptions: Another root cause of collaboration failure is where parties make assumptions and judgements about each other. They’ve made their minds up before the collaboration has even got going. Suspending judgement, bias and preconceived notions can be a really difficult thing to do. When I’m coaching senior managers, this is the thing that comes up quite a bit and it’s the thing that gets in the way of them being as effective as they could be. Just being aware of your bias and judgements can be a really good place to start though. Being challenged through coaching or mentoring can help you work through this.
What are the things you’ve found help you collaborate effectively? Why not share them in the comments box below so that others can benefit from your experience?
Hayley Lewis is a chartered psychologist and a Fellow of the RSA. She founded HALO Psychology to help public sector leaders and organisations improve their effectiveness through the sharing and use of psychology. HALO offers a variety of services including coaching, facilitation and training. Contact us to see how we can support you improve collaboration and partnership working in your organisation.