If you were to take a survey and ask people to respond via yes or no if they are good at collaborating with others, most would probably answer yes. The majority of people want to see themselves as strong collaborators. However, there are factors which impede some people’s ability to either truly collaborate, or collaborate well.
One of the factors which makes collaborating difficult is that it requires people to often agree upon something. It also requires focus and letting down your guard and putting yourself into a neutral state of mind. Or at least an open state of mind. Again, this is hard to do. Now add in having to collaborate with people who you may not know, don’t like, or worse, do not respect. At least not yet.
Often people are asked to collaborate with others they would not ordinarily collaborate with. So, this further complicates the equation. In this case, think of a group of people at a company who acquired another company, and now they are being asked to work and essentially collaborate with one another.
When you think of collaborating, do any rules come to mind? Potentially, but then again, everyone might have their own interpretation of what this means. Given this reality, who will be the arbitrator in this scenario? Again, this will require the parties involved to agree to be open minded in order to give the goal of collaborating a chance.
Trust also plays a role in collaborating. The reality is that not everyone trusts each other. It takes time and experience with one another to build up trust, and certainly does not happen overnight. So, can you fast track building up trust with people you have to collaborate with? Yes, but again, all of the parties involved will have to allow themselves to be vulnerable, and this isn’t easy for most people. In fact, it can be downright scary. So now what?
Just like most situations, there isn’t one silver bullet to address and make the challenge easy. However, here are some tips on how you can build up your collaboration muscles.
- Collaboration requires warming up and opening up your mind to jumping into actually being able to collaborate with others. So, start with an icebreaker exercise to help the group get to know one another better. It should involve helping each person to reveal something about themselves which is going to be one of their contributions to being a strong collaborator.
- Each person in the group should give an example of a time they were involved in a successful collaboration. Keep each story to a limit of 2-4 minutes.
- Have each person state what they envision as a positive outcome for the collaborative project they are working on with the team.
- Mutually determine what success of the collaboration would look like. Write it down, and it’s fine if this takes some time to come up with. It’s critical to get everyone onboard with this vision and goal.
- Define up front that everyone will be playing an equal role on the team, and agree that no idea or verbal contribution towards the goal is unacceptable.
- Ask each person on the team to define what their superpower is. Draw upon their superpower during each of your collaboration gatherings. The point is to focus on each person’s strength, and this helps to level set the collaboration playing field.
- Agree to have fun collaborating. When you establish this as one of your ground rules, it makes getting to the end goal much easier, and who doesn’t want to have a little fun when they are working on a project?
- Appoint the person who aligns with being an idea generator to capture your team’s verbal contributions when you are brainstorming during each of your meetings. Also consider brainstorming during each meeting, either to solve a challenge, or to have all team members participating fully. Ensure that everyone is able to contribute to each session.
- Make sure your collaboration team has an opportunity to spend time with one another doing something unrelated to their project. This could mean doing something as simple as asking them to get together to take five minutes to talk about a talent or hobby, or something they do outside of work which they love doing. Sharing this information helps the team to get to know one another, and this helps to increase trust, as it is easier to develop this when you know more good things about a person.
Since there isn’t a perfectly developed formula for ideal collaboration, you will have to accept that you will need to do your best as a contributor to the team at all times. Yes, some days this might be more difficult to do than other times, but then again, others on the team will help to compensate for you not bringing your “A” game that day. My last point is to embrace that collaboration is what generally leads to exceptional outcomes when we work well together. Isn’t that why we collaborate in the first place? As I said earlier, collaboration is a team sport.
Kathleen E. R. Murphy is the Founder, Chief Performance Strategist and CEO of MarketMe Too. She is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, author of Wisdom Whisperer, and is a well-respected motivational and social influencer who has a global following from her numerous speaking, print, radio and television media appearances.
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