Collaboration is the art of effectively working with others to achieve a common goal. When we create a shared vision, combine resources (human, physical and financial) and create a structure for collaborative decision-making, we maximize our learning, creativity, resources, and potential.
Effective collaboration means that a common goal is accomplished; participants feel they have each contributed to the solution and are inspired by the experience. Frequently the end result is better than any one person could have accomplished.
In the collaborative process something new is created as a result of each person contributing, yet not being attached to his or her ideas or resources. Individual efforts are leveraged when we work together with others towards a common outcome. When people solve a problem or create something new together, the learning that occurs and the sense of alignment that happens are both stimulating and inspiring.
Collaboration is not for everyone, however. Some people need to maintain power or control, or do not have the patience or ability to include other viewpoints. These obstacles are not insurmountable and can be overcome.
There are several components to effective collaboration. Understanding the building blocks, being flexible, and having someone facilitate the conversation are key. The facilitator’s job is to encourage participation, promote respectful listening, and support group alignment.
Some structural keys are:
1. Identify the group’s ultimate purpose, vision and desired outcomes. Realize you would not be having the discussion with this group unless there were mutual and compatible goals. Focus on the what – the destination – and don’t get bogged down on the how.
2. Create the Action Plan. Confirm where the group is aligned and define the “how” including the timeline, next steps, roles, responsibilities and commitments, the financial, physical and human resources needed and who will provide them. Distribute a written copy to everyone.
The following will help to ensure that the process produces results:
3. Be a responsible participant. Keep your commitments, share your ideas and be patient with the collaborative process. Realize that groups can go through a chaotic phase as people try to communicate their viewpoints or positions.
4. Have a good attitude. Choose to collaborate. If you are stuck on having things your way, “besting” the other person, or “defending your idea,” chances are that mindset will interfere with the creativity that collaboration generates. Develop your ability to let go of your need to have things go your way and be willing to be pleasantly surprised when someone else says it better than you could have.
5. Practice good communication skills. Ask good questions that invite people to contribute their best ideas. Make sure everyone gives input, recognizing that each person has a valuable contribution to make. Listen well. Rather than arguing about where you disagree, or defending your position, find and acknowledge what you can agree on or where there is alignment. Listen for the common themes and emerging consensus. Be succinct in your speaking.
6. Respect people’s styles and preferences and agree on the meeting format. Each member should state what is important to them when working in a group; for example – starting and ending on time, having fun, providing written notes, etc. Recognize some people are more action oriented while others are more focused on building relationships, and include a balance of both.
Successful collaboration includes valuing diversity, being creative, giving and receiving acknowledgement, being open to new possibilities, and celebrating successes along the way, as well as a successful final outcome.
With some structure and a bit of practice, most groups can develop good collaborative problem solving and decision-making skills. This can translate to reduced stress and conflict while increasing the creativity, productivity and enthusiasm of the group.