Capturing the Elusive Benefits Of Collaboration

Too often, there is an alarming gap between what we know and what we do. Sitting is the new smoking, yet I repeatedly ignore the insistent “stand” command from my watch. Multitasking is not physically possible, but many of us think of it as a professional survival strategy. Time is a non-renewable resource, but…TikTok.

Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in how we collaborate. We know that collaboration is a critical competitive advantage in today’s economy – there is simply too much complexity and change for individual expertise to be sufficient. To be successful, modern organizations must effectively harness the interdisciplinary potential that lives across teams and functions. And yet, the way we work together is too often unintentional, haphazard, and inefficient. There is no success to be found in silos, and yet we keep looking.

What is the secret, then, to making collaboration work for you rather than against you?

It starts with mindsets. There are three foundational beliefs we have observed in organizations intent on capturing their full collaborative potential:

  1. We can all be successful – it’s not a zero-sum game. Internal competition is like an appendix: still there but entirely unnecessary. When individuals stop worrying about looking good in comparison to their peers, they can shift that energy to the work at hand.
  2. A little extra effort goes a long way. It’s true. If I spend the extra time to make sure my emails are clear and succinct and the meetings I convene are a good use of time, I am doing extra work on behalf of the system. If everyone does the same, the system will operate at full power.
  3. When in doubt, ask. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for threats. Didn’t get invited to a meeting? I’m being deliberately shut out. The unclear tone of that email? Must be a veiled insult. Everywhere our brains look, there are overreactions to be had. In organizations committed to collaborative success, however, people have learned to override these natural instincts and to ask first and react later.

When these beliefs are ingrained in the culture of an organization, it becomes easier to adopt behaviors that take high-quality collaboration from an aspiration to a reality. Behaviors like:

“Yes, and…” thinking – A hallmark of improvisational comedy, this orientation to build upon, rather than tear down, others’ ideas helps teams mine the power of the new and unexpected.

Going slow to go fast  Successful collaboration is anchored on shared assumptions and a strong, mutually agreed-upon plan. Everyone needs to understand their role and how the work is going to get done across teams.

Clear and proactive communication  The best collaborators are also great communicators. They know who to engage and what channel to use to cut through the communication clutter and ensure that their messages are heard.

Shared norms for tech use  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the proliferation of platforms designed to “enable” collaboration. Teams who get it right have established norms for where and how to co-create documents, how to connect with each other spontaneously (text, Slack, Teams, etc.), and how to make transparent hand-offs throughout the collaborative process.

Successful collaboration allows for a host of benefits that are essential to success: innovation, agility, and speed. Capturing those benefits, however, requires overriding some of our natural, individualistic tendencies, and putting in some extra time and thought. Isn’t the reward is worth the effort?