Keys to Productive Collaboration

CollaborationHave you ever been frustrated by a collaboration that was a lot of fun but never really produced meaningful results?

Have you ever been involved in a conversation where you wondered about what other participants’ articulations really meant?

Have you ever worked in a team where you felt as if you were the only one really pulling your weight?

‘Collaboration’ is the new business buzz word and it’s driving a lot of people crazy.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with collaboration, it’s just that as the latest flavor in operational recipes, it tends to be viewed as the key ingredient for success.  That being said, not many people really understand how to collaborate successfully. Too often, collaborations are disappointing as they either take longer than anticipated, or fail to reach desired outcomes.

But that’s no reason to give up on collaboration.  In our complex and competitive business environment, collaboration is essential to find effective solutions quickly.  Two (or more) heads are usually better than one.  All we need to do is to put a few fundamental parameters in place and we’ll see a higher degree of success and a lot less wasted time and frustration.

How to ensure collaborations are quantifiable and result oriented:

Every really productive collaboration shares some important baselines.  Sometimes these are automatically in place, but, for the most part, it’s wise to check that they’re present before any collaboration begins.

Baseline 1: Are all the collaborators on the same page?

Do they all have the same understanding of the situation being discussed or worked on and do they have a shared end goal? If their understanding isn’t aligned, it’s highly unlikely that a satisfactory end goal will ever be reached.

Baseline 2: Do they all speak the same language?

Just as when you say ‘blue,’ you might be thinking of cyan but your hearer may be visualizing indigo, so too, the exact meaning you’re trying to convey during a business discussion may be different to what’s being ‘seen’ by the hearer.  Before any meaningful collaboration can take place, it’s important to ensure that all collaborators are using the same terminology so that everyone involved hears and understands the same things.

The remedy: Using the example above, instead of saying ‘blue’ you could say ‘cyan’ or ‘sky blue’ and everyone would understand exactly which shade of blue you meant.  Discuss the language and find common ground before beginning to address the task.

This in itself is the beginning of the collaborative process. collaboration

Baseline 3:  Does each collaborator clearly understand and accept  responsibility for implementation?

As the old saying goes, “Talk is cheap, it’s money that buys the whiskey.”  It’s easy to have fun during the collaborative process and enjoy throwing ideas around and even formulating an impressive to do list, but, somebody has to be prepared to take responsibility for implementation, otherwise the collaboration has essentially failed.

The remedy: All collaborators should agree upon the role each person will play in bringing the ideas discussed to fruition.  This brings an element of accountability into the equation.  Adding a timeline, or deadlines for the agreed upon outcomes ensures that necessary steps are taken on time so that the end goal is reached by a specific time. It also gets things done quicker and avoids one or two people having to carry the load alone.

Baseline 4: Each collaborator must be present for every meeting.

Collaboration often occurs over a period of time. It’s sometime difficult to get everyone together for every meeting.  However, not being involved first hand in every meeting means that there’s room for miscommunication and robs the group of potential input.

Collaborative meetings are like a game played by a professional sports team.  Strategy, creativity and skill are all important.  Just as important are the roles of each player.  A missing player means that the team plays at a disadvantage.

The remedy: Use whatever technology is necessary to ensure that every collaborator is present at every meeting. Whether the team members meet using technology or face-to-face doesn’t matter. What matters is that all are present in every collaborative meeting.

Baseline 5: Document everything

Allsteel Sketch & GatherA collaboration which isn’t properly documented will invariably leave opportunities unexplored.  A few days, or even hours later, and we’ll find ourselves trying to remember exactly what we had discussed and what we’d decided our next step would be.

The remedy:  Have someone document the meeting.  Taking notes of the main items discussed as well as the decisions made and formulating a person specific / task specific to do list with an agreed deadline will help everyone stay on track.  A copy of the notes should be sent to each collaborator as soon after the meeting as possible.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll find that that your collaborations become more productive with more successful outcomes.

In our next article, we’ll discuss how to set up a successful collaborative space.   In the meantime, here are some other articles that may interest you:

Effective Collaboration