It’s an absolute honour to be guest blogger for Roadmender Spark this week and to build on and contribute to this important discussion around collaboration. For this post I’m getting back to basics – drawing on my learning thus far around collaboration, which has simply come about from doing, experiencing and reflecting. I am no expert, I’m just keen to contribute and provide a real life lens on my experiences of working in collaborative (and not so collaborative) environments, workplaces and partnerships.
My experiences are vast and varied… from working in community development with minimal resources where collaboration was part of the furniture, to hyper resourced teams coming together to “collaborate” and getting nothing done! Collaboration is hard work, that’s my number one learning!
Let me share a story. I’m very fortunate in my current role in that I’m encouraged and supported to collaborate. I am given all the resources I need, and the trust, to work just about anywhere, anytime.
A few months back my office was Hub Melbourne for the day… a co-working space of Melbourne hipsters all working on very impressive initiatives in the heart of the city. In the space of a morning, three people from different parts of my life walked past my co-working desk and we connected (caught up on lost months or years) and then we collaborated. A gorgeous friend and colleague from Brisbane; a contact I’d not seen for almost a decade from Adelaide; and lastly, a friend of my sister! I tee’d up a coffee with Ms Brisbane knowing she was doing great things in the change-making space and I could immediately see an opportunity for her to link in with my current work. I exchanged details with Mr Adelaide as we were now working in the same sector (and the same city again) and no doubt there would be ways for us to connect in the near future. Lastly, I scheduled a meeting with my sister’s friend to invite her to facilitate a workshop for me later in the year. Six months since these chance encounters and many meeting, coffees and emails shared, I have worked collaboratively with each of these individuals…all in a professional capacity and all to enhance the educational and social outcomes for young people in Australia. Would this have happened if I was sitting at my desk at the office? Most definitely not! And is collaborating really that difficult? Definitely not. It’s about connecting the dots through the people you know and the expertise or resources they (and you) may have or need. It’s about talking, and building the future one connection at a time.
Now I’m no hyper-connected Gen Y’er, but I am a good communicator and connector and I’ve learnt to leverage this in meaningful ways in the workplace. This example demonstrates the power and influence of collaboration, and how this can be leveraged with the right minds and resources around the table to enable greater CQ (Collaborative Intelligence) amongst all of us. To quote Jelenko Dragisic, “CQ is in all of us if we are given the means to access it”.
Building on this further, Pop-Up teams have revolutionised my workplace (and my professional world) in recent years and demonstrated the real power (and cost effectiveness) of getting the right players and giving them the right resources at the right time to get the job done! People coming together with shared values and/or common goals + the required expertise or skill set + the right infrastructure = collaborating and conquering a problem in the most innovative, cost effective and efficient way possible. And with a better end result than 3 full time employees on the job for 12 months!
While all this collaboration seems like fun and games, there are a few key principles I live by when working with partners (community groups, corporates, non-government organisations and business) to meet a common goals. I have many in my little black book of collaboration, here are but a few.
1. Define and respect roles and trust your fellow collaborators and partners. There is a reason you have come together. If you can articulate why you and your fellow collaborators are there and what you each bring to the party, you are halfway to a truly successful partnership. Trust your team; people do amazing work when they are trusted and respected!
A wonderful colleague of mine often talks about “unconditional positive regard” for the people we work with. He explains this by suggesting we don’t need to be besties with every person we work with, but we do need to enter into discussions, collaborations and day to day operations with respect for them, their values and their contributions…unconditional positive regard, I love this concept and it works!
2. Get the right players and put the right resources in at the right time! Think pop-up teams!
3. Talk…don’t tell. If you are truly collaborative, you will talk to your partners, you will throw around ideas together, and in partnership, come up with the right solution or way of moving forward. Bringing everyone on the journey is part of the collaborative process. Yes, it takes more time and energy, but it is absolutely necessary for success. People feel valued, respected and part of the family when they are included.
4. Keep your promise! If you say you’re going to do something please, please, please pull through with the goods. No matter how big or small, follow up with your fellow collaborators and partners regarding the commitment you made. If you can’t make good on your promise, go back to them, check-in and explain the parameters have changed. People in general don’t like to be kept in the dark wondering, they lose trust. This is simply about honesty, transparency and respect.
5. “Carla, big wheels turn slowly” was a lesson learnt from a woman whom in my opinion is the best collaborator I know. Flora, a true collaborator and connector who taught me so much of what I know today. This phrase was something I heard one hundred times over in my first few years in community development and really brings together the first four points above. When you’re working on projects with partners it takes time, commitment and passion for the wheels to turn. Some days the wheels turn much slower than others and you’re forced to re-evaluate, re-group and remember why you’re in it! She also taught me it was imperative to sit and have coffee (sometimes many coffees) with partners to share stories and build trust – all these coffees help turn the wheels!
These learnings will not be new concepts to those reading this blog, but they are real and sometimes it’s the real stuff which gets consumed by strategy and planning. I’ve learnt these real life practices and principles through doing, reading and talking to others in this space. I’ve also learnt that successful collaboration includes a change in mindset from “we can’t do that” to “let’s try it and see what happens”…this is when the magic begins!
Carla Granozio is a co-initiator of ROADMENDER Spark and in her day job manages projects at the Foundation for Young Australians. Carla is based in Melbourne.
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Categories: ROADMENDER Spark