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Workplace collaboration; getting started

“Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

Research suggests that collaboration is good for business on many levels.  Consider these findings by Deloitte: companies that prioritise collaboration are:

Five times more likely to experience a considerable increase in employment

Twice as likely to be profitable,

Twice as likely to outgrow competitors.

The same research suggests that a whopping 30pc of employees want to collaborate more; referring specifically to the workplace.  However, job structure, processes and organisational culture can be such that they do not allow people to feel that they can collaborate.  I have written about this before, most recently here.  However, as is the case with most things, it all starts with having the right attitude.  If I had access to a collaboration whisperer, I would like her/him to quote me Arthur Ashe.

start-crop-600x338Collaborating at work is a wonderful thing.  It really is.  Stop and think about it for a moment. When we engage with another colleague or a group of colleagues and suggest that we collaborate on getting things done, it makes our work more interesting, exciting and rewarding, and we can set in motion a seriously good thing.  Going to work every day knowing that you will be sitting down with colleagues who also feel energised about collaborating on a project can in itself be a reward.  Not to mention the simple fact that remaining engaged at work will increase your chances of attaining some outstanding results.  Which is precisely the purpose of collaboration.  Getting better results.

And that is the starting point.  It is with a focus of getting ‘better results’ that you should seek out people at your workplace with whom to start collaborating.  Don’t wait until your boss asks you to do it; discover a reason for collaboration on your own.  Be proactive, take risks, try it in good faith.  The results may surprise you.  Understandably though, all this may be daunting for some people given that the average employee wants to follow an established set of rules.  Remember, the point is not to be a reckless superhero and start demanding everyone signs up for collaboration because of your newly discovered will and motivation to work differently.  A more moderate way may be to signal a non-threatening intention.  Remember, collaboration is supposed to add value.

Here are some suggestions on how to get little a transformation happening.

  1. Ask many questions.  As with most challenges the answers are half buried in the questions we ask.  Ask yourself if you see collaboration as a good opportunity to get better results?  Do you think your motivation is results oriented?  Are you prepared to share information, insights, opinions with future collaborators?  Will you be prepared to help more than what your PD says is required?  How will you feel if people reject your call for collaboration?
  2. Choose a project that is relevant to your work but not too critical. Starting new means there’s a chance you will get many things wrong.  So it may be better to keep the risk low.  Do not undertake collaboration on a project that can make or break your career unless you have experience.  Equally important is not to undertake a token project which in reality does not add value to your key performance indicators.
  3. Collaboration is about shared interest.  Inviting people to collaboration is a little bit like forming a band; you hope all members will have same taste in music, but often they don’t.  Different people will bring different skills and more importantly will want to achieve something different than you out of it.  Shared interests need to be explicitly stated as well as the interest of each collaborator.
  4. Aim to succeed. It’s very easy to be overrun by caution and doubt and let them dictate low expectations.  Even though it may be your first attempt at collaboration, there is no reason why success should not be the expectation.  Remember, collaborators bring in their professional skills into the project, and therefore that should be the basis upon which you build.  Expect all collaborators to sign up (mentally) to that attitude.  Do not let a half-hearted players in.
  5. Disrupt, innovate, play. Collaboration is the mother of all disruption.  And it should feel disruptive.  If it does not feel like change then you are probably not doing it right.  But with disruption comes opportunity for innovation.  Collaborate not only to pull different, existing parts together, but to create new parts as well.  Five people collaborating should not be merely a sum of five.
  6. Don’t be fooled by technology. Over the past few years there has been explosion of collaboration focused software that claims to be all about making collaboration productive for businesses.  That’s a tall order.  Technology is important in collaboration and having good program/s in place to help the process to matter.  But technology can hide problems that can cause collaboration failure.  It is not only about communicating, sharing documents, and/or adding bits and pieces to documents that makes collaboration work.  It’s the mental attention to a project and rich discussion which takes a special form when people sit around the table.  When getting started use as few tech aids as possible to avoid barriers.  Keep it clean.

These points are not a secret formula; rather they are based on experience acquired over the years and is common to many who have discovered the power of collaboration.  Each collaborator is capable of adding something new to this ever-expanding practice.  Making a collaboration uniquely yours is what it adds to the positive experience of collaborative work.