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4 key principles for collaboration

Collaboration - is about different people working together to create the same thing
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Collaboration has become a buzzword. It is something that all companies want to do. Some understand what it really is. A few have figured out how to do it well. This HBR survey reveals some of its issues, good practices and benefits.

Collaboration is not just important at an organizational level, it is critical at an individual level. When coping with relentless change, professionals and leaders need to learn fast, create multiple ideas and have confidence in their decision-making. The fastest way to achieve this involves being surrounded by diverse people, taking into account plural perspectives, making sense of complex situations, developing multiple solutions, and taking action towards meaningful goals. Collaboration enables you to do this, but it is not easy.

Why is collaboration difficult?

The definition of collaboration seems simple: Collaboration (noun) Two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.

The complexity is between the lines.

Two or more different people each with their own personalities, cognitive preferences, experiences, knowledge, habits, beliefs, interests, ideas and current emotions working thinking, learning, doing, communicating together in accordance with the environment and norms of the group to create something new and useful or achieve over the longer period of time the same thing they all understand and agree it is important to do.

Does it still look simple? I don’t think so. Let’s break it apart.

Part 1: Two or more people

Collaboration definitely does not start with installing a piece of software, having an open plan office, organizing a few workshops or sitting in a co-working space. It starts with people.

Two or more people may come together organically to work on the same interest, i.e. a rock band, but more commonly they are assembled or hired to work on complex problems, i.e. start ups, projects, or change initiatives.

I have worked on many organizational change initiatives. These have included cultural, operational or strategic fixes between departments, teams inside departments, or between partners etc. and one of the phrases I most frequently heard from the leaders of change initiatives was: “I can’t talk to everybody.”

I disagreed because I always thought they should and that they certainly could if they organized differently. Where there is a will, there’s a way.

I coach small enterprises in the skills of collaboration. Once I understand the business owner’s priority, I talk with every member of the team. It usually takes one day for a team of 10 – 15 people. This single day sets me up for six months of good rapport, deep insights and real time information exchange. It helps me tap into the reality of the business as experienced by the employees, rather than rely on assumptions made by me or the owner.

It surprises me that business owners don’t do this on a regular basis. It is a small investment for such a big gain.

If you want your teams to collaborate, start by regularly talking to people in order to understand their perspective. This will not only give you real insight into your business, it will give you huge confidence in your decisions.

Part 2: Working together

Once we know the people it is time to start working together.

Thanks to remote working possibilities, technology, connectivity, and the speed of knowledge sharing, work has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it is hard to define what working together really means.

Let us separate it into formal and informal activities. 

Informal Activities:

When we connect, learn from each other, share, and help with tasks.

Formal Activities:

Structured group work in meetings, workshops, production, long term projects that are guided, managed, and sometimes facilitated.

Informal activities dictate the effectiveness of formal activities. It is very important that we pay attention to both.

It is important that you invest time and energy in articulating what working together means, and what kind of environment will best facilitate collaboration. Over communicate the importance of connecting with people. In this way you will build a safe and positive approach to work.

Part 3: To Create or Achieve

To create or achieve things together people need organization, process and management. While many organizations have highly developed processes for operational management they lack those necessary for creation and achievement. Such processes combine scientific, engineering and creative approaches, which have been documented as innovation frameworks for the last 80 years by Humantific.

  • Scientific processes enable people of mixed ability and background to work together to  find intelligent solutions.
  • Engineering processes enable experts in different fields to not only build worlds but to  connect earthbound technologies that may soon progress to outer space.
  • Creative processes enable both creative and non-creative people to work together to  make creative change happen.

These processes together allow groups of people to collect insights, digest, make sense of complex information, translate all of this information into action frameworks, create and test ideas, measure progress, and engage with the solutions.

Part 4: Same thing

Alignment is really tricky. Getting people to understand and agree can be tough. The same thing is the reason for collaboration that needs to be clear and understandable for all. If you get it wrong you will most probably have people who are:

  1. Disengaged automatons mindlessly performing tasks that provide no meaning
  2. Hot-blooded zealots, justifying all their collaboration-killing misbehaviors as necessary for the “greater good”

It is critically important that a company clearly defines its reasons for collaboration. If it doesn’t know why, when and where workers should collaborate it will never benefit from the  full value of collaborative practice. Equally, teams that don’t understand how collaboration contributes to the greater whole will fail to perform well. 

Even if a company strikes a balance between zero and zealous purpose, it is not enough. It also needs to be current and relevant to the people involved. New purposes and reasons for the work need to be perpetually realigned.

How to do it well?

Collaboration is difficult because it has not been part of our learning. Years of education have taught us to absorb information, prove our knowledge in exams, and to compete with others, all on our own terms.

In a rapidly changing world, the only way to stay relevant is to learn and move fast.  Collaboration enables this through the cross sharing of diverse knowledge, viewpoints and skills.

If you want to become a collaborator and encourage your teams or groups collaborate then use these four principles.

  1. 1. Start with understanding the people involved
  2. 2. Articulate what working together means to you
  3. 3. Use the process that fosters creativity
  4. 4. Perpetually realign the purpose of the collaboration


Text by roundPegz fellows Iva Sladic Keco with the contribution from Dr. Richard Claydon

roundPegz a community of disruptive thinkers working with theDesk to try and help community members develop excellent work practices, deep industry knowledge and meaningful relationships in today’s complex and competitive world. 


Guilds – Now more than ever, the business community needs to work together to overcome the challenges it faces in the short and long term. At theDesk, we believe in the power of collaborative communities. Using different collaborative practices Guilds is designed to expand your knowledge, improve your performance, and increase your network of industry peers. Find out more >

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