Collaboration does not just happen – you have to cultivate it. When you don’t deliberately work at it, you run the risk of hiding behind your own assumptions and your assumptions will mask opportunities. There are 3 strategies you can use to cultivate collaboration.
New technologies are offering us easier and more efficient ways of collaborating. But we are still dealing with people doing people stuff and all the technology in the world will not help if you don’t understand, or violently disagree with, your co-collaborator. When we communicate, we base most of our understanding on assumptions. Take a simple phone call from your sibling. “Hi! Pick up mom’s meds.” Depending on the tone, and your relationship, you may hear many things in that sentence: accusation that you aren’t pulling your weight in your mother’s care? Anxiety over your mother’s health? A similar terse sentence from your pharmacist “Hi! Your mom’s meds are ready for pick up” may simply reveal a harried worker.
We communicate in a minefield of assumptions. To be better at collaboration we must have the tools to explore and understand our own biases and false judgments, and those of others around us. We must establish an environment that will help us explore and frankly share our assumptions.
Given all those communication challenges, how do you collaborate?
1: Focus on goals, not solutions. A solution meets a particular set of defined needs. If you have not examined or do not understand the needs of your stakeholders, you will not be able to collaborate on a solution which will work for everyone. Focusing on mutually defined goals backs you up from the obvious and establishes common ground. Broader, mutually inclusive goals open the door to a great array of creative solutions. Goals motivate, encourage and foster generative thinking. Common goals and open discussion are ground work for creativity. Your clients will thank you.
2: Show your hand and be open. Showing your hand is about being vulnerable. Being open is about not taking advantage of others’ vulnerabilities and being curious about their experience. We have all kinds of fears that get in the way of being vulnerable– perhaps that we will look weak or incompetent. Sometimes we define our role as a protector – if we take care of the problems, others are freed up for their own work. Sharing vulnerabilities and worries is risky, but the rewards are great. Impartial facilitation can help create a safe space for full disclosure.
You gain relief by sharing your pain. When you share your pain you engage community in your solution and you build trust. With trust you can share accountability and mutually invest in solutions with impact. Your colleagues will all walk away invested in the solution and respect you for it.
What happens when you don’t share? You lose trust. You become guarded, and as you are guarded, so are others around you. You lose the knowledge, information and expertise of your teammates. Where does that leave you?
3: Structure your dialogue. Collaboration is a process. A conversation can be structured deliberately for decision making: tuned to ensure that it is future-focused, solution-focused and positive.
You manage dialogue so it is focused on a common end goal and a practical solution. You foster inclusiveness – a time and space where everyone has a say and a voice. You structure your dialogue so your meetings finish with a specific action plan and clear accountabilities. People understand why they are there and what they are talking about. People walk away saying – wow that was time will spent! And love you for it.
Get out from behind the wall of your assumptions and open the door to collaboration: a world of inclusive, creative, decision making. Your clients and colleagues will thank you. Collaboration is indeed powerful.