5 Tips For Better Collaboration

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on collaboration the image shows a group of business people holding hands in line.

Effective collaboration is not as easy as you might think. This year I had the benefit of having several lovely collaborations as well as working with several different teams on their collaborations. I thought I would just sum up some of this wisdom for you in no particular order.

What I learned about good collaboration this year:

1. Invest in collaboration norms. If people share a similar style to you (thinking while talking out loud, brainstorming a lot of ideas, willing to go deep into the details, cutting straight to the chase), you can probably get by with fewer conversations about how you will collaborate. If that is not the case, however, you will both benefit from spending a meeting or lunch break talking about what agreements you can both make and follow to bridge the distance between your natural collaboration styles. Note: if you are the impatient, task-focused type, this might sound like your own personal hell – perhaps email a few suggestions considering both your styles beforehand to cut down on some “throwing spaghetti against the wall” time that might frustrate you most.

2. Be purposeful about creating a shared agenda and vision for success. Working with teams this summer, one of the biggest complaints I heard was the number of meetings that are scheduled without a purpose or agenda. People showed up confused, are we discussing a proposal? Approving a proposal? Or are we just being informed about a new decision? A demoralizing meeting to be in is one where you believe you’re coming to collaborate on a decision and then find out in subtle ways that your input is not valued. The most thoughtful leaders have meeting agendas in the invite that let you know if it’s an inform, decide, or discuss meeting and what information you should know/have coming into the meeting.

3. Do the pre-read (if there’s one.) Do I need to say more? Probably not, but I think we all agree that there’s nothing worse than having the one person who didn’t do the pre-read take up everyone’s time asking questions that were already answered. It’s also a way to bias people against asking for your input next time.

4. Don’t say yes when you mean “probably not.” I get it. Organizations have a lot of priorities these days. So when someone asks for your help on a project that needs your support, the easiest thing is to say “yes.” You want to be amenable and take one to help the team. Yet when you don’t actually have the bandwidth to help, you’re going to make the collaboration painful for everyone. It’s best to be honest at the outset that you want to help, but your availability is limited. Start with a candid appraisal of what you can or can’t do to allow the other parties to plan around you and hopefully still get your input when it matters most to them and the project.

5. Save time for fun! This might seem simplistic but how much fun are you having at work these days? Work is busy for most people, most of the time. They are running from meeting to meeting, squeezing in emails and trying to shut down in time to get home for family and friends and other commitments. You want your collaborations to be BOTH a place where good work gets done, and you enjoy doing it together. To get to that point, you have to have some planned fun. One team I worked with did an escape room together. Another team discussed a fun trip with work colleagues. It doesn’t have to be that scheduled but if every time people see your number on their phone or your email in their box and they know it will be more work for them, trust me your phone call will not be the first one they return. Invest in the relationships as well as the work and the collaboration will be more rewarding to all of you.

To be sure, not every collaboration needs your best effort.

Sometimes you just need to finish one PowerPoint deck together and go your separate ways. But if your collaboration is higher-stakes and longer-term, front-loading more thoughtfulness can lead to far superior results and a better outcome for all involved. And honestly, wouldn’t it be nice if more time at work was productive AND enjoyable. 

Read more: What is Team Building and Why It’s Critical to Your Business’ Success

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Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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