Four Behaviors that Improve Collaboration



BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON

Collaboration is a coveted experience. Most of us say that we’re “good at it,” but our results often suggest otherwise. When that’s the case, we wonder what went wrong, especially since our heart was in the right place. While having good intentions is a great start, it’s not enough. Collaboration is about “co-laboring,” which requires specific, learnable skills. It’s a give and take that’s fueled by the mutual desire to make something better or different. Whether it’s working something through with your significant other on the home front, or getting things done with your now-virtual work team, collaboration is key to effective results and sustainable relationships. As you consider the following five collaboration skills, ask yourself which ones you already do well, and which ones you may want to sharpen.

Bring your “A Game” and a positive attitude

Humility check: Collaboration is about winning together, not being right. That’s where your A Game starts and it may be a new starting point, particularly if you tend to keep a hidden score card or have a strong competitive streak. You can create a “winning together” context by expressing your belief that together, you will arrive at a new or better solution. It can be as simple as saying “I know we can do this” and “I want to hear your ideas.” Then it’s time to bring an open mind and an open heart. The first allows for different ways of looking at things, while the second allows for the human piece, the emotion or passion the other person might bring to the table. Bringing your A Game also means contributing your skills and experiences, and encouraging others to do the same. There is one more piece to this, and it goes back to humility: it’s your willingness to say “I’m not sure,” “I don’t know,” and “I own that.”

Be where you are

You’ve heard it before. We all have. To really connect with a person and to understand their perspective, we need to be present to them. That means putting your phone aside, and a lot more. Being present means being able to shift to a listening mode by stilling the constant stream of thought that goes on in your head so that you can make room for really hearing the other person’s thoughts. Part of listening involves paying attention with your eyes to shifts in body language and noticing gestures. One way to remind yourself to stay present is to focus on drawing the other person out by asking open ended questions and simply saying “I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.”

Express what you need, what you want, what you are asking for…and the why behind it

Some of us have no problem asking for exactly what we need or want, while others are extremely uncomfortable doing so. Both can be big barriers to effective collaboration and make the process of collaborating inefficient! The key to expressing needs and wants is all about framing them in terms of “the why.” Instead of “I need that background information by Wednesday” or “Um, I will need it soon…” try “I will need that background information by Wednesday so that I can turn it over to Rhonda in time to make our Friday deadline.” Or, closer to home, “Sweetie, if you can get those groceries put away for me, I can get that pizza on the table in time for the show we want to watch.” Think about it: every need or want has a why behind it. When you make yours transparent, you make collaboration so much easier.

Be open to exploring what’s possible

It bears repeating: collaboration isn’t about being right. It’s about working together to achieve some “win.” That win could be identifying a new approach to a task everyone avoids or finding a new solution to an old problem. It could be creating something entirely new, or even finding a better way to communicate when everyone on the team is working from home. Remember the old adage: two heads are better than one. Everyone brings their unique experiences and perspective. In many cases, there is no single “right” way. The goal of collaboration is to seek and identify the best way, which often reveals itself through the process of collaboration.


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