6 Characteristics of Great Collaboration

How much do you believe in collaboration? I mean really believe that working with others on something leads to better, faster outcomes? And that is fun?

I ask because in working with teams from many different organizations, it is clear that working collaboratively is a new experience. And it is unproductive and extremely frustrating for the participants.

Which is exactly opposite of what great collaboration feels like!

Collaboration should help you move faster. It should help you build buy-in naturally. It should lead to better outcomes.

So if you and your organization is still not benefitting from productive collaboration, here are 5 characteristics of great collaborative work that might help you guide improvement in your team or organization.

Collaborative sessions have a clear focus:

Too many people get together and spend most of the time debating the topic, how they see the problem or trying to understand something specific about the project.

Great collaboration starts with a clear intention of what a session is about. Think of it as the topic focus. Things like:

  • Eliciting everything we already know about this problem. (Great for the start of a project)
  • Everything we heard in our initial interviews
  • What research or thought capital already exists in this area

This makes it easy for others to join and contribute. Shared prior, it also allows people to prep or bring with them some starting ideas or examples.

Collaboration uses a specific method: 

A focused topic provides the sense of direction for contribution. A method provides the structure for how you spend the time together.

There’s different ways and amount of times to run a collaborative session, but they all have similar pattern:

  • Set up the topic
  • Start individually to prime the pump
  • Start sharing and building as much as possible
  • Then take time to sort and discuss the range of content

This can work for a brainstorm, feedback on concepts or a critique of a rough presentation deck. The key is to have a sense of how you will work through the session toegther.

Collaboration uses improv principles : 

Great collaborators’ mindsets and resulting behaviors are aligned with the principles of improv.

  • Willingness to contribute without fear of being wrong
  • Remain in the moment, focused on what’s happening
  • Say “Yes, and…”, there’s no evaluation or judgement
  • Action beats inaction – keep moving forward

These aren’t all of the principles of improv, but you should get a sense that collaboration requires people being in mind and motion with each other!

There is a lifecycle to collaborative sessions: 

All collaborative sessions start out slowly. The blank page or a warming up period.

Early contributions are what everyone has also thought of. But those first, ugly ideas must be said. They are the first dominoes.

Then, someone shares something that is a spark! “Oh, we hadn’t thought about it that way before!” Everyone gets a shot of dopamine and the popcorn starts popping.

There’s 15 to 20 minutes of rapid fire, building and sharing of thoughts and ideas.

Then the energy dissipates slowly, calming down over a period of time, until it’s pretty clear it’s time to shift modes.

Good collaboration involves group reflection: 

Group reflection helps everyone look at the collection of contributions more objectively. Discuss the nature of the ideas, their coverage & potential gaps. And its always helpful to get people to vote on top contributions — not to detrmine the answer, but to know where others stand.

If your team isn’t reflecting with each other on the outcomes of a collaborative session, you’re missing an important communication and sense-making activity.

“Decisions” are made after the collaboration ends:

Collaboration doesn’t “decide” or “finish” anything. It is a divergent phase that creates more ideas, perspectives or possibilities. This should be an asset to the person responsible for decision-making or moving the work forward from there.

This is why there is no time allocated in a collaborative session for debate or deciding on a final direction. The person responsible and their team members should have time after the session for synthesizing the next phase of work. This is the convergent part that distills value from the collaborative output.

Your turn to nurture collaboration

Review these points and ask where you and your team could be better collaborative partners. Collaboration is a very specific kind of work mode. You’ll still need individual work to move things forward. You still need to know how to plan and coordinate a project.

But making true collaboration a part of your problem solving should greatly improve the quality and impact of the work you do. And it strengthens teams and the organization overall.

Give it a try this week and let me know how it goes!

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