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How to Collaborate

Some time ago, I wrote on the benefits of collaboration.  Since then, I have been thinking about how I can collaborate more often and more effectively in my industry.

And I’ve discovered it’s not easy.


I’ve uncovered two impediments to collaborating.  The first is the persistence of the age-old problem of sharing.  Just as children refuse to share their toys, most businesses refuse to share their resources, contacts, data, and people.

Collaborating requires breaking down walls and sacrificing autonomy.  It threatens hard-earned territory and placing your reputation in second place to someone else.  While many like to advocate for collaboration verbally, they at the same time become very defensive to collaboration.

The second impediment to collaboration is somewhat linguistical.  People refer to all software with a social component (chat, messaging, document sharing, etc.) as collaboration software.

Our design software allows for messaging and file sharing, so the designers who use the software think they are collaborating.  No, they are not.

Collaboration is a deeply human activity, and no tool on its own can solve the problem of poor collaboration.  The definition of collaboration is two or more people working together towards shared goals.

The important words are people, working, together, shared, and goals.  Nothing is said about technology.

How to Collaborate

  1. Set common goals. You are trying to collaborate with a team comprised of disparate parts of a larger organization or industry.  Everyone understands that through collaboration, success is achieved by working together.

One way to structure a collaborative effort is to define a single goal that drives all decisions.  Decisions on what data to share and staff to commit will revolve around the pledge to the common goal.  If the sharing need doesn’t meet the common goal, then you are not obligated to provide any resources.

  1. Define an organization. Someone must be in control and have decision making authority.  The critical skill is not in making decisions, technology, or management, but is communications.  For collaborative efforts to succeed, all issues and decisions need to be well communicated and be transparent.
  2. Encourage innovation. Assuming you now have skilled staff available and an open line of communication, it is time to let the team solve the problem they were brought together to solve.

This new team must be encouraged to brainstorm and question the status quo in an open and non-judgmental environment. Team members must be coached and led to believe the challenges and obstacles they face can and will be overcome. It is also important to ask team members for their thoughts, reasoning, and ideas regularly. The more connected and understood they feel to their manager or leader, the more motivated they will be to perform and succeed.

  1. Plan to celebrate. The collaborative effort was assembled for a common cause.  When the team completes its work, it is important to celebrate success.  Celebrating is both for meeting a common cause, but also to reinforce the idea that collaboration works and should be used on future problems and issues.

The Bible

The classical concept of collaboration is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.  This idea starts with.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

The Apostle Paul is metaphorically describing how our bodies need to work together, so then we as individuals should also work together.

There will be times when we, as a group of competitors, will find a collective goal to collaborate.  And when this happens, we need to think of ourselves as one body, working toward one goal, with only success in mind.

Collaboration is difficult, as are most human activities.  Having a common goal and open communications will help.  Envisioning the collaborative team as one body with many coordinating parts is the key to success.