7 Tips to Help Collaboration

In a a recent blog post I shared some tips to get your employees thinking creatively. One of these tips was to encourage working in groups, sharing ideas (even the “bad” ones) and basically creating a culture of collaboration. Like encouraging creative thinking, promoting collaboration is often a lot easier said than done. With budget cuts and limited resources, public sector employees are busy. Their heads are down, they are focused on completing their necessary tasks and creative thinking/innovating takes a back seat. However, the phrase “two heads are better than one” exists for a reason. Done well, effective collaboration can create breakthroughs, new innovations, and improve efficiencies. That is why I liked this list that outlines 7 tips to help you master the art of collaboration:

1. Choose Participants Carefully

Successful collaboration begins with picking the appropriate people for the task at hand. Don’t just ask for volunteers or draw straws. Give careful consideration to the skills, experience, motivations, and diversity of thought of the people you invite to the group.

2. Remove Quiet Politeness

What good is working with a bunch of smart people if they won’t be honest and sharing? People need to be willing to be open and be challenged. Creative conflict is powerful and productive. Real groundbreaking ideas only surface when people go all in and get vulnerable.

3. Establish Communication Protocols

People collaborate better when engagement is simple. Setting up specific communication guidelines helps your participants focus on the ideas rather than worrying about missing something or chasing people. Determine in advance the rules of communication. Get full buy-in and clarification on the rules.

4. Use a Specific Ideation Process

It’s important to put method to the madness. Random brainstorms with little or no structure will exclude some from the process while allowing others to dominate the conversation (think about extroverts vs. introverts). Outline in advance the people, processes and resources required so your participants are free to focus on the work and not the logistics.

5. Give Requirement and Permission

Nothing is more frustrating then working in a group where contributions are unequal, or worse, unreliable. Develop clear guidelines for responsibilities and build in accountability. Articulate deadlines. It is better to have the small distraction of rancor early on then a systemic failure near the deadline.

6. Work with Respect

Few go into a collaborative project with intentions of being disrespectful; yet it often happens. Disrespect is shown by being late, missing deadlines, being unprepared, hogging the conversation, quiet politeness or distraction by irrelevant discussion. If everyone shows respect by focusing each minute of activity on the common objectives of the group, the required time will be short and the results will be plentiful.

7. Broadcast Recognition and Gratitude

Give praise, credit, and affirmation often, loudly and where they are due. If others in your office see the positive attributes of collaboration, they will be encouraged to make effective collaboration pervasive and help establish a culture of developing groundbreaking results.

However you choose to promote collaboration and working together, it is important that you take tangible steps to improve the process. Collaboration doesn’t just happen, you have to build it into the culture and people’s attitude.

What else would you add to the list?

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Karen "Kari" Uhlman

Loved your tips to help collaboration, especially the “Work With Respect” tip. I also learned some key actions, as a Certified Achieve-Global facilitator, on Moving From Conflict to Collaboration. Mind if I share?

  1. Establish mutual involvement.
  2. Seek to understand the other person’s point of view.
  3. Present your perspective of the problem and its impact.
  4. Decide on an appropriate plan of action.
  5. Express your appreciation for the other person’s efforts.
Jim Townsend

These are excellent ideas for encouraging collaboration, and you can find many more best practices with a web search.

You may want to consider your goals for collaboration when choosing tactics. Are you building a consensus? Helping people feel empowered?

On the other hand, if you are trying to come up with a solution to a problem, you may want to consider recent thinking that collaboration is overrated: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=0 Many people come up with their best ideas on their own, and groupthink can discourage radical but necessary change.