9 Traits of successful collaborators – how do you stack up?

Jim, a client told me “On one hand we talk about being adaptive, agile, and collaborative, yet on the other hand, talk about the the time and money wasted on over-consultation. The cost of attending so many meetings to debate ideas and get everyone on the same page is ridiculous. Not only that, when when things go wrong, I see more attitudes centered in “all care and no responsibility” . This is when we’re all supposed to be working collaboratively”.

Complexity, change, and virtual working has upped the ante on ‘ways of working’ to survive and achieve goals. As a result, expectations around ‘working collaboratively’ get bandied around but I also reckon many leaders aren’t equipped to lead this way of working.

Not one of us is smarter than all of us. Collaboration starts from the top down.

What is the state of collaboration in your organisation? What is helping / hindering / missing?

Collaboration is NOT:

  • seeking the approval of others in order to act (aka covering your bum)
  • valuing relationships over effective decision making (aka death by consensus)
  • inherently about compromise, although sometimes comprise through collaboration is reached.

Collaboration IS:

  • Harnessing the right value from the right people at the right time to address complex issues and problems affecting a number of individuals/groups.

Collaboration is much more than just co-operating with each other – it means a commitment to each other.

Collaboration enables the best thinking to be found, heard and leveraged. Creativity, innovation and successful change depend on teams working together, not in silos.

If collaboration sounds easy, it’s not. 

For starters, leaders play different roles at the same time and they’ll often be tension in managing these sometimes-conflicting roles, where they’ll be, for example, an enabler and a regulator.

In addition, great minds don’t think alike. Defining the ‘right value from the right people at the right time’ isn’t black or white. People will naturally gravitate toward others who think like them which can stifle diversity.

In my conversation with Jim, he went on to say “I can talk about collaboration until the cows come home but we’re all working within greater cultural system that doesn’t support collaborative efforts, for example, some our policies and conflicting goals which exacerbate the silos”. 

How do we make collaboration work?

Collaboration needs to run through an organisation. The cultural environment dictates the degree to which collaboration can succeed or not.

About 5 years ago, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, realised that many of the people who had critical customer knowledge and were adding the most value were not even known to the management team. The company’s annual executive off-site was coming up, and he knew that his staff wondered about what went on behind closed doors at that gathering.

So Mark asked himself What can I do bring the top tier of the company closer to the workforce? And then it hit him: Let’s blow open the doors of the off-site. The 5,000 strong Salesforce.com team were invited to virtually join the 200 executives at the offsite. “You could feel the empowerment in the room” someone recalled afterward.

Valuable dialogue was fostered across the entire organisation that lasted for weeks. The ultimate purpose was better aligning the whole workforce around its mission, through empowering a more open and inclusive culture.

What successful collaborators do

Ken Blanchard co-wrote a book called Collaboration Begins with You. The book outlined key things leaders need to do to be the ‘collaborative’ example.

  • build on differences
  • nurture safety and trust
  • craft a clear purpose, values, and goals
  • talk openly about collaboration; and
  • empower themselves and others to spread it.

Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behaviour of people throughout an organisation.

What successful collaborators do

What is your your capacity for collaboration? What score out of 10 would you give yourself on these traits:

  • Work from a base of shared values; they focus on the how as well as the what
  • Are highly cognisant of their own values and biases; they are self-aware
  • Appreciate that they are guiding/influencing others; they are not in control
  • Get the right people around the table; they address power / powerlessness through a lens of humility
  • Understand that being a knowledgeable resource is not the same as being a “know it all”; they operate on shared knowledge, goals, rewards, resources, and decision making
  • Are curious, reflective and can engage in active listening; they ask great questions and provide/accept constructive feedback from others
  • Put others at ease and are viewed as genuine and respectful; they build trust easily
  • Are influencers; they grow an open network
  • Take accountability; they do what they say and will follow through.

Bringing it all together

There’s nothing sweeter than celebrating a shared win.

Collaboration is a mindset, skill and practice that evolves over time. Collaboration can only exist in an environment where there is respect, integrity, and teamwork where people feel safe enough to speak up, be vulnerable, and be themselves.

Ultimately, collaboration is underpinned by organisational culture based on trust and safety. How are you going to lead by example to build a culture of collaboration within your organisation? Which one of the traits above will you pay more attention to?

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