In most situations, I prefer to work alone, but I long ago realized the value of collaborating with others in planning, learning, and implementation. In recent days, I have had the opportunity both to give feedback and to receive it as I have collaborated with others on some projects. My responses and those of others caused me to think about some key ingredients of successful collaboration.
First, we must listen to what people say. If we really want to learn from others and benefit from their insights, we must listen without being defensive and value what they have to offer. Even if they offer their ideas in a forceful or even critical tone, look for the truth there.
Second, we must learn to listen to what people don’t say. Lack of response or avoidance of certain issues tell us something about the people in the group—their depth of investment, the level of their trust, and their vulnerability or lack thereof. Perhaps there are some barriers that need to be uncovered or acknowledged.
Third, we must hold our own ideas loosely but protect them as well. The image that comes to mind is retrieving a baby bird that has fallen from its nest. We want to hold on to it so that we can get it to a place of safety but at the same time we want to avoid hurting it by asserting too much force. In collaboration, we must be willing to negotiate about our ideas but make sure that they get a good hearing.
Fourth, we must be willing to learn from others. If we are not, why would we waste our time working with them on the project? We must believe they have something to offer or a stake in the project’s success or we would avoid collaborating with them.
Fifth, we must make a concerted effort to keep others informed with the appropriate facts, contextual concerns, and possible pitfalls. Another way to say this is, “Lay all your cards on the table.” Practice full disclosure even when it may be uncomfortable.
Sixth, we must take the time to acknowledge new insights and to celebrate them. When someone has given you a new perspective or idea, let them know and show your appreciation. This will encourage them to do more of the same and model acceptance for some things you have to offer as well.
There are many other things to think about as we collaborate with others. Working with a group on any project is a challenging but potentially rewarding task. Perhaps you will add some ideas of your own to the list.