“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”H.E. Luccock
Halford E. Luccock’s quote so elegantly describes how the beauty of success is only magnified by the collaboration of many, rather the efforts of one. Collaboration has been the cornerstone of many achievements, both ancient and modern, from the mysteries of the Great Pyramids to the miracle return of the U.S. Apollo 13 mission back to earth. However, it doesn’t take a grandiose goal for collaboration to play a pivotal and successful role in your efforts. Surely, we’ve all collaborated to one extent or another, whether at home, school, or work. For the purposes of this article, we’re discussing how to create a work culture of collaboration that eventually becomes the habitual fabric of your work environment.
So, what is collaboration, exactly? Although defined as “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing,” there are certain aspects to collaboration that can increase your chances for success. It’s a bit like getting the measurements and ingredients correct in your favorite brownie recipe versus just a rough attempt at something that closely resembles grandma’s perfection.
This article is a perfect example of workplace collaboration. To create it, Sr. Account Executive, Morgan Gardea, and Associate Creative Director, Doug Anderson, worked together to highlight the best ingredients for great workplace collaboration. It also helps that we practice these techniques on the daily and have come together to shed some light on what’s worked for us.
Not too surprisingly, getting together face to face is pretty much always a better scenario for collaborating than trying to do it through email. So much more happens when people work together in the same room than siloed behind a keyboard. True collaboration is getting in the same room, or on the phone if need be, to work voice to voice and in real time with each other. Sure, technically, email could be considered a form of collaboration, as a publisher and editor might do, but for our purposes, we’re talking about the real sharing and building upon ideas, strategies, or any other problem solving that’s needed.
It helps to have an open mind and no set agenda for idea generation. Sure, you should have a goal in mind, but being free to explore tangents can be quite helpful. Often, the best ideas aren’t found within an agenda, but off script.
It might be worth noting here that a meeting with a pre-set agenda and punch list of items to accomplish during a limited time, doesn’t quite check the box for collaboration. Many traditional organizations may view meetings as their time for collaboration. However, in retrospect, line-item meetings rarely provide the opportunity to share a few sparse ideas or thoughts to the table before moving on to the next item on your agenda.
Tools You’ll Need
What you have for your collaborative soiree is important in order to maximize your outcome, but not any more so than what you don’t have or want.
Pick a space that can fit all your attendees comfortably. It might be a couch for two or an off-site ballroom that can fit a couple dozen or more people. When possible or appropriate, it’s a nice touch to be able to engross yourselves in the environment you’ll be discussing. For instance, if you’re working on a project for the design of a new hotel lobby, maybe find some lobbies that inspire you and use that as your work environment.
It might seem obvious, but ensuring you have enough paper, whiteboard space, Post-it Notes, markers and pens, snacks for brain fuel, and anything you might want for your team is important. And of course, like we mentioned prior, what you don’t have is just as critical, such as the distractions of phones, email, and other outside interruptions. The goal is clear and driven thinking.
We’re all human, each with our own strengths and weaknesses. While some might strive in a collaborative situation, others can find it a bit scary. It’s not uncommon for people to get nervous to openly share thoughts and ideas, especially if they are new to the exercise, when, in fact, it should simply be viewed as an opportunity to gather ideas in an effort to make something better. The more you’re able to ease those worries early on, the more you’ll have willingness from others—and preferably eagerness.
So, you have the room set, the people in place, the topic known, but what’s the secret to generating that collaborative momentum you’re looking for? It’s understanding the ultimate and collective goal. The understanding that the absence of who gets credit for ideas is essential. The understanding that even the freedom to express the smallest seed of an idea can redirect the discussion toward that ah-ha moment. Establishing the freedom to fail is what unleashes the restraints that keep people from sharing openly and potentially sharing the idea that sparks your collaborative success.
Six Benefits of Collaboration
Both short or long-term, the benefits of collaboration can be plentiful.
Getting together to collaborate with people from other disciplines allows insight into ideas and issues from different perspectives and pain points. Whether it’s providing solutions from a different perspective or obtaining a new understanding of how different departments are affected differently by the same situation, cross-departmental collaboration provides a well-rounded understanding of the different roles, hurdles, and solutions people play.
2. New Possibilities
The more collaborating that happens, the less people tend to habitually work in silos. Obviously, right? But this equates to less missed opportunities within your teams and company when minds come together and attack problems from different points of understanding the situation. The result is new, potentially great, ideas that may have otherwise never risen to the surface or had an opportunity to be known. When people collaborate on the regular, they’re more open to sharing their thoughts without hesitation.
3. Builds Trust
When a team succeeds together, bonds grow tighter. Stronger bonds create more trust with one another. And increased trust allows people to let their guard down, opening the door for opportunity.
4. Future Collaboration
When people within a team understand where individuals’ strengths lie, they’ll know whom to lean on at the right times. They’ll also know how best to work within the team itself, meaning who will shoot it to them straight, who has a different approach to thinking about things, and who might be the best person to energize a group and get the creative juices flowing.
5. Work Becomes Personal
In a good way, of course. When team members open up and trust each other, get more face time together, and lean on one another for combined successes, they are naturally more willing to do more for each other outside of the particular collaborating moments. It’s a waterfall effect that can benefit entire company culture.
6. Conflict Resolution
Much the same as co-workers willing to go the extra miles for one another after regularly working face to face, their personal relationships are strengthened to the point where people are less likely to hold onto a grudge or any angst from disagreements. When co-workers get to know each other better, the more likely they are to have empathy and make attempts to understand their perception of a situation.
Putting It into Practice
While few people would dispute that collaboration is beneficial, there are a few things you should keep in mind when thinking about how your organization could benefit from adopting a collaborative approach. First and foremost, an entire shift in how your organization approaches collaboration is not going to go in effect overnight. By taking small steps and building the necessary tools, your organization will be moving in the right direction. Second, people who are accustomed to working individually, or in their siloed departments, may feel protective or hesitant to share ideas effecting their day-to-day rituals. The more often collaborative sessions take place, those walls will come down and individuals will enjoy hearing and sharing ideas with others.
Lastly, it may seem that implementing yet another process to your organization usually comes with weighing the resources with the benefit—mainly in the form of time or money. But, you’ll notice we did not include time or money as tools necessary for collaboration. That’s because some of the greatest ideas can come from a five-minute breakout session, while admittedly other ideas may take longer. And, the most important tool for collaboration is people, which you already have.