If you work in an organization, it’s highly likely that you have been asked to collaborate with others on a project. If you are in a leadership position, it seems that collaboration is the new competence and is key to the efficient use of the organization’s resources.
There’s an old saying that there are two sides to every coin. Another way to put it is that everything has an upside and a downside to it. Collaboration, when managed well, pools the skills and knowledge of individuals in the workplace for more successful outcomes. It also cultivates community, makes people happier and inspires them to contribute more. When not managed well, it can lead to burnout from the over-involvement, conflict over different approaches to work and tension when too many people try to lead the collaborative effort.
How do you get the best out of collaboration while keeping yourself and others sane? For both leaders and members of collaborative teams, here are suggestions culled from the “trial and error” discoveries made by clients I’ve worked with:
Create a structure for your time.
- Schedule calendar time for collaborative efforts as well as reflective time. Try to stick to this as best as possible while being flexible. Some people schedule “flex time” on their calendars for the unexpected.
- Know what you value professionally and personally. Use these values as a guide when deciding how much time to devote to collaboration.
- Participate in collaboration when it offers something you value or when you have something of value to offer (knowledge, social connections, time/energy). Be proactive and manage others’ expectations of your willingness to collaborate.
Notice and manage your triggers for over-involvement.
- We all have needs at varying levels of intensity for the following: The need for achievement, for control, for recognition, to influence others, to be right. These needs aren’t necessarily bad on their own. When left unchecked, they can cause you to overcommit or be obsessive.
- Signs that these needs are unmanaged include attempting to do everything yourself rather than delegate, creating excessive work or communication, perfectionism or overzealousness.
- Manage these needs by loosening your grip on them. Be willing to have them met in other ways outside of the collaboration. Spend time discovering what these needs are actually trying to fulfill in you so that you can find other ways to be satisfied.
- Streamline collaboration with audio, video and other virtual technologies. Refine email practice and use instant messaging when appropriate.
- Frequently reaffirm a clear sense of purpose for the collaboration to stay focused on desired outcomes at meetings and all interactions.
- Cultivate trust in yourself and others to alleviate the need for over-involvement or overzealousness on both sides.
Collaboration is the hallmark of great leadership and teamwork. You can’t make things happen on your own. But the team is only as good as the quality of its members. Learning to manage collaboration is just like managing any other skill. It’s crucial that you deliver your best while also maintaining your best.
What are your experiences with collaboration? Feel free to post about your experiences and any suggestions to make collaboration more effective for others.
Jo-Aynne von Born, Executive Coach and Strategist at READYSETMORE.