Collaboration: Three Practical Tips

In my work, I often get questions such as “How do I collaborate?”

“I asked them what they thought. That’s collaboration, right?” Or, “We spent three weeks discussing this before I took a call. That’s definitely collaboration”.

One such recent conversation made me think about what really is collaboration after all? Using the principle that collaboration must tie in to a win-win for all parties involved, I came up with some inherent assumptions that simplify the idea.

The three T’s of collaboration

  1. Transparency: A win-win cannot happen if all sides do not know what the win for them and the other parties are
  2. Trust: Collaboration is almost impossible if every side operates from a point of suspicion
  3. Time: Collaboration needs time. It cannot be done in a hurry or a crisis


Now the question then becomes, how does one foster transparency, trust and make time to collaborate?

Three tips, one for each T:

Transparency – Establish the importance of the task

Declare your motives.

If there is a task at hand you want to accomplish, explain what it is and why it is important – to you and to the larger community/ goal you share with person you are discussing it with. If a project report that had to go out on Thursday did not go out, chances are the person responsible did not feel as much urgency for the deadline as you did. Explain to this person why it was important.

“I am not sure why that report did not go out last evening. That stakeholder is key to our progress on this project and it is critical to ensure we demonstrate our capability in effectively managing this project. Sending a status report late is not something we can afford at this point if we need this to be successful for the team.”

Trust – Listen for choice, not adherence

Always tell yourself, “I don’t know the whole story”.

The other person is a thinking adult who took a call and you don’t know why they did so till you find out. So don’t listen to incriminate. Listen to understand. Giving the person a choice rather than a diktat and listening for why they made the decisions they did builds trust.

“I would like to know what stopped you from sending this out yesterday. And while I know we discussed you would be managing the status reports, I am happy to discuss in case you feel this is something you would rather delegate to someone else while you invest your energies elsewhere in the project.”

Time – Be willing to give time and support

Abrupt or unilateral decisions are not solid ground on which to build collaborative relationships. If it is a common goal, if it is mutually beneficial, then it is also mutual responsibility.

While it may be the other person’s accountability to get it done, always offer time and support to help things along.

“Ok, if that’s how you feel about it, let’s target coming week’s report going out on time under you and revisit this post Thursday. And think about what kind of support you need from the team to make that happen. You don’t have to do everything on your own. Would you like someone to work with you on edits, graphics or anything else so that you feel supported?”

Try these three tips on any situation you are currently facing where you need to or want to collaborate with the other person/ people involved. Play the ideas you have for the three T’s out in your head. How do you think they will work? Leave behind your experiments, experiences or questions in the comments to this post.

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