I’ve been coordinating a process involving several disparate players, ranging from multiple educational institutions who are not aligned with one another, government players (with many differing goals), and business partners (with a completely different set of needs).  Although there are others, these 3 core groups are more than enough!  

Success will only come to those who find common ground with collaboration.  If collaboration was as easy as simple communication, everyone would do it.  We would probably have a lot more happy customers and more profits to share with investors, employees and for reinvestment and giving back.  What should we think about if this is the outcome we wish to create?

  1. Look for the win-win-win – If someone wins and someone else loses, it isn’t a successful collaboration.  If you think hard enough, there is always a way to turn a situation into more of a win-win-win with some shared give-and-take.
  2. Think about positioning – if your idea is presented in isolation, it has a much greater chance at failing than if it is presented in light of the bigger picture. Why is it important?  How can each person play a role?  Does each person know how he/she fits in and provides value?
  3. Value diversity – Each time I think “I don’t want to be on this person’s team because he/she is annoying or won’t add value”, I find that I am completely wrong (luckily these are just thoughts; not actions).  The best ideas come from the most unlikely places, and interesting suggestions that can lead to “big” ideas typically come from someone who is quite opposite and thinking about the situation from a different perspective.
  4. Recognize progress of the team –  Who doesn’t want to be recognized with a pat on the back as progress is made!  The key with collaboration is not to say positive things about collaboration and then reward individual performance.  Instead, reward team progress, even if that progress is simply gaining an understanding of how much they do not agree with each other but are willing to listen.  
  5. Consensus isn’t needed – as much as collaboration can achieve dramatically better results than each superhero individual thinking on his/her own, consensus is overrated.  Set the expectations upfront of how collaboration works.  Feedback and input is expected.  Discussion and debate participation is mandatory.  But consensus isn’t required for every decision.  Otherwise, you might get there eventually but your competition will be LONG gone.  More importantly, determine how to collaborate and make decisions upfront.

The importance of collaboration comes up more frequently than almost any other topic.  Since executives are collaborating with customers, suppliers, trusted advisors, other supply chain partners, and even competitors, there is just no room for poor collaborators.  If you’ll notice, many disruptors collaborate with strange partners.  Perhaps this core skill is a key ingredient to success….  Or, think of it another way, how will anything get done without it?