The continued changes in how we work, both individually (a move to individual contracts sometimes referred to as the “gig economy”) and organisationally (companies focused on their core strengths and outsourcing the rest), has resulted in the critical need to work collaboratively with others. Whether it be designing a new product, delivering a service or even responding to tender, harnessing the strengths of each participant is critical to collective success. Unfortunately, simply having the desire to collaborate is unlikely to result in success, especially in new relationships formed for a specific purpose. Long-term, successful collaboration requires other ingredients to ensure success.
- Do you understand both the collective and individual goals for the collaboration? By understanding individual and collective goals, we help communicate why we are collaborating. Without goal alignment, we may end up working at crossed purposes resulting in wasted effort, frustration and potentially failing to deliver our goal.
- Do we understand our Individual Strengths and Weaknesses? Once we have a clear understanding of the goal, it is essential we understand our individual strengths and weaknesses. This allows the strengths of each participant to be collectively focused on delivering the goal, while mitigating individual weaknesses. Importantly, and while potentially confronting for some, we need to recognise that the public identification of individual weaknesses is not an attack on the merit or worth of an individual or organisation. Rather, it highlights individual areas of strengths; the reason why they are critical member of the team.
- Have we Clear Roles and Responsibilities? Once we have a clear understanding of the goal and our strengths and weaknesses, it is essential we define the individual roles and responsibilities including activities, deliverables and timings. As part of establishing the roles and responsibilities, it is important that we include any prescribed workshare expectations and boundaries to avoid future conflict.
- Have we Established our “Ways of Working” together? While many individuals and organisations will appear similar in their approach and operation, each of us will have specific and unique “ways of working”; that is, preferred ways of collaborating. For example, some may prefer face-to-face meetings (in person or virtual with the aid of video), while others may prefer written communication via email. Some may prefer the formality of routine of regular, scheduled meetings with set agenda, while others may prefer to be more organic simply contacting when and where the need arises through calls or instant messaging. It is not important which approach you use, but rather that each of the participants understands the “way of working” of the others, and that this taken into account when working with each other to avoid frustration and delay, but instead maximises collaboration.
- Are we Checking the Health of the Collaboration? Finally, we need to define the regular, scheduled “health checks” to not only ensure we are all on the right track to deliver the goal, but also the health of the relationship, including giving positive and constructive feedback to each other. This is important, especially in new relationships or relationships that have formed organically over a period, in order allow each participant to routinely catch-up and highlight areas of both positive and negative feedback. In my experience healthy business relationships are underpinned by regular and open communications between all participants.
Having seen and been a part of many collaborations, I believe that Rebecca Zucker’s 5 questions are an excellent starting point for both existing and new collaborative relationships. Indeed, I would recommend all those in collaborative relationships take the time to check their response to each point since addressing each will result in a higher chance of success. Afterall, that is why we collaborated in the first place!