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The 10 commandments of successful collaboration

The 10 commandments of successful collaboration

It’s easy to think that the simple act of working within a team is to collaborate. It’s also easy to think that everyone has a similar idea of what collaboration actually means. The truth is that collaborating can sometimes give rise to more problems than it solves. If you want your collaborative project to be a success, here are my ten basic rules for collaborative nirvana. Follow these, and your team will go down in folklore as the slickest of the slick.


This rule is probably the most obvious, but a surprising amount of collaborations fail because not everyone is sure of what they’re trying to achieve. A shared vision, agreed milestones, the absence of hidden agendas and a common goal at the end are all necessary. For large and complex collaborative projects, drawing up a collaboration charter will ensure up-front agreement between stakeholders and also provide a point of reference if things go off the rails.


When putting together your A team, don’t populate it with people just like you. Find teammates who can do something that you can’t, so that you’re complementing each other, rather than replicating. Try to keep the team lean, working with as few people as possible to get the business done. This will lessen the likelihood of miscommunication and make it easier for you to stay across what everyone is doing. Once you’ve got the team together, decide who does what right up front, and then make sure that everyone knows their responsibilities, and the role they need to play for team success. Try to keep the team membership as stable as possible, so that you don’t lose knowledge and go backwards as a result of someone bailing out. If this fails, rule number four should help!


Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to have the right people in place – you’ve also got to ensure they have the right resources at hand to execute their roles. Whether this is funding, man-hours, permission to effect change or access to information, make sure that you arm team members for success. If you don’t, they’re just going to get frustrated at their inability to make progress and wheels will spin rather than gain traction. Be open to the introduction of new collaboration tools and collaboration technology to help your team along, particularly if your team is a virtual team and you’re not all working in the same location.


Memory is a fleeting thing, so it helps to keep a centrally accessible record of opinions, feedback and agreements. For those of you who shudder as you envisage hours of painstaking notes being compiled and hours of meetings being minuted, relax. Maintaining records and keeping track of conversations needn’t be arduous. Technology now exists that allows you to point, talk and draw your way to a complete overview of your project and the conversations and decisions that have made it progress, ensuring that no knowledge is ever lost.


Accountability serves as an invisible bond among every teammate, binding them together on a mission that everyone has a stake in. Make sure that your team members are held accountable for both individual and group outputs, to ensure that they’re not just sitting back in their rocking chairs once each one has done their bit. Once accountability is established, commitment grows from each team member being counted on to be an active partner in the creation of something valuable. Commitment to a wide range of goals and tasks encourages dedication to a purpose beyond those motivated by self-interest.


Trust and respect go hand in hand to build working relationships and effective teams. Team members who trust one another are more open to new ideas, and are more ready to adopt shared responsibility for an outcome. Help your team members build their credibility, by encouraging them to invest in growing relationships with other team members, and by encouraging them to be open, to communicate and to be honest and constructive in all their interactions. Working together intensely won’t necessarily make people BFFs, but in moments of crisis or stress, trust and respect will ensure faith in the skills of other team members.


Open and frequent communication is at the absolute core of success for any collaboration or team, virtual or otherwise, and should be one of the key tenets of your project’s collaboration charter. The capacity and willingness to share information is one of the make or break aspects of getting business done, so its importance can simply not be overstated. When establishing the lines of communication and ways of sharing information, serious consideration should be given to the tools that aid (or hinder) collaborative working. Death by sheer volume and misinterpretation plagues email, phone calls can’t be recorded easily (or sometimes legally!) and face-to-face meetings are not always possible or even productive. In truth, projects will always be reliant of some use of these forms of communication, but collaboration tools and technology are evolving rapidly, so make it your business as the team leader to explore the latest options such as Blrt and test their value for your purposes. Look for collaborative communication tools that aren’t burdensome, that help get wider teams on the same page as well as fostering communication between individuals, and that work naturally for as many communication styles as possible.


Not wanting to knock your organisation’s bean-counters at all, but can you imagine a collaborative group made up solely of people who are focused on the bottom line of your business? Your project would doubtless be financially watertight, but it would probably not have the depth of perspective that would result from getting people from across each department of the business involved. Diverse skills are a necessity to achieving shared goals because each teammate is bringing something different of value to the collaboration and to the team’s pursuit of success. Since these skills are neither replicated, nor overlapping, no-one steps on anyone’s toes and less of what’s important is likely to be overlooked.


It’s a universal truth that no-one likes a control freak, but putting a bit of structure around a collaborative project that helps clarify paths, tasks, and roles will ensure that individual contributions will be better aligned to delivering on the final objectives. Plans and processes need to be flexible and adaptable (refer to rule 10!), but clear enough for people to understand the guidelines within which they should operate. When everyone understands the ground rules from the get go, ideas can flow smoothly and freely, transitioning more easily from the conceptual to the concrete.


In counterpoint to rule number nine above, you need to know when to break the rules, and when to reel out a little more slack in the line. Being dogmatic or inflexible in any collaborative or team situation only serves to alienate the contributors, and can threaten the achievement of goals or even the entire project objective. Ensure that you exercise good judgement in relation to both people’s capacity and methods, so that your project can progress no matter what obstacles pop up along the way.


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