When teaching business classes, I typically deal with eight personality types. One is “independent workers.” Independents are a joy because all they need is instruction. Once they understand the desired state and what success looks like, independents run on autopilot. They can be left alone to do good work.
But collaboration involves teamwork, not independent effort, so the fun begins when teammates — some of the other seven personality types — enter the arena.
Collaboration can be forced or voluntary, so it’s important to respect five “watchouts” that derail success. Since voluntary collaboration engages like-minded people with a shared desire to find a better solution, disagreements are usually minimal and manageable.
On the other hand, forced collaboration — when people are assigned to work together — often creates conflict, so it is here we find the vast majority of “dummies” and “idiots.”
Here are the five saboteurs of good collaboration:
- Dueling egos.
- Ineffective stewardship.
- Ill-defined (or rubber) ground rules.
- Lack of agreed-upon deadlines.
- Credit & blame.
In theory a perfect collaboration engages all partners equally but interpersonal dynamics rarely allow it, especially if left to the whims of the personalities in the room. Dominant personalities want to make the decisions and impart their views. Milder types don’t like confrontation and bend when they shouldn’t. The problem, of course, is that dominant personalities and big egos usually overestimate their smarts and under-appreciate the bright lights of ideas from others.
SOLUTION: Park egos at the door. When you show up to collaborate, insist the team does so with a different mindset: All stakeholders should arrive expecting to yield. But don’t just say it — once the action starts, bite your tongue and do it.
Bend and give — don’t be among the too many who show up looking to talk but not listen. If you trust the process and truly believe what time and again effective leadership has shown — that the sum total of all of us generates a pool of better ideas than those offered by any individual one of us — everyone should sign on to true collaboration, with everyone aware of his or her ego and committed to keeping it (consciously) in check.
Someone needs to own overseeing of the process; and getting buy-in that progress will come through a series of consensus mileposts and not from a mandate by a strongminded man or woman.
The most important part of the process discussion is to identify precisely how the group is going to go about executing its collaboration. The worst thing a well intended group can do is have a scenario where everyone shows up rudderless, arguing over ought to be done next.
SOLUTION: Before diving in and attacking the project, invest time discussing roles and responsibilities, as well as boundaries. You’ll be amazed how much more smoothly the team progresses. Peel the challenge into doable parts, discuss their sequencing, and assign ownership. Once the team has laid out the road map, you have an agreed-upon process everyone has bought that leads where you want to go.
Ill-defined (or rubber) ground rules
Good collaboration requires being open-minded enough to seek ideas different than yours in an open environment of easy acceptance. For this you need an agreed-upon process to solicit, capture, and discuss multiple viewpoints because how you go about acting upon the suggestions the team offers is very important.
SOLUTION: Communicate! High performance teams establish an inflexible rule that everyone has an equal voice and, in turn, will be respectfully heard without interruption. Seek ideas and opinions and embrace all in the spirit in which it offered. After all are collected, discuss them openly without bias for merit or weakness.
The key to effectively grinding through a collection of ideas is hearing the why — not just the what. I like ground rules that insist that each opinion or idea comes with a “why” explanation; and that judging as the whys are shared is not allowed. The Why Rule helps because all team members are forced to listen, which helps them understand while judging less.
Remember: The better the team communication, the better the end result.
Lack of agreed-upon deadlines
Groups that get together just to talk will do it ad infinitum. Actions are inspired by deadlines, the reason being that deadlines focus the team’s attention on the mandated outcome more than individual soapboxing where people drone on, insisting that his or her view is right and others are wrong.
SOLUTION: Use deadlines. And stick to them. If the deadline arrives and progress has been made but there’s more work to be done, assess the time required to remedy the work that’s left and craft a second deadline. When you do, pre-commit the partcipants: Hold people accountable for meeting his or her deadlines.
Credit & blame
John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.” Too often the same thing happens with collaborations. Braggarts grab the good results while teflon to the bad.
SOLUTION: If it’s “We, we, we” when the team is working, it’s “We, we, we” — for better or worse — when the project is done. You win together and lose together. No heroes, no goats. Everybody owns the output. I like this as a ground rule, too.
Collaborations are destined or doomed from the very beginning. Set yours up for success and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
When teams voluntarily form, conflict and egos play less of a role.
Leave a Reply