Thoughts on collaboration…

Studying and testing collaboration is a lot more insightful about what does not work or what should be avoided rather than what the perfect recipe for collaboration entails. Knowing what not to do is, in itself, as important as being able to define and replicate fruitful collaboration. If a clear common ground is established prior to or at the beginning of the collaboration process that everyone can agree upon, as well as a collective vision, then a commonality between each collaborator is created. Rather than harvesting peoples’ egos and potential for over-empowerment, a greater good is established where individual talents can be utilized instead towards one collaborative vision greater than the sum of its parts without which it would not thrive as fruitfully. Everyone wants to be heard, be respected, be recognised for their individuality, be utilized for their strengths, thrive over challenges, experience insightful social interaction and have fun while doing it. This can all be experienced with the process of fruitfully collaboration, despite the product results. Though there is no perfect recipe for this, there are basic elements that can help channel it.

Ground rules, like in every board game whether one is playing alone or in teams, helps create an equal and fair platform that everyone is subject to. No amount of power should override the ground rules. Of course these rules should not hinder the collaborative process, but help jump-start it. For example, being respectful in a collaborative process is crucial. “Step-up and step-down” is one of the many terms commonly used to make people aware of the importance of not only sharing ideas, but actively listening to them as well. Sometimes an individual will be assigned to reinforce these rules, which can be effective when collaborating in a large group (e.g. community board meetings). There are however fun and simple ways of helping people become self-aware of how collaborative they are being. An example would be using a physical object that would only allow the person holding it to speak. It could be a “magic stick” or a phone with a photo of a microphone taped to it. This easy trick will force people to think before they speak, be aware of how long they are speaking for. By physically having to pass this object to someone else, people are actively showing respect for the next person and their idea. Everyone is made to feel important and equal. Communicating ideas and actively listening to others’ ideas are just as important when it comes to the fruitful collaboration. Formulating ground rules as a group can become a helpful and short exercise to start engaging the process of collaboration towards the next step.

Establishing a common set of goals and a vision is the first struggle of most collaborations, but crucial to keep the process flowing and focuses. These goals and the vision can adapt depending on the direction that the conversation takes place, which can help or hurt the process and product. However, a good set of goals for a common vision will usually become even more informed if the ideas and its process are fruitfully collaborative.

The process is more important than the product. The fear and pressure to produce that perfect and innovative product can prematurely halt or overshadow the process of collaboration. Both the process and product are as fruitful as the ideas of its collaborators. A collaborative ambiance that allows everyone to share ideas and build on other’s ideas inspires a collaborative process and product. This can only occur if everyone is aware of and inspired to by individuals’ skills and ideas. Being excited about others and open-minded about their contribution to the collaborative process makes for a truly collaborative product reflective of everyone’s strengths.

Critical collaboration encompasses the learning experience that collaboration has to offer, whether the process flows or stalls, feels positive or negative, and has a attains both/one/neither a successful process/product. By being mindful and open minded to what collaboration can become every time one experiences it, that person is automatically benefiting from the experience of collaboration and helping it develop fruitfully. We  are challenged to collaborate, and thus communicate physically/visually/verbally, every moment of our lives from the moment we are born. Yet, we still struggle to want to collaborate, to collaborate fruitfully and to define collaboration. Collaboration is something dynamic that cannot be made into a recipe for success. By adapting and embracing the impermanent nature of collaboration and its members, one can one truly start to utilize and enjoy the power of collaboration.


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