Why is there so much hype around collaboration?
If we look at the extraordinary leaps forward in human civilization, we see moments in time wherein a momentous thing happens. Someone has a spark - a vision if you will - that a thing is possible, let’s say harnessing electricity. It could be a single person leading that charge, or a competition like Edison and Tesla. But once the thing has been accomplished, then what? The inventor must rely not only on their passion and profound accomplishment, but also on others to expand the accomplishment to new applications.
In its essence, the act of collaborating is to give and to receive then build upon those exchanges.
Sharing the talents, thoughts, knowledge, and creativity amongst one another and building something together that reflects those gifts is the output of high quality collaboration.
Right off the bat I want to recognize those two sentences may be a little more touchy-feely than you expected. OK. We’ll just acknowledge that and let it hang out there.
But here’s the deal, when we engage in these two absolutely profound activities - giving and receiving - we are in the midst of expanding our abilities to understand the world that we live in.
(uncredited art - but I love this drawing - thank you UNSW Sydney
First off, let’s review the Golden Rule:
Assume Good Intent.
People come in all shapes and sizes, so if you want to get anywhere with them, I find it very helpful to assume they are doing the best they can. We don’t always show up the way we like. It’s a fact. And we are not all riding the same train at the same time - meaning, our growth and development is not always aligned. However, we are in the same conversation at the same time. Collaboration is an opportunity to simply acknowledge that humans are in the room and everyone is doing the best they can.
If we layer our perceptions of mistrust on others, we close them off and we close ourselves off. Our conversations become brittle. We hear what we believe we will hear, often missing the intent of the speaker.
Take a deep breath. Even if your arch rival is in the room and you both plot against one another, assume good intent. Accept them for where they are.
Try it. For a week. Let me know how it goes.
Let’s talk about giving.
When you are engaged in a conversation that does not have a known outcome, you have an opportunity to share your own insights, perspectives, and aspirations. It is a humbling experience to share one’s own knowledge and see it bring accretive value to the conversation.
Our words and actions have a mighty impact on others.
Some people are generous with sharing their experiences. Some people are shy. If you are generous, be selective about your gifts, and try to add highest value, not just volume. If you are shy, be courageous and get what is in your head out there - people need your experience!
And what about receiving?
Receiving the gifts from your peers’ is another humbling occurrence. So many of us are trained to deliver and deliver (giving) that we forget to accept and accept (receiving). If you are a person who thrives in a gift receiving situation, then you probably are excellent at seeing the potential and creativity of your peers. If you are not so great at receiving gifts (like me) then I offer this small exercise… actively listen to what people are saying and say out loud, “Thank you, for sharing that ____.” Try not to think about what you are going to say next. Try to focus on what the intent of their offering is and appreciate it.
Lastly, we must have two things in place for our words to have value in a collaborative moment:
trust and honesty
Trust because the knowledge you bring to the table is valuable. The knowledge you bring represents who you are, where you have been, and how you have used the knowledge. And when you share the knowledge from your life, you are exposing yourself to your peers. They will see you. YOU. For who you are.
You may have fears that you will be judged. Perhaps your knowledge is not especially relevant in this particular conversation. Perhaps you do not trust that the other person or people respect you, or understand you, or believe you. Grab any ego-centric concern that gnaws at your brain and heart, and I assure you, somehow it will show up in a collaborative exchange.
We must trust our peers that they will accept us for who we are in this moment, in all of our glorious imperfections.
Just as you must trust your peers, you must also trust yourself. No matter where you are coming from, sharing your truth has value. Don’t worry if your gifts cannot be used “right now”. They will be used and remembered by your peers. Trying to be more, share more, or contribute more than you are becomes transparent at some point. If you are not honest, you erode the trust that you are establishing with each other.
Think of partnerships that are long lasting and effective - Trust and Honesty are always critical hallmarks of those partnerships.
Remember, collaboration is not about facilitated conversations or some fancy process.