Collaboration (in 10 minutes!)

This was first published on the blog at my other business: Objectivity


Recently, I was asked to speak at an event about collaboration. The format was 5 by 10 (5 speakers with 10 minutes each and no slides) and was arranged by Alsbridge. It was an interesting format because it made me think hard about collaboration and how we try to create the conditions where it’s a natural way of operating. I thought it might be worthwhile to capture the things I said for anyone who’s interested but couldn’t be there.

So what is collaboration? Uncontroversially, it’s a group of people coming together to solve a problem of some kind. My gold standard for collaboration needs a bit more elaboration. I believe that a sustainable and effective environment for collaboration exists when every person:

  • is confident of their own ability to understand the problem and add value to the solution
  • is hungry to search for the optimal result, neither over engineered nor corners cut
  • recognises the importance of finding solutions that work for all the stakeholders
  • hasn’t prejudged and predetermined the best result
  • has no hidden agenda, just waiting for the moment to manipulate and achieve their desired conclusion

When every person has all these things and they each believe that all of the other collaborators do too, then I think there is a really good chance that effective collaboration will happen.

To collaborate well and consistently, then I believe you should create the right conditions and practise, at the macro and the micro level, internally and externally. Try to encourage collaboration as a natural process that comes as easily as breathing. Have a review process with lessons learned and try to incorporate the improvements you identify.

Those that know me will probably recognise the roots of my gold standard in the values that my teams and I try to live in our business. We talk about them often and encourage all of our people to consider them in the decisions we make every day. It starts with the ethical framework of Win Win and then the four values of People, Integrity, Excellence and Agility.

Win Win stops us thinking of just ourselves and encourages us to think about the other collaborators. What would be a win for them? How can we add that into our thinking and synthesise a solution that achieves both.

By caring about people and attempting to build a great place to work where the most talented join us, develop with us and stay with us for a long time, we increase our chances of knowing our clients well. In the technical domain, the business domain and the people domain.

Integrity should be a binary thing. Not being honest most of the time, but all of the time. Telling the truth if we think it will be a bit uncomfortable, if we think it could harm us and even if we think it could destroy us. Once it’s on the table, we can work to fix it. Integrity builds trust and without that it’s hard for people to work together at all.

Hunger for excellence drives us to prepare well and review what we achieved. The quality of collaboration improves when you do these things.

Agility helps to keep our minds open for new ways of doing things. An acceptance that the first casualty of war is the plan and the ability to think fast and find a new way is paramount in a rapidly changing world.  Collaboration starts with the desire to build something new and to do that well, we need to embrace possibilities, not deploy an off the shelf solution.

To me, the mapping is straightforward and if you’re interested in discussing it further or have any additional suggestions on how to improve collaboration, please shout.