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How to make Collaboration a skill not a soundbite

Collaboration is one of those bullshit bingo buzz-words tossed around organisations like confetti. It implies ‘teamwork’ and that ‘we’re all in it together’. Which of course is how it should be – it’s just rarely true. In many businesses the environment is anything but collaborative. Getting ahead is typically a competitive and political process. Knowledge is hoarded as a source of power. Rivalries between individuals and departments are commonplace. This is not new news. But re-building our organisations and people to become truly collaborative is one of keys to winning in our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous ‘VUCA’ world.

The two faces of collaboration
The word collaboration has two meanings. The first is to work with others on a joint project to create a positive outcome. The second appears more sinister – essentially to work with an enemy.

It’s notable that our modern need to collaborate has elements of both meanings. Yes, we need to get better at working together within our business. But we also need to become open to partnering with former or current competitors. Such are the demands of the disrupted world, that established businesses need to entertain partnerships which, even a few years ago, would seem unthinkable.

Sleeping with the enemy
Collaboration with former competitors can be a smart play. In 2014, Tesla gifted millions of dollars worth of patent IP to its electric car competitors to help accelerate their e-vehicle programmes. Why? So they could share in the cost of building the fuelling infrastructure needed to make e-vehicles viable at a mass market level. Sharing research, duplicated resources and other common technologies is becoming an essential evolution for many businesses. Most news organisations for example now share reporters and ‘feeds’. Competitive media companies routinely co-tender for sporting rights. The faster a business can get over itself to re-think collaborative possibilities, the more likely it is to prosper in a globally competitive marketplace.

Equipping your people to collaborate better
With this is mind, it’s time to re-frame the way we think about ‘collaboration’ - beyond just throwing it about in company mission statements. All our lives we’ve been taught how to compete, but never to collaborate. We must equip our people with the skills, mindsets and mandate to collaborate instinctively and effectively.

Collaboration is one of the 4 key Competencies in the i4 Neuroleader model developed by Silvia Damiano, founder of the About My Brain Institute, who I work closely with. They define Collaboration as:

‘The attainment of a common goals through the effort of a combined body of people working together’.

Supported by neuroscience, the model deconstructs Collaboration into 4 constituent parts: Inspiration, Communication, Generosity and Courage

I use this tool in my work with teams and find it highly effective. It helps people to understand the ingredients that go into collaboration - and how they can adapt to get better at it.

This refers to the energy, enthusiasm and desire to act as a result of feeling both mentally and emotionally stimulated. It’s generated through activities, attitudes and behaviours such as: Vision, Passion and Trust.

In business, we need to create an environment that encourages inspiration. Culture can either create or kill this quality. An organisation with no vision beyond short-term performance, with poor or in-authentic leadership and low levels of trust is not going to inspire its employees to go beyond the bare minimum.

Inspiration expires. It must be re-kindled each day. Irregular ‘rally the troops’ speeches from HQ don’t work. Strategies like creating stimulating meeting spaces (check out Google or Atlassian’s offices) and places (walk, go into nature), sharing hopes and getting to know co-workers all contribute to creating a genuinely inspiring workplace.

This is having a well-developed set of abilities to impart information or exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. It’s about both the clarity of our own thinking and the ability to actively listen to others. Key elements are: Presence, Self-expression and Chunking Down

Communication is at the heart of any business. We’ve all experienced workplaces where communication is stymied, top-down, inconsistent or just absent. If ambiguity is one of the constant paradigms of our new business reality, mastering communication must be a priority. In many workplaces it needs to be re-thought. It must embrace learning from every level of the business and become attuned to emotions as well as ideas. It is the currency of the Imagination Age.

This is about developing a kind disposition and an altruistic manner with others. It’s not a word often thought of in a business context, where military or sporting metaphors of ‘smashing the enemy’ prevail. That’s a big shift. It involves adopting approaches such as: A win-win approach, Thinking beyond self and Willingness to help

These may appear weak in the ‘war’ of business. Yet, the VUCA world means ‘winning’ looks different. The starting point is having a generosity rather than scarcity mindset.

This is about our ability to face difficult circumstances despite being fearful. It includes saying what needs to be said and the wisdom to accept what can’t be changed. Elements include: Fear management, Ability to redirect efforts and Trying new things

As the brilliant American psychologist Dr Brené Brown recently said in a presentation in Sydney, bravery not bravado is what makes for the best leaders.

"Are you willing to be uncomfortable?" Brown asked. "To me that's the bottom line."

How do you collaborate?
This is a challenging question. We need to rethink what winning looks like. We may need to cede control and give voice and power to others as part of a trust-building process. That’s exposing.

Our own failings and fears may become apparent. If we can take that leap of faith however and encourage our colleagues to do the same, we will be able to genuinely access the collective wisdom, energy, wit and sense of fun that can make our work both more successful and enjoyable.

Worth a try? I reckon!
Mark Hodgson
Work with Mark
Since 2010 Mark Hodgson has been successfully helping executives, coaches and consultants to build confidence, gain clarity in their message and position themselves as influential thought leaders who people want to work with.

He is the author of Time To Shine - Adapting who you are and what you know to succeed in the ideas economy and a leading thinker and speaker on adapting our personal leadership to succeed in a volatile world. To book Mark as a speaker for your next event contact him here.

If you want to know more about working with Mark to activate this thinking in your world, check out the following options:

Time To Shine – Leader Workshop -> 1-day in-house programme for teams
Time To Shine – 60 or 90 Keynote speech ‘Why Humanity is our point of difference’
Time To Shine - Personal Mentoring Programme -> For organisational leaders, independent consultants, coaches and entrepreneurs.
Contact us on or call +61 425 230 335 for details.
Mark Hodgson

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