It’s a complaint regularly heard by physios: “I tried to get fit but ended up getting injured.”

Maybe you lifted weights the wrong way and strained a muscle, or ran too far too quickly and broke down. It’s one thing to have the right mindset, but experts know that mindset is only the beginning.

Collaboration is a bit like fitness. Just as you need more than enthusiasm and a new pair of runners to get fit, it’s vital to gain a deep understanding of the principles to practice effective collaboration.

After writing a post on the importance of cultivating a collaborative mindset, some readers asked us to expand on the skills we used to deal with collaboration issues during our recent website project.

Here are a few practices that we used to stay on track:

1. Start with Why 

Leadership expert Simon Sinek popularised the idea of ‘starting with Why’. This isn’t a new idea. It’s embedded in many theories relating to sales, marketing and education, but it’s something we often overlook.

Sometimes, our eagerness to leap into action can distract us from the important issue of determining why we are taking action. At CMA, we call this a ‘Shared Vision’ and it is one of the foundations of effective collaboration.

Throughout our website project, it was easy to get caught up in the details of the design and functionality. But reminding ourselves of the ‘why’ behind the project enabled us to make more strategic decisions.

Follow Simon Sinek's advice and 'Start with Why'

Follow Simon Sinek’s advice and ‘Start with Why’

At one stage, we contemplated putting a ‘slider’ under the navigation bar. After much discussion about its content, we returned to our Shared Vision, which was to create a website that more clearly and simply articulated CMA’s brand and value proposition. It became clear that we had already achieved our Shared Vision through other elements on the home page.

The slider, while ‘nice to have’, would have added a level of complexity that wasn’t aligned with our Vision. By refocusing on the ‘why’, we saved ourselves a lot of time and effort.

How to establish a Shared Vision: If you find yourself getting caught up in the detail, zoom out to the bigger picture by asking yourself:

    • Why are we doing this? What is our Shared Vision?
    • Is the proposed course of action aligned with our Shared Vision?
    • If not, how can we achieve our Shared Vision? Or has our Vision changed?

Establishing a clear Shared Vision at the outset means it’s much easier to make decisions when personal preferences and other distractions come into play.

2. Solve problems using an interests-based approach

According to evolutionary psychology, the human brain is adapted to solve problems. The problem with problems is that sometimes we’re too quick to identify solutions. Yes, too quick. We bounce solutions around like we’re playing ping pong, without taking time to define the problem properly first.

In establishing the colour scheme and layout for the homepage, our designers presented us with some ideas. We weren’t satisfied, and responded with our own ideas. The designers produced even more ideas. Rather than collective brainstorming, this was more like a game of ‘intellectual ping pong’.

It came about because we had different perspectives about what was important – for example, brand integrity versus design integrity. Instead of defining the problem as one of achieving brand integrity and design integrity, we threw ideas around hoping one would stick. The more ideas we saw, the more confused and frustrated we became. Psychologist Barry Schwarz calls this the ‘paradox of choice’.

Thankfully, we broke the circuit by using a tried-and-tested process for creating an optimal outcome – what we call a ‘Shared Solution’. (If you’ve done a CMA workshop, you’ll be familiar with this process.)

How to create a Shared Solution: If you find yourself playing ‘intellectual ping pong’ with your colleagues, step back and define the problem by asking yourself:

    • My interests: What am I trying to achieve through my idea/preferred solution? What’s important about this to me? What concerns do I have with my colleague’s idea?
    • Their interests: What is my colleague trying to achieve? What concerns might he or she have with my idea?
    • Options: How might we meet each other’s interests, together?

This is an extremely powerful device for breaking deadlock and resolving differences. It forces people to distance themselves from their subjective view of an ideal outcome and open up to other solutions that might meet their underlying needs, drivers and concerns.

collaborative fitness

Avoid straining your working relationships by building your collaborative fitness

3. Be clear about the process for getting things done 

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, once said:

Few things in life are less efficient than a group of people trying to write a sentence. The advantage of this method is that you end up with something for which you will not be personally blamed.

And so we come to the hidden downside of collaboration. It can quickly turn into ‘death by committee’, where the project gets bogged down because everyone is consulted and everyone has an equal voice in the decision-making process.

Although people generally like to be consulted when major projects are rolled out, an overly consultative approach can cause problems too. It might create an expectation that every issue is going to be negotiated, which is incredibly inefficient.

In our case, it led to uncertainty about who was responsible for what and how we would coordinate our efforts to meet various deadlines.

One way to avoid this downside is to agree to a ‘Shared Process’ that allows people to contribute in a structured way. This also helps to create buy-in for the end result.

How to create a Shared Process: While larger projects may require a more detailed project management methodology, you can use the 5 Ps to plan your project and meetings at a high level:

    • People – Who’s ‘on the bus’ and why are they there? More importantly, who’s driving the bus?
    • Purpose – Why are you doing this project? What are you hoping to achieve? (Purpose is similar to Vision, but more focused on the practical rather than the aspirational.)
    • Preparation – How can you best prepare for the project? For example, do you need to do any stakeholder consultation before starting the project?
    • Process – For larger projects, what is your project management methodology? For smaller projects, what steps are needed to achieve your deliverables? What is the decision-making process?
    • Product – What is the tangible or intangible outcome of the project? How will we know when it’s finished?

So there you have it – Shared Vision, Shared Solutions and Shared Process. We call these the 3 Foundations of Collaboration, because they are the bedrock on which effective collaboration is built. For more information about the 3 Foundations of Collaboration and how you can use them to create a collaborative culture in your team or organisation, please contact us.

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