The term “collaboration” has a number of interrelated meanings in the working world. In one sense, it refers to broad community efforts designed to make work-life easier and more productive for everyone. In another, it applies to delegation: the practice of handing off part of the workload to others who can do it more easily or cheaply.
The idea can extend to other forms of work– and information-sharing as well, including processes like mentoring and applying other peoples’ solutions to your own problems. Science as a whole, for example, is a collaborative effort. So is society, when you get right down to it. Indeed, one of the traits that make humans unique (and gives us an advantage over most of the animal kingdom) is our ability to cooperate and strategize with one another for our mutual benefit. In combination with our amazing abilities to adapt and communicate, this has put us at the top of the food chain.
In its most useful sense, perhaps, collaboration simply denotes close-quarters teamwork — an essential condition for success in the modern business environment.
While productivity training tends to focus on individual accomplishment, most of us do work in team environments. The white-collar wage-slave toiling in isolation has become increasingly rare; hence Rosen’s statement above regarding the death of the old in-box culture. Ideally, your organization already has a collaborative team culture in place, one you can slot into as soon as you begin working there. But if it doesn’t, do your best to foster one, in the best “many hands make light work” tradition.
Getting It Started
Effective collaboration requires careful planning. Although it may seem difficult to achieve, strive to share the following with your team on each new project:
- Common goals
- Common metrics for measuring progress
- A valued outcome
- A firm deadline
- Clearly documented processes for accomplishing specific tasks
- A familiarity with each team member’s working style
- Mutual respect
- A willingness to learn
- Sufficient resources, accessible to all
You’ll also need a clear division of labor and unambiguous leadership. Determine immediately who’s in charge. This should shake out naturally if the collaboration includes the group manager, but this doesn’t always happen. Needless to say, remain as flexible as you can, roll with the punches, and accommodate the eccentricities of your co-workers—but don’t let them take advantage of you.
You can’t and shouldn’t try to do it all yourself. Work instead to heighten what some commentators call the “collaborative intelligence” or “CQ” of your organization if you can do so without damaging your personal productivity. Increased CQ facilitates and increases your agility within both the company and in the marketplace.
Keeping It Moving
Once the ball starts rolling, continue to build buy-in, solidify team spirit, and otherwise encourage group cohesiveness. True collaborative efforts require cooperation, commitment, and flexibility from everyone involved…and sometimes a cheerleader. They also require an investment of time: a scarce commodity, true, but the likelihood of increased productivity makes it worth the outlay. By harnessing others’ labor, abilities, talents, and skills, and letting them harness yours, you maximize productivity all around.
© Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE, aka The Productivity Pro®, gives speeches and seminars on sales and leadership productivity. For over 25 years, she’s worked with Fortune 1000 clients to reduce inefficiencies, execute more quickly, improve output, and increase profitability. Laura is the author of seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. To invite Laura to speak at your next event, visit TheProductivityPro.com.