Six Ways To Make Collaboration Work

The other day, I went with my granddaughter to the playground and watched her as she dove happily into play with the other children.  I envied her ability to simply become part of the group.  It was lovely to see the easy cooperation that danced among them as they shared the various pieces of playground equipment and discussed the merits of this climbing apparatus over that.  It was then I began to think about collaboration and what it means.

Some people think that collaboration is just like that… playing and working together cooperatively for a common purpose.  In the case of the children in the playground that purpose is simply to have fun.  But, I think collaboration, while having elements of that, is more. It is a labor of love ~ deeper and more focused . It holds more tension and requires us to listen to each other and communicate on a variety of levels through diverse means.

Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University made reference to this in a keynote speech he made about collaboration.  He describes it as “co-operation on steroids”, an apt description, I think.

My definition goes like this:

Collaboration is the act of coming together and working with another, or others, to create something that goes beyond the ability of any one person to produce.

Here’s what I think it looks like when it’s in action:

Those who successfully collaborate:

Engage in, and value, conversation

They take an interest in others. In fact, they use conversation as a simple yet very effective way to learn about others and the potential they may have for working well together in collaborative efforts.

Find ways to draw out creativity in themselves and others

At Pixar, they use improvisation as a tool for opening doors to new ideas and perspectives.  Others use a variety of brainstorming techniques.  No idea is discounted or censored, just played with until it either becomes something bigger, or fizzles out.

Actively seek self-knowledge and Learning

Those who know what they’re good at and enjoy, also know how they can make their best contribution to the collaborative effort.  They use their curiosity as a tool to explore and discover new possibilities.

Invite Contribution and accept what is offered without judgment

Often it is the case that someone will offer an opinion or a piece of work and our first instinct is to look for flaws.  Those who collaborate productively resist the temptation to do this, choosing to build on what is offered instead through questions and discussion.

Make Others Look Good

In his keynote, Randy makes reference to making your partner look good. To me, this means focusing on the work and the contributions others make before seeking personal recognition

Manage disagreement well

While we might like to think that effective collaboration does not include disagreement, it does.  Those who are skilled collaborators see the value in the tension that disagreement can produce and use it as a bridge to get to something different, or something better.


The bottom line for me is that collaboration is hard. Its success depends on making the work more important than any one individual.  It asks us to subordinate our desire to compete with others and instead find personal satisfaction in the joint effort.  But, done well, collaborative efforts produce some pretty amazing, and very successful things.  Just ask Pixar

What do you think? What would you add?


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Style, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Six Ways To Make Collaboration Work

  1. First, thanks for making me laugh and cry with the Pixar short which in itself has so many lessons, (i think I counted 10 different emotions that the birds acted out in their faces) but that’s for another day.

    You are so right that collaboration as you say can be hard, sadly it seems harder when it is for good. Everyone has different preferences in how things should be done and too often the human emotions are so strong that they overrun the idea that listening first and agreeing on goals must be the first step in collaboration.

    Successful collaboration (from my perspective) depends on how well goals, roles and procedures are laid out and understood. In the case of a playground there is (generally) a goal, to have fun. I too (when the kids were that age) loved to sit and watch as they figured out how this and that worked, and every now and then, a small group got together and made up their own game. But it was rare that more than say, 30% of the kids collaborated in a game or with a piece of equipment. The kids have not learnt that collaboration requires that you listen first and understand goals, then discuss roles, then put the icing on the cake and figure out procedures. Obviously this is way beyond humans in the first decade of their lives.

    If we forget to go over these three, (goals roles and procedures), it can lead to groups collaborating in bad ways (group think). The birds showed this several times. Also think enron, the recent oil disaster in the Gulf and many others.

    Collaborating in its own right can be both good and bad, and that is why I believe that making sure there is understanding of goals, roles and procedure is so important to successful long standing collaboration . Randy Nelson did point out Pixar’s goals roles and procedures within his talk and I love your six points. Thank you so much for a thought inspiring post.

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    Simon~ Thank you for adding value to this post through your thoughtful and knowledgeable comment.
    I agree that clarity in goals, roles and procedures and mutual understanding with respect to what that means is a critical component of meaningful collaboration.
    And, by the way, I love the Pixar short film because, like you, I can see there SO much going on there! 🙂

  3. True, collaboration is hard, but it’s a little easier now that you’ve given us some clues about what to do. That’s why I included this post in my top posts from the independent business blogs.

  4. You are a true co-labor-ator in words and in action.

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  6. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom and the terrific short film that says so much by making us laugh.
    Collaborative Law brings these principles into action and I am always grateful to be working with this wonderful group of like minded people. We help our clients move through separation and divorce without going to court.
    Patricia Lalonde, CFP

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  9. Great post on collaboration. This is a hard skill for many to master in the business world. In business, collaboration and team-work are key to being successful. By putting a system of good communication in place you will be safeguarding your future by ensuring a trusting environment for your employees with which to conduct business with customers – old and new.

  10. Jussara

    Thank you for sharing your ideas about collaboration. As you said it is really hard for some people to understand that.We can play and work together with collaboration keeping in mind a commom purpose.

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  12. Pingback: Collaboration: 6 Ways to Make it WORK | IBM Official Alumni Group: The Greater IBM Connection

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