Collaboration & Six Ways to Make It Work

Collaboration is described in the Oxford dictionary as;”working in combination with another”.  It sounds so simple doesn’t it?  But of course we all know that ‘simple’ does not always equate to ‘easy’.  This post, from 2011, takes a look at how we might create a working environment that helps to make collaboration possible…and also productive.


One 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


That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

(The Pixar film is respectfully used only for illustration purposes with no intent to infringe on copyright or gain financially in any way)



Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

3 responses to “Collaboration & Six Ways to Make It Work

  1. Gwyn, great post – I think one of the reasons most adults have a hard time with true collaboration is that it is ‘taught’ out of us as we grow older. Our western culture is based on competition much more than collaboration and it is hard for us to let go of that need to be just a bit better than the person working next to you.

    Best regards,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carl ~ I think you’re quite right there. Competition is a big part of Western society, especially in the United States so the idea of collaborating with no one person coming out a ‘winner’ is still quite foreign. Thanks for that.

  2. Pingback: Learning to rejoice in the good fortune of others | Martina McGowan

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