In the previous post, we looked at the results of the Understanding The Psychology of Collaboration:  What Makes an Effective Collaboration research project from the Institute for Collaborative Working.  They interviewed collaboration stakeholders at 107 companies and found that the most significant predictors of research effectiveness were the skills and character of the people running them.

We talked about the #1 success trait (Strategically Minded) in the last post.  Easy to say, but hard to put into practice.  But what about the other predictors?

#2 Team Orientation

The study showed that 59% of respondents ranked team orientation as having high relevance for collaboration effectiveness, particularly when combined with other traits.

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This homemade crop circle rug took teamwork AND sharing.  And lots of razor blades.

I know we all think we’re team-oriented.  But according to the interviews, nothing can scuttle a collaboration like doing what’s best for your organization.  Yes that’s right:  focusing on your own organization’s interest, to the point that you make the partner feel disenfranchised, can be a success-killer. Partners don’t want cheerleader-y “go team” lip service while you toe the party line. They want you to fight internal politics in your own organization in order to do what’s right for the collaboration.  (We talked about strategies for internal efficiency here).

Interestingly, respondents used phrases like “solo worker” and “works on their own” in a negative sense as well.  Independence is great, but it can come across as self-focussed, and the projects need a team player.

#3 Good Communicator

Like team orientation, we probably all think we’re good communicators.  It seems like one of those throw-away soft skills. But good communications skills in a collaboration are two-way.  They’re more about listening than talking.

Interviewees said:  “(ineffective collaborators) would only communicate when something was going wrong…. They wouldn’t just talk to you for the sake of talking to you.  Often they wouldn’t respond to requests.  So one-way communication is what defines them.”

I’m guilty of this.  I’m busy, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t.  But checking in, even when you don’t have progress, is a key part of building a relationship.  I’m planning to stop:

  • only communicating when I want something
  • delaying responding
  • mistaking talking for communicating

#4 Open to Sharing

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Lasagne:  there are some things I am not open to sharing.

Collaborators are looking for partners who are open to new approaches and who are able to have constructive discussions.  They don’t want partners who cling to their own solutions or systems, and they don’t enjoy working with those who impose their company’s culture on their project-mates.  The collaboration should be a trusting environment where it is ok to be wrong and ok to challenge things.

Interviewees said things like:  “(effective collaborators) are very open to new suggestions and being proved wrong.  If you’re working, if you come up with something when you’re working together…they’ll take it into account.  They don’t need to have the last word.  They will be open to innovation and open to suggestions.”

And we’re not just talking about sharing data or results, or even credit.  There’s a lot more to be gained:

“Because you’re sharing opinions…all sorts of sharing, it’s not just about tasks, it’s about sharing behaviours, feelings, emotions, and if one side is closed to that…. You can’t have one-way sharing; you need both parties to be willing to share.”

Now, I’m pretty good about sharing results, but have I shared behaviors?  I’m not so sure.  So this week, I’m going to work on sharing the good parts of my company’s culture (innovative, thorough) and my own (reliable, accommodating) with our collaboration partners, knowing I’ll get something just as valuable in return.

#5 Creative and Innovative

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Creative!  Innovative! (Still a questionable idea.)

You probably were not surprised to see “creative and innovative” on the list, because there has never been a job description written in the 21st century that didn’t include those words.  But what does that mean in a collaboration?  In particular, the study emphasized the importance of moving away from competitive and cost-driven ways of working.  Being too price-focused (and maybe even too outcome-focused) can keep people from exploring opportunities.

What do they want?  “(effective collaborators) are imaginative and creative, and they come up with solutions.  And the other end is narrow-minded: ‘we’ve always done it this way, so we’ll continue to do it that way…’. ” 

Are you innovative enough?  Willing to take one for the team and communicate openly?  Great, because in the spirit of opening and sharing, I’m totally willing to pass around this pack of earthworm jerky.

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