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Collaboration Requires Intentionality Not Just Desire


Collaboration is a word we say and everyone seems to nod in agreement. Very rarely does someone suggest that it’s a bad idea to collaborate. But, we also don’t typically invest in collaboration strategically and meaningfully to drive business outcomes. We leave it up to particular teams or leaders and their styles or micro-cultures. Sometimes, we just throw a piece of technology like Slack or Teams at it and say “Yep! We collaborate!”


Here are the problems with these approaches:


1. Collaboration doesn’t work if one team does it and another doesn’t, or one leader collaborates but not another. This passive approach ultimately prevents collaboration among those teams and leaders. It says collaboration is isolated which runs counter to the concept.


2. If your organization doesn’t cultivate and support collaboration in how you work without technology, then technology isn’t going to cultivate it for you. You are just going to digitize your lack of collaboration and likely ramp up the noise and dysfunction of it in the process.

Collaboration succeeds where it is understood, promoted, and developed as a value and an expectation. It’s not an agenda item in a meeting. It’s not a discrete activity. It’s not a new technology.


Collaboration is a lot less something you do, and a lot more how you are with others and how that shapes the way you work with them (or not) toward common goals.

For it to be meaningful and scalable in a work setting, collaboration needs to be:


STRATEGIC – It should be clear at all levels of your organization (at least where collaboration is key to performance) that collaboration is a critical strategy to achieve outcomes. It can’t be “nice-when-we-have-time.” If it’s strategic, it’s fundamental.


LEVERAGED – Assuming it is, in fact, strategic, collaboration must be part of the design of your organizational processes. It must be operationalized effectively such that it is part of everyday workflow, job expectations, and even evaluation measures.


MODELED – Like anything, if the people “at the top” don’t “practice what they preach” then it’s hard to get strong buy-in from everyone else. Leadership must be intentional and overt in exposing when and how it leads through collaboration.


CELEBRATED – We celebrate each other in our work in both subtle and overt ways: the passing comment, the simple nod of a head, or a formal award. Each represents a celebration that promotes and reinforces organizational values. Collaboration needs to be celebrated in many ways and at all levels.


INVESTED IN – What we invest in shows what we value. What we implement well shows our commitment to our values. We can’t decide collaboration is important and never put the tools behind it. But, we also can’t just throw technology at it and proclaim “now we collaborate!”


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