What Collaborative Teams Do Differently

I sincerely hope that you’ve had a chance to be a part of at least one highly collaborative team! If you have, my thoughts here will attempt to describe that peak experience and what a collaborative team does differently. If you have not, my goal is to capture the essence of the being on a collaborative team, so that you are more alert for this type of experience.

When you’re a part of this type of team, you contribute meaningfully to something bigger than yourself or anything you could have done alone. You step back in amazement and wonder that, together, big and important work was done. You’ve bonded, often making life-long friendships, with those that worked side by side with you.

That’s not to say that you loved every moment and that there weren’t times of friction and conflict. Often times the task was herculean, the resources scarce, and the work you did far exceeded anything described in your job description. At times you wondered if you could really do what you set out to do.

But, you did it. No, that is not true. In reality, “we” did it. Together, in spite of the daunting task, the team pulled together, did what needed to be done and made it happen. In my experience, collaborative teams I’ve worked with have started green-field manufacturing plants in countries foreigns to us, implemented ERP systems in complex ecosystems, started companies and put together meaningful learning programs with long lasting impact.

What a Truly Collaborative Team Looks Like

I’ve been a part of many teams that did “big” work and hard work that were not collaborative. On these teams, the work got done. We worked hard. We overcame obstacles. But these teams didn’t have the same feel, the same zest and the same spark that others did.

So what makes a collaborative team different, and how do they function? Here is my take, from my experience:

  • Collaborative teams have a laser like focus on the common purpose and why it is important. There was deep clarity about the work of the team and we knew that our work mattered. There were plenty of times that we thought there was no way, no how, that we could do it, but we still showed up every day and worked as if we could.
  • While there was clarity on the purpose, the day to day details about how to achieve the purpose were not well defined. We had the freedom to meet the objective using our own skills, brain power and will. This was not for a lack of skill; it merely reflected that this work was new and different than what had been done before. We were charged to find the way forward.
  • Although everyone on the team had a role, specific expertise and was a responsible for a “part” of the whole, yet everyone pitched in to do whatever was needed. I can’t think of a single, solitary time when I head a fellow team member on one of the teams complain “that this is not MY job”. Our job was to deliver on our mission and everyone’s job was to make that happen.
  • There were not “prima donnas”, but there also weren’t slackers. There were clearly some folks in charge, but leadership flowed naturally depending on the needs of the work in that particular moment. Team members who didn’t contribute or were too “good” to get their hands dirty didn’t last long on these teams.
  • Creative solutions emerged. As these collaborative teams were traversing new ground, we brought a sense of possibility and a lack of constraints that freed us up to do things differently. There was a willingness to listen to new ideas and to take a risk to try them. There were passionately debates about how to proceed, ultimately deciding and getting behind a way forward (that often combined several of the ideas from many different team members).
  • There was a strong sense of team work. Everyone was valued and it showed. We worked hard together, but also got to know each other personally. We socialized together. Traveled together. Knew each other’s families. We supported and helped each other, in and outside of work. We balanced task and team (or relationship). And many, many years later, these people are still some of my closest friends.

Synthesizing What Collaborative Teams Do Differently

The best I can synthesize what collaborative teams do differently is that they:

  • focus on both TASK and TEAM
  • are highly accountable and get work done
  • achieve big things
  • are creative and innovative in pursuit of accomplishing what they set out to do. At the same time, they nurture relationships
  • respect everyone’s contribution and expect everyone to contribute
  • disagree at times, but only in the pursuit of the shared goal
  • are more fluid in tasks and leadership and idea generation
  • support, challenge, and work hard
  • celebrate successes and the stories of their failures become part of the team lore about the journey

Is Your Team Collaborative?

If you’d like to size up either leadership or team capabilities with collaboration – reach out. We have a great tool for self-assessment.

If you’d like to nurture more collaboration in your work place, let’s talk! Just reach out to me at kris@evergreenleadership.com

What Is Collaboration and Why Is It Needed Today?

True confession….when no less than three different clients this year asked for help on collaboration I experienced a sense of validation and vindication. On no less than three prior occasions, as I was up for a promotion in my earlier careers, I was denied. The reason for not making the cut: “I was TOO collaborative.”

There was no denying I was collaborative. Still am. Always will be. I do my best work side by side with others, dreaming, creating, and then doing. But TOO collaborative? How could that be?

Because of my ability to collaborate, the solutions that emerged to solve business problems were innovative. They stuck. They had deep support from key influencers. Wasn’t that a good thing?

And so, in the past few months I’ve done something else I’m really good at – exploring the concept of collaboration. Reading the current thought leaders (with no less than 6 books consumed). Defining it. Creating content. Facilitating workshops.

Through all this work, I came to a stunning conclusion. It’s an insight that was years in the making, but before I share that, let me share some thoughts on why collaboration such a “hot topic”.

Some Background

At the turn of the 20th century, when new inventions such as telegraphs and telephones and faster forms of transportation enabled the better movement of goods and people, larger and more centralized organizations took shape. It was a time of centralization and with that specialization. It was a time when bigger was better, and it was a time where industry disruption was measured in decades and not days. Where the more efficient you could be, the better the results you realized.

Today we are in the midst of a dramatic and foundational shift. This is due to a myriad of factors: lightning speed communication to anyone just about anywhere, affordable computing power, global connectivity and the emergences of breakthrough ideas faster than they are able to be consumed.

The Implications

Due to that shift, entire industries are disrupted regularly, often from an unforeseen competitor. Who could have imagined that the taxi companies that had big cities locked down would face fierce competition from someone from the suburbs with a Honda Civic, a smart phone and some time on their hands?  Who would have thought that anyone could carry a library full of books on a device that fits in their hand twelve years ago? Do you suspect that the execs at Hilton and Hyatt were planning to be out performed by a scattered network of homeowners and an App? (Interesting note: today AIRBNB exceeds the valuation of Hilton and Hyatt combined in spite of having no “real” properties, only technology and a network of collaborators).

We are in a time when being large may be a liability, when no one leader can know it all, and when fresh ideas and quick time to market is a vital competitive advantage.

We are in a time where collaboration, not competition, is the advantage you need to remain relevant, to be sustainable, to thrive.

The Reality

Yet today many organizations and leaders are stuck in different paradigms: That bigger is better. That the leader is the one that knows all and directs all. That diverse people and ideas are window dressing rather than a true creative and competitive advantage. That leadership resides at the top and that allowing it to surface anywhere else in the organization presents a threat to maintaining order, position and efficiency.

Many are realizing that these “industrial era” beliefs are getting in the way, hindering performance and unsustainable. They realize there needs to be a new way to operate in a world that moves so quickly, that being nimble is more important than being big, and creativity and innovation are crushed in command and control environments. They realize that collaboration is the way forward.

So What Exactly is Collaboration?

That is exactly the question I’ve explored in the last three months. As I often find it helpful to define concepts by what they are not, the chart below both defines and contrasts collaboration to commanding, coordinating, and cooperation. Many are close cousins, but to me, collaboration is defined and differentiated by this:

Collaboration is when a diverse group of people work side by side to co-create a solution to a problem that none of them could have solved on their own. It is marked by a deep sense of trust and respect for all team members and a strong desire by all to achieve a common purpose that matters. It is when purpose is held in higher regard than position. It is messy at times. The exploratory nature of collaboration means it is neither very linear nor very efficient. It is a place of ideas, of experimentation, of possibilities. It is an environment in which individual egos are sublimated and where a sense of camaraderie and team work prevail. It is the fertile ground from which radically new ideas, products and solutions emerge.

My Stunning Conclusion

As I did this deeper dive into collaboration, it suddenly hit me: “they were right – I was too collaborative!” For I realized that, for me, collaboration was an overused strength. Collaboration, by its nature, is inefficient, both in time and resources. It is an amazing leadership style when situations are complex and solutions are unknown. But in many situations, in which decisions need to be made quickly or when the answer is knows – a collaborative approach is inefficient, frustrating for others and wastes precious time and resources. Knowing when to be a leader that fosters collaboration is great, but in my growth areas were to know when to collaborate and when to shift into a different leadership style, more attuned to the situation.

So, in the spirit of helping you become a better leader, here is my summary of “collaboration at a glance”. In subsequent posts, I’ll do deeper dives into collaboration, so a great starting point is understanding where collaboration fits in the range of leadership actions.

Collaboration at a Glance

The Innovation Imperative: Four Things to Foster Innovation in Organizations

The forces of change surround us and are unrelenting. Fiber optics allow us to move data at amazing speeds and the cost of storage has plummeted from a cool $300K for 1 gig in 1980, to virtually free today. In addition to the accelerating power of the internet, we see an explosion in the speed of change. It may be driven by technology but it touches all that we do.

We find ourselves in an environment in which disruption is the steady state. Responding to today’s environment requires us to think about business in a different light. Where innovation exists alongside optimization. Where we get comfortable with the joy of creating, the emotion of connecting, and the powerful output of networks and collaborations.

Keep reading to find out four ways to foster innovation within organizations. You won’t want to miss the section where I discuss bringing creativity into the workforce to build connections with current and future customers.

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Five Networks Every Leader Needs

As I speak to leadership groups and mention the value of networking, I invariably get a brave soul or two who raises their hands to make points like, “I hate networking events. They seem like a waste of time. You meet a lot of people, none of whom remember you for more than a millisecond.” Or, “Networking just seems like a way to promote yourself and get others to do things for you.”

And I remember the time I thought the same thoughts and had the same questions. And how, over time, I’ve done a complete shift in how I view networking and my own network.

Keep reading to learn what I now know about networking as a leader. You won’t want to miss the section where I dive into the five categories of people that all leaders need for their networks.

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Why Embracing Failure is the Wrong Message

Face it: Failure stinks. No one I know likes it. And even the most successful and creative people I know, don’t celebrate things that turned out poorly.

Yet a mantra that has emerged in the last five years is to “celebrate” failure. Really? Celebrate?

While I get, on some level, the reasoning to encourage people to take a risk and actually “do something” – the notion of celebrating failure is not, what I believe, is in anyone’s best interest.

Learn about other behaviors that are detrimental to organizations, and discover what healthy behaviors your organization should consider adding.

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How to Tend Your Team’s Fire and Not Get Burned

Leaders are always responsible for generating energy (or heat) as they engage the hearts and efforts of others in moving toward a common, shared and worthwhile goal.

In thinking about that energy and momentum as “heat” generated by a “fire”, I recalled that fire takes three elements: Fuel, Oxygen and a source of Heat.

In this article, learn what your team’s Fuel, Oxygen, and source of Heat are, and discover why you should keep your team burning – but not too hot.”

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Ten Gifts Great Leaders Give

I’ve worked with great leaders, mediocre leaders and one or two really poor leaders. In reflecting back, I realized the really great leaders gave me many great gifts.

 

These are gifts that last over time. They aren’t very tangible but are always present. They are gifts that altered the way I saw myself, or my situation, or the world around me. I am eternally blessed by and grateful for these gifts.

Want to know what these gifts are? Read my latest blog post, and see my challenge for you.

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Need a New Planning System for 2018? Mine Might Inspire You to Create Your Own.

In the past two days, I’ve had two separate requests to share my planning system. So here goes. Warning: This is not for the faint of heart!

I believe many of us are searching for some “magic” – the one system that provides us focus, keeps us organized and helps us achieve all that we set out to do. And there are more than enough people who will claim they have the system for you. Many times they are expensive and complicated.

My system has evolved over time and is a bit non-traditional. Yet, it works for me and it has enabled me to get and stay focused on the most important things, to track progress and to guide my activities over time.

I truly believe that no one size fits all. I’ve seen others do really well with other systems that when I tried them, left me uninspired, overwhelmed and doomed to fail.  I’m not suggesting this will work for everyone. But I do suspect that you might do as I did, experiment with one of two of the elements and see if they work for you. If they do, great. If not, it was only an experiment.

Keep reading to learn more about my planning system for 2018 and how you can adapt and experiment with it to have a focused and fulfilling year!

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A Simple Daily Practice That Can Change Your Life

In this week of Thanksgiving, I want to share a practice that I began long ago. It has dramatically improved my mood, my well-being and my life and takes less than 10 minutes a day and requires less than $10 in materials. The most challenging part of the practice is that it requires practice. You must work at having the discipline to do it day in and day out, regardless of your state of mind, your fatigue, or your busyness.

Keep reading to learn about what this practice is and the scientific benefits that come with cultivating the mindset associated with it.

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Self-Care or Self-Obsession? How to know when you’ve stepped over the line.

It’s taken me an entire lifetime to internalize and act on the notion that taking care of myself was not as selfish at it appeared on the surface. I’ve had to experience, both personally and vicariously, the detrimental effect of self-neglect – when energy was sapped, spirit was wounded, and health was jeopardized.

Keep reading to learn about why self-care is so important and how I differentiate self-care from self-obsession.

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