Easier said than done.

If we all want collaboration, why is it so hard?

Most if not all the organizations I’ve ever worked with or for, want collaboration.  It’s a no brainer.  “Break down the silo’s” they say!  “Work cross functionally” they cry!  In the virtual world, it’s even more critical.

And then it gets hard.  And frustrating.  Seemingly endless.  Collaboration, easy to desire, difficult to execute.

Why is this?  Because we know that collaboration, done well leads to deep trust, to creativity, and to innovation.  And in today’s competitive environment, every business needs that.  But to do it right requires focus, skill and effective execution.

To collaborate is to create.  And creation can get messy.  We may have differing opinions on how and what to create.  At what speed.  And at what level of quality.

Collaboration requires an intentional process and the application of key skills.  This both speeds up the process of collaboration and enhances the results.

Here are 4 key skills that will enhance your results:

1. Apply assertive communication:

Get others to focus on their needs, wants, values and concerns rather than their solutions.  When coming together to discuss a problem, opportunity or even to resolve a conflict—most of us have a solution in mind.  After all, we’ve probably thought about what the ideal option might be, and we want to be prepared for the discussion.  We have a well thought out point of view.  Yeah us!

Being attached to a solution, in advance of a discussion or exploration of a problem with another person or multiple people is by definition a barrier to effective collaboration.  Yes, I know, this sucks.

We must learn to let go of solutions (and by that I mean identifying the solution too soon in the process of collaboration—and then being attached to it), rather think of the following:

  • Needs: what is essential or very important
  • Wants:  a desire or wish
  • Values: something important, principles or standards
  • Concerns: anxiety; worries

2. Ask thought provoking questions: This will help to uncover what others care about in the areas above.  We have to be able to get into people’s heads, understand their thoughts, out loud.  In a group setting we can have individuals that are so outspoken and opinionated that they tend to dominate.  Or others that don’t share their thoughts, either because they don’t feel like it would make a difference, or their reluctant to do so because of fear of judgment, having a bad idea, etc.  If you are leading a collaborative effort, great questions are your best friend.

3. Listen fully and mindfully: Oh you know the old, listening to respond rather than to understand.  Yeah that one.  The reality is listening mindfully, if tough.  I’ve attached a listening style exercise to this episode.  See if you know the difference between listening styles, and what is most effective to collaboration.  Because the results may surprise you.

4. Use critical thinking: Critical thinking means we are focused on the quality of our thinking.  We are not thinking more or harder or longer.  We are stepping back to examine our thoughts.  How influenced are we by the past, or social pressure, or our emotions?  Are we focused on facts and evidence?  Or are we biased.  I am endlessly fascinated by cognitive biases.

Biases are an error in our thinking that affects our choices and judgments.  They are unconscious, hidden from our view.  They pervade our thinking.  They influence our ability to collaborate effectively and lead collaboration.  There are literally hundreds of cognitive biases

Here are some examples of common biases in problem solving and decision making:

  • Confirmation Bias:  We seek out and find information that supports our existing beliefs.  Ignoring other evidence.
  • Anchoring Bias:  We use an anchor or focal point as a reference when making a decision. Commonly relying heavily on the first piece of information we learn.
  • Overconfidence Bias:  Which reduces our openness to others’ thoughts, ideas and suggestions.  Because we believe too strongly on our own.
  • Groupthink/Bandwagon Effect:  This means we want to fit in.  We want to conform to social norms, or social pressure.  We don’t want to be the “odd one out.”
  • Projection Bias:  Means we make assumptions that others think the way we do and that they are making the connections we have to reach a conclusion.

(Find more examples here:

Collaboration is vital to our success in organizations, and as leaders.  This is such a great competency to learn and master.  To be the one who brings groups together and to engage and create—is a differentiator from a leadership perspective.

Know that collaboration is a skill set and there is a practice to doing it well, and doing it right.  Collaboration is messy and frustrating.  Know that is part of the process.  But in the end, totally worth it.

Check out the listening style exercise here:  Listening Styles – Intentionaleaders