Collaboration ProcessLast week, I started some work on team collaboration, see here.

It’s natural to focus on behaviors when we talk about a team’s quality of collaboration. And, sometimes personalities and patterns of behaviors are important areas for improvement. However, as I find with teams in general, a lack of structure and agreement is a first stop for solutions. What have you agreed you would do called “collaboration?” Once you have an agreed way of collaborating, the team can self-manage to that agreement.

Decide When To Collaborate?

Teams that try to collaborate on every single question, idea or issue will waste time they don’t have. Collaboration takes time and should most often be used for:

  1. A big idea or innovation
  2. A solution to a complex problem, or
  3. A critical outcome that crosses functions and stakeholders

Providing input, offering guidance, or advocating for a decision usually do not require collaboration (definition: use of critical thinking of all members to actually get the best outcome, often unexpected or unanticipated).

Five Structure Elements

Once you have decided you want the team to truly collaborate, there are five structural elements that can be helpful. Big Caution: We are often too quick to move into discussion without setting up the collaboration, so work through any resistance in working through the structure.

  1. Enhance the clarity of the intended outcomes—what exactly do you want to create, in all it’s facets?
  2. Clarify the decision authority—collaborative processes may still be decided by a particular person or sub-team. It can be a big deflater when a team thinks incorrectly they have the decision on the innovative ideas they are producing.
  3. Build an understanding of the current state. Draw a picture or what has happened and what is the current reality. Trust me, your picture (even if a simple mind map) will stimulate ideas.
  4. Brainstorm questions that the team should explore, big and small questions that matter—organize the questions into a logical approach.
  5. In dialogue, advance the team’s thinking by offering ideas, generating insights, building on others’ ideas, posing “devil’s advocate” statements, and continuously relating the discussion back to the intended outcomes.

The idea here is that enough structure will allow and demand the engagement of all team members.

Next week, I’ll talk about behaviors that fuel great collaboration.