Why should we assume that collaboration means the same thing to different people? Is it enough to say that I’m a good collaborator without really defining what that means. We’ve all had different experiences so will likely define a good collaboration differently.
One of the strategic exercises that I facilitate at the Master of Digital Media Program is ‘What an Ideal Collaboration Looks Like’. In this visual exercise, individual learners are tasked with drawing what a good collaboration looks like to them, including all the qualities they expect from those they collaborate with. Afterwards, each person shares it out with the group. This is to challenge collaborators to articulate those mechanics that make for a successful collaboration—to speak it out loud in front of those that they will collaborate with. There are common themes that arise, like respect, trust, listening, etc.. Facilitating this exercise allows learners to make their assumptions known and can inform Rules of Play when they collaborate with one another.
Does it work? For the most part the exercise is good at uncovering our own biases, but ending there is usually not completely satisfying. That’s because we need to then bring our notions of what a good collaboration is, to an actual collaborative project.
The more experience you have collaborating, the more articulate you can be about what a good collaboration looks like when you meet your future collaborators. We also need to reflect equally on both positive and negative experiences and understand how they’ve informed our biases. Lastly, no matter how clear we are when we enter a collaboration, without agreeing to Rules of Play where we can align with behaviours we find acceptable and those we do not, as well as taking the time to constantly refine them when someone is not aligned, we may end up in situations that are not so ideal any more. Instead, we end up brushing them under the carpet—put up with the situation (and the individual(s)) instead of dealing with the behaviour and the underlying root cause of it. Consider the next time you collaborate as an opportunity for you and others to articulate what collaboration means and translate these into aligned Rules of Play that contribute towards building team culture. In the process of taking the time to do this, you will actually save time in the long run—the time and energy it takes to resolve uncommunicated expectations, the time taken to re-align values that were never defined, the time taken away from your actual deliverable.