10 factors for collaboration

22 July

Collaboration is the cornerstone of modern working practices and yet it is something that we just assume everyone already knows how to do. This is not true!

Collaboration does not happen by accident, make it a deliberate practice, a skill you nurture and grow.

We need to work on our team skills as much as our technical skills or our agile skills. This 10-factor approach to collaboration allows teams to think about, learn, and then grow by applying deliberate practice towards collaborating in their approaches to work. Coaches and team members can all benefit from the understanding of what approaches to take to collaboration.

Recently I was working with a great team we discussed these factors to enhance our collaboration skills. They seemed to resonate.

It’s not about “you/me”, it’s about “us/we”

1. Be Intentional: join the session planning to collaborate. This is different from contributing, communicating or listening. If you are not prepared to learn and adjust your thinking, don’t attend the session, don’t waste your time or other people’s time. Make sure you are in the right mindset to collaborate.

2. Have a shared goal: It’s not about “you/me”, it’s about “us/we”. When the group forms agree on what you are trying to achieve. Make sure it is clear and specific, understood by everyone and delivers value to all.

3.  Define a process: set the team up for success by understanding the “how” you think you will achieve the goal, just roughly, then work the process. You need to work with what you have (time, data, tools, people) and figure out a possible “how” together. You can iterate through the process and improve along the way. Have the focus and discipline to follow a process. Collaboration does not happen by accident, make it a deliberate practice, a skill you nurture and grow.

4. Build a shared language: ensure everyone is talking “apples and apples”. The group needs to establish a common and shared understanding of the words being used in the collaboration. You can make assumptions, create your own definitions or use existing ones, as long as everyone understands the meanings behind the words being used. If you don’t understand a word, make sure the group defines it clearly.

5. Build relationships: be amazed and delighted by the depth of skill and knowledge that your teammates have, be flattered that you are part of such a spectacular team. Show your teammates respect by listening to what they say, pay attention and be interested in their opinions. Work to understand how you fit together as a team, and how your knowledge fits together in the collaboration session.

6. Be brief: don’t pontificate or hold the floor. Your teammates will pay you due respect by listening to you attentively, show the same respect to them by being brief and to the point. Say it once, say it clearly, say it briefly. Respond directly to questions with the answer, not a narrative or story.

Say it once, say it clearly, say it briefly

7. Listen with the intent to learn: “everyone you meet knows things you don’t, learn from them” is an amazing quote by  H. Jackson Brown Jr. The collaboration session is about building collective knowledge, sharing your ideas to create something new. You cannot create new if you are not open to learning from others.

8. If you don’t know; say so: be open and transparent. Get ideas from the team, be open to not knowing everything. Collaboration is a team sport, and just like playing soccer, you can’t win in a team of 1, you cannot win at collaboration by yourself.

9. Ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute: everyone is in the team for a reason. Accept that everyone in the team is an expert in something, and they are here to share their expertise. Make sure the approach or process caters for the type of information that they are sharing, the method they need to use to share it, and their personal styles. Do not bias your sessions towards extroverts or dominant style people only.

10. Iterate: go through the process several times so you can learn and adjust. Check what is working, what needs changing and ensure you are heading to the goal. If not, adjust how you are working to ensure you achieve the goal.


Don't assume that collaboration will "just happen". Spend the time working with your team to build a deliberate and considered collaboration approach. These skills are just as important, maybe more so, than detailed technical skills.


Posted by Sharon Robson
Copyright © Sharon Robson