To some, the word collaboration makes them feel threatened. To others, it’s how they operate in life on a regular basis. But no matter what your perception of the word, in some way, shape, or form, you will eventually collaborate with someone on something. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom making brownies with your three year old (quite the task, I know…just watching the aftermath made me want to stay out of the kitchen), or a business executive planning your next acquisition, at some point you’re going to have to work with others. And it’s probably safe to assume you already have on multiple occasions.
Successfully learning how to navigate the waters of co-laboring can turn collaborative efforts into gold mines of creative output, where failing to will dig wastelands of “I’m never doing that again as long as I live.” With the reality being that if we are to be successful in life, salesman, architect, mom, musician, or pastor, embracing a few fundamental rules on the Kindergarten concept of “playing well with others” can go a long way in helping. Here are a few I’ve found to be helpful:
1.) Designate a Point Person. In any project, there needs to be a person with whom the proverbial (and sometimes literal) buck stops with. No Utopian communal program here. All projects need to have an executioner, the person in a place of command who says it’s done. Creative types will want to tweak it for the next twenty years, and even then it won’t be “finished,” while pragmatists will have it functional it a day (even if it is ugly as sin). In both extremes, the Point Person has the ability to prompt a team to go to greater lengths while also knowing when to put the operation to bed.
2.) Consensus, Not Unanimous. I was once taught that “unity is not uniformity.” Unity, rather, is being able to agree on the same goal, regardless of method. If your goal is to get everyone to agree, have fun. To quote Mr. Scott, “I [You] just can’t du’ it, Captain!” One of the reasons a team is strong is because they all have different opinions (at least, that’s how you should pick members of a good team when you have the opportunity). Instead, look for ways to get a consensus on a particular issue; while everyone may not be in agreement that it’s the best way to achieve the goal, they will be able to agree that it’s the most common means given the group’s diverse members.
3.) Compromise Promotes Ownership. Similar to #2, being able to relinquish your own opinions–even when they are legitimately the best–is an essential quality of good leadership. I recently heard a Christian church leader say that the only two instances they will ever interrupt someone they’ve given a task to is when the person is either not producing any results over time, or is theologically in error. While the net result may not be what you want it to be, allowing people the opportunity to let their ideas be the ones that stick ultimately promotes team unity, and therefore pride in project.
4.) Share Canvases Carte Blanche. Most people feel that when someone criticizes their work, they are criticizing them personally. But for those experienced with separating their personal identity from their creations, having someone analyze their efforts undoubtedly brings strength to the finished concept. Developing a smooth system of passing work back and forth, from vision to manufacturing, is also critical. When writing books with a co-author, we share one master Scrivener file; when designing graphics for a church campaign, we play PhotoShop tennis; and when writing new material for a CD, we trade MP3 files like baseball cards (with a bit less drama). In all cases, we do not “track changes,” or keep a list of what we did; the team has the ability to do whatever they want to the work. No questions asked. This ensures everyone gets a say, and as the work is passed around and around and around, it begins to become “our creation,” not “my creation.”
5.) Open Air Policy. One of the best policies that Senior Pastor Kirk Gilchrist put into place at New Life Christian Church, is a strict “open air policy.” Meaning, we say what we mean to say, and everything stays in the open. No grudges, no harboring resentment. This must be tied with a deep feeling of genuine love for the other teammates (or at least trust to some degree, if “love” is too strong a word given your situation). But knowing I can say anything about any idea is incredibly freeing, and actually lends to the efficiency and effectiveness of the collaborative process.
Remember, a better result can always be expected when you’re collaborating with people at their best, submitting their best. I deleted a few further tips (and might save them for a future post) as I didn’t feel this was supposed to be an exhaustive list, but rather something to reflect on in the midst of your current team project, or one you’re about to leap into. Read this post for more thoughts on leading teams.
What collaborative effort are you in the midst of right now? ch: