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Creating Collaboration: A Process That Works

Aug 17, 2007
Over the years the term collaboration has lost some of its luster by becoming synonymously linked with words such as cooperation, synergy and teamwork. Although these words are each an important component of collaboration, they are not of equal value. Collaboration, as a term, is much more than simply a characteristic of an effective team; it a process unto itself.

According Michael Winer and Karen Ray in their book, The Collaboration Handbook,

"True collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more individuals/groups/organizations in order to achieve results they are more likely to achieve together
than alone."

It is the well-defined relationship part of the definition that truly distinguishes collaboration as a process. In a collaborative process, the goal is not only to achieve a desired outcome, but to achieve that desired outcome in the most efficient and effective way possible for the organization(s) and for all collaborating parties involved. This can only be achieved if the collaborating parties pay as much attention to how they work together as they do to the work itself. Without one or the other, true cooperation, synergy and teamwork cannot occur.

Agreement to Collaborate:

Before agreeing to collaborate, the collaborating parties must understand the key elements of this process:

* Collaboration requires parity among participants (i.e., members see each other as equal partners in this process regardless of title or position in the company).

* Collaboration is based on mutual goals (i.e., members establish common goals upfront that benefit all parties involved).

* Collaboration depends on shared responsibility for participation and decision making (i.e., decisions are made with everyone's input and everyone is expected to support the decisions that are made).

* Collaboration means shared resources (i.e., parties are expected to readily share information and resources with one another for the betterment of the project at hand).

* Collaboration requires shared accountability for outcomes (i.e., roles are responsibilities are equally divided amongst members of the group along with established expectations and timelines).

* Collaboration relies on mutual trust (i.e., members need to be able to rely on each other and continually communicate in an open and honest fashion).

These key elements are what essentially distinguish collaboration as the highly interdependent and engaging process that it is; a process that requires an upfront commitment to work within these elements from all participating entities before going forward.

The Collaborative Process

Upon agreeing to collaborate, the first and most important component of the collaborative process is to create the process itself. This involves the creation of essential guidelines (see below) that serve as the framework for how the collaborating parties will work together throughout the project. This can be done with an independent facilitator or with a member from one of the collaborating parties acting as facilitator. Either way, it is this initial phase of the collaborative process that sets all parties up to succeed.

Collaborative Guideline

Parties are encouraged to customize the following discussion items below to best fit their particular situation.

1. Bring project/collaborative parties together.

2. Provide understanding of the scope of the project and project expectations.

3. Define project success/desired results.

4. Define/discuss collaboration within the project, specifically:

a) Leadership
-Who is the leader(s) of this collaborative process?
-What is their scope of responsibilities?
-What does the group need to know about the leaders style?
-What kind of support can the leader/group count on from management?

b) Roles/Responsibilities and Ownership Issues
-What other roles need to be defined amongst the group?
-What specific responsibilities need to be assigned to group members?
-Are there any commitments/timeframes that need to be established and agreed upon at this point?
-What kind of support will group members need from each other?
-What level of ownership/control do group members need to assume and/or let go of?

c) Communication
-What do group members need to communicate to each other about?
-What is the most effective way for group members to communicate with each other (i.e., e-mail, voicemail, face-to-face, phone conversations, meetings)?
-How often do group members need to communicate with one another?
-How will the group communicate about what they are doing to those outside the collaborative effort?

d) Decision-Making
-In the spirit of collaboration, what will be the primary decision-making methodology (democratic, delegated, consensus, consensus by qualification, unanimous)?
-How will the group make decisions when they cannot reach agreement?
-What is expected of each other after decisions are made?

e) Time Management/Prioritization
-What time prioritization issues does the group need to discuss to ensure everyone is in agreement on what gets done when?
-What other responsibilities or projects do group members have that could impact their commitment to the collaboration process and deadlines?
-Are there any agreements around prioritization that need to be made to move forward at this point?

f) Disagreements
-What process should group members use to handle disagreements within the group?
-How will disagreements that seem irresolvable be handled?

g) Accountability
-How will the group determine accountability?
-How will group members measure accountability?
-What needs to happen when a group member knows they cannot meet a deadline or assignment?
-What happens if a group member is not demonstrating accountability?

h) Outside Resources
-What resources outside the immediate collaborative group are needed?
-How does the group intend to get the level of support/buy-in from these outside resources?

i) Milestones
-What milestones along the way can the group use to measure its progress?

j) Reward and Recognition
-How can the group reward and recognize each other for progress and future successes in creating collaboration?
-How can the group reward and recognize each other for progress and future successes in achieving the desired outcomes?
-How can the group make people feel involved, useful and valued in the collaborative process?

k) Evaluation Plan
-What does the group need to do to ensure that they can provide constructive feedback to each other on an ongoing basis?
-Is a mid-term evaluation/check-in scheduled to ensure the group is on track with meeting their goals?
-Is a post-project evaluation planned to evaluate the collaborative process and the results/outcomes?

5. Identify any other possible barriers to collaboration that might surface and problem solve solutions should they surface.

6. Identify components that may not need to be completed in a collaborative manner.

7. Obtain a commitment to collaborate from each member to move forward under the agreed upon collaborative guidelines.

A process worth exploring

Once collaborating parties have completed and implemented the process in which they can work together most effectively, they are well on their way to achieving superior results that they would not have achieved otherwise. It is important to note that the collaboration process is not for everyone or for all situations that call for greater cooperation and teamwork. It needs to be selectively used with the right people, for the right reasons and with the full support of management. Anything less would be a mistake.
About the Author
Greg Giesen is a professional speaker, management consultant, graduate professor and the author of, Ask Dr. Mac: Take the Journey to Authentic Leadership. Go to http://www.GregGiesenAssociates.com for more information.
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