Collaborate is an Action Word

Learning how to work effectively with others is a worthwhile investment


It used to be my favorite word. It was new and fresh and epitomized everything that I thought could help all our workers’ woes. Then someone in HotBusinessNewsDaily got wind of it and all of a sudden it became synonymous with “meeting” or “fileshare” or “telephone call” or “survey”.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor”. I would argue that collaboration is defined by the richness of the interaction among members of a team or between two parties working to deliver an end result. Collaboration requires some kind of rich dialogue and intertwined effort, not just a project plan with some tasks for you and tasks for me. That’s just called a group effort.

I have been working with a group that is redesigning some of their core business activities, and we’ve been in a room together for 3 full days now, cozy and busy, with each team member expected to contribute in meaningful ways, and remain engaged throughout the process.

I have purposely kept the working groups small and cross-functional to ensure ongoing dialogue and the best chance for participation from all attendees. I have seen them diving into some very challenging activities and rolling up their sleeves to persevere. Perhaps most interesting, though, has been the level of inquiry and dialogue among the group members.

Many times I would look around the room and see two individuals, or three or four, grabbing pens and sketching out ideas on a flip chart and drawing over each other’s work to build a common understanding of a problem or solution. They are thrilled with the progress they have made thus far, and so am I.

These team members were collaborating by dictionary definitions – building a shared understanding of a challenge, and producing a deliverable that will address the challenge. By my definitions, they were collaborating because they were actively engaging with each other, creating rich and intertwined dialogue around their challenges and solutions, and they were building something together, actively.

I want to take back my word, and reintroduce a rich and meaningful definition of collaborate. I want to show how true collaboration differs from facilitating interaction among others. And I want to stop focusing on the wrong details – I don’t care how many times you met with someone or how many diagrams you created. I want to hear tidbits and stories about how you built a model for your business where workers are encouraged to get up and draw, and write and explain in an ad hoc fashion, and invite other workers to engage with them and share the efforts in ways that capitalize on the skills of the team members.

Please tell me some stories of how you or your team has practiced true collaboration and have some great war stories and narratives. Let me know why this did or did not work for you.

In business, we need to work with others in partnership - whether internally or externally. Collaboration is not passive - it's a process.

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