verb col·lab·o·rate \kə-ˈla-bə-,rāt\
: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something
: to give help to an enemy who has invaded your country during a war
Full Definition of COLLABORATE
1 : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
2 : to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force
3 : to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected
Source: Merriam Webster
The definition seems so simple, kind of obvious, right? I have found in my many years of business experience – including launching a coaching business 12 years ago – that one of the most challenging skills for even the most successful people to master is the fine art of collaboration.
The tricky thing is that not every challenging situation, project or conflict calls for collaboration. People often chuckle when I mention this to them. They say things like, “I thought collaboration was the best strategy – especially in the workforce when tackling a very difficult situation or problem.”
To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate
The truth is that knowing when to collaborate is just as important to success as knowing when not to collaborate. For example, most crises when a qualified expert is at hand are usually not good candidates for collaboration. If time is of the essence and the expert can do the job more quickly and with better results that consulting with others, it’s usually best to let the expert jump into action.
On the other hand, if you have a little time and a team of experts from a variety of disciplines who all have necessary skills, by all means, get a team involved and let them collaborate.
Perhaps an example can illustrate the point. Say your spouse has been severely injured in a car crash and is taken by ambulance to the closest trauma center for emergency surgery. The trauma team, including the anesthesiologist on call, is at the ready. The trauma anesthesiologist will need to act quickly and decisively to administer the appropriate drugs in order to allow your husband to go under the trauma surgeon’s knife. In this type of crisis situation, you want that anesthesiologist to handle your loved one’s crisis in an expeditious manner.
This is an example of a crisis situation, a situation of do or die when the parties involved need to act swiftly. In my field, this is a time when key experts need such as the trauma anesthesiologist need to act quickly to do whatever it takes to “compete” to save your loved one’s life.
Collaboration wouldn’t work in this type of situation. Why not? Because time is of the essence. Your loved one needs immediate care to save his life. There would be no time to delay. No time to consult with outside experts to come up with a integrative solution by getting everyone’s input. Your husband would be in dire circumstances indeed if that team decided to collaborate instead of competing to save his life.
A Good Time to Collaborate
Here’s my own personal example of a situation when collaboration was the perfect solution. As mentioned previously, I launched my coaching practice 12 years ago. I have had hundreds of wonderful clients, all of whom I acquired through referrals. I knew one day I would need a website and a blog, but it wasn’t a priority – AND – I am technically a little challenged, so did what I coach my clients not to do: in dealing with the situation, I avoided resolution by procrastinating.
Finally, in January of this year, I realized it was time to bite the bullet. I set out to accomplish three objectives build a website, start a blog, and complete the Enneagram Riso Hudson instructor certification. The problem with my first two objectives was, lacking the technical skills to do this myself, I needed to hire someone.
So I started to get quotes. The estimates were more than I expected and, again, I was stalled on this goal. I was telling my woes to a former colleague, a wonderful person whom I knew from my days at CNA insurance. I actually called her to schedule a time for lunch and to reconnect when she blurted out, “Barbara, I can do your website. That’s what I do in retirement! And, I’ll do it for you for free!”
It wasn’t easy. I would have given up months ago. But we stuck it out – Monica and I. We laughed, actually guffawed. We met in person and over the phone. We even met with our husbands – both named Mike – over a lovely dinner.
She challenged me because you see she wasn’t only my “webmaster.” Yes, she has outstanding technical skills, but more importantly, she has great marketing savvy and is an amazing writer and editor. Just what I needed to launch my online presence. I had great coaching ideas that I wanted to share with clients and prospect. Monica helped do so in a cogent, approachable manner.
I had to swallow my pride at times when she chided me for using way too many Ph.D. words and long paragraphs. The end result is something we are both pretty proud of because of what we were able to accomplish together.
I think the reason this was so successful is because we intuitively followed the rules of collaboration:
- We each brought skills and knowledge the other didn’t have and we respected each other’s expertise;
- We listened to each other and didn’t let our egos get in the way;
- We overcame obstacles by research the solutions – even sometimes enlisting the help of other outside experts; and
- We created some simple goals at the onset and focused on our overall objective.
So keep these rules in mind the next time you encounter a situation and wonder: to collaborate or not to collaborate. Just like Monica and I. Collectively, we accomplished more than either of us could have done individually.