The years teach much which the days never knew. A very interesting quote by Emerson, isn’t it? In your career, how many smart people have you been exposed to? I’ve had the good fortune of being exposed to many. It never ceases to amaze me how just a few moments of discussion, or sitting and listening to well thought-out debates, can open your mind to ideas you can’t believe you didn’t think of on your own. And at the time, we probably didn’t think too much about it. But over the years, how to improve teamwork and collaboration makes a big difference.
I have always found the ability to learn from collaboration with others to be a fantastic gift: free of charge, limitless of value.
Limitless of value because the pearls of wisdom you can pick up can be connected to some of your ideas to produce something greater than what you might have created on your own.
I’m not naturally drawn toward collaboration. I thrive on autonomy. Too many external ideas can create a crowded mental space. Maybe it’s a selfish thing. Maybe it’s an introvert thing. Maybe it’s both.
But I also love collaboration. For the past six months, I have worked with two others, planning out creative marketing designs. We scribble out our ideas on the whiteboards, break tasks up between us, and ultimately develop designs that are better collectively than what we could have created on our own.
It has me thinking about other creative collaborations. My favorite projects, both personally and professionally, have been collaborative. So what makes collaboration work?
How do create spaces where actual collaboration occurs? Lots to consider, at least for me. How about you?
In thinking about exploring, imagining, creating, learning and collaborating with others, the following thoughts and ideas cross my mind:
Teamwork and Collaboration … openness to others
Openness is not achieved by reading about it in a book or from a class. It comes from lots of focused practice. It comes most readily in those that have achieved a sense of self-confidence as they live in a widening circle of individuals from other backgrounds and persuasions.
Imagination and exploring
Imagination is the ability to see what is not there. Creativity is applied imagination. Exploring is being open to and experimenting with, new ideas. And innovation is putting good ideas to work.
All are stimulated through effective collaboration.
Curiosity tends to emerge from growing personal experience in as many areas as possible from growing experience in widening groups of people.
It too doesn’t just come to you … it takes lots of engaging practice, engagement, and collaboration.
Creativity and learning
Creativity is not a quality that is only found in the chosen few, but not everyone is as good at finding it as others (though everyone can improve with practice).
That is certainly my belief.
How to improve collaboration … have a shared vision
I don’t think this has to be spelled out in a vision statement or written down as a list of values. But intuitively, you need to have a shared vision of what your group represents and what you want to accomplish.
Focus on innovation
Creativity and innovation by necessity require different people with diverse perspectives and expertise to cross-pollinate with fresh ideas. Set the bar for innovation very high and creative collaboration becomes an expected part of the culture.
At that stage, people have no choice but to start silo-busting.
Go at it with gusto, ok?
I remember sitting through department meetings where we had to cover information that the department chair had talked about through the leadership team. The entire meeting was top-down and hierarchical.
By contrast, I remember planning meetings when I was a tech coach. Chad empowered us to own the process and the product.
Do not get branded by your job description. Think well outside those bounds … all the time. Add as much value as you can, as often as you can.
Team collaboration activities … ideas from others
Build on other people’s ideas. Do not knock them down and try not to start on the ground floor. Connect ideas as often as you can. Take notes and review them periodically for more connection.
Linkage and enrichment
Collaboration anywhere offers great possibilities for linkage and enrichment rarely obtained without it.
Collaborative learning through widening linkage is among the most powerful and enduring methods of understanding.
Works very well for me.
It is not a meeting
When my friends and I sit down to plan, we don’t refer to it as a meeting. We don’t go over norms. We don’t fill out a handout explaining what we did. Nobody takes minutes. Instead, we laugh. We smile a lot. We crack jokes. But we also focus and find ourselves getting passionate about our ideas.
We often hit a state of flow as a group. The result is a fun experience for us all. Try it.
Make it voluntary
When I think of workplace collaboration that has worked, it had only happened when it was voluntary. John, Linda, and I don’t have to meet. Nobody told us that it was part of our job description.
But we chose to collaborate because we knew that this would lead to better courses. However, we have all experienced some of those meetings that felt like a chore or even a punishment; times when a meeting could have been an email.
For four years, I used to meet outside of school with another friend , James. Together, we built a blended professional development platform, created a service learning program, planned a STEM summer lab school, and planned out a 1:1 personalized, project-based social studies curriculum.
There were some tense moments. We were 100% candid with one another. But this only worked because we trusted one another – and it was the kind of trust that only happens with mutual respect and even vulnerability.
Helps to design something
It helps when you are making something. There is something powerful about creating something with fellow collaborators. It might be a system or a product or an event.
But when you decide to make something, your group grows stronger. You trust one another on a deeper level.
And that is most powerful.
The bottom line
We are all very busy: personally, professionally, and socially. One of our scarcest resources is time. Time to sit and think. To stretch our limits. To learn new things. Time to imagine, create, explore, and experiment.
As Emerson said in the quote above, time can often be a teacher. Let it.
But if you are as impatient as I am, look to your colleagues, your friends, your mentors and to yourself to challenge you to reach new heights. Tap into the parts of your brain you may not use every day. The parts of your brain you may not even realize you can tap into.
Most of all, reach out to others to collaborate and to learn. The sum of the team collaboration is always greater that the work of each.