People like to use the word “collaboration” as if simply gathering together solves problems, but there’s a right way to collaborate and a wrong way. One builds relationships, creating better end products; the other just wastes time. The success of your collaborative efforts hinges on the effectiveness of your teammates and how you oversee and manage their efforts.
I had the privilege of being a member of the jury for the Cannes Lions 2014 festival with 21 others from 19 countries. We all had strong opinions about who should win. By the end of the week, we came to a consensus, but it wasn’t without its challenges — and a willingness to collaborate.
If you enter a collaborative effort with the wrong attitude, you doom yourself to lackluster results from the start. You can’t collaborate out of politeness or obligation; you must put forth real effort. A number of factors can derail you: a misunderstanding of the purpose; time, trust, and bureaucratic barriers; and a fear of losing control.
Embrace your role as a leader to ensure everyone’s full commitment and attention, and follow these nine steps to make the most of your next collaboration:
1. Set the expectation. Don’t make people guess the purpose of your group. Ensure all members understand the objective and logistics of the project. If your collaboration only makes up part of the workday, people need to know when they can focus on daily work versus the project.
2. Create the environment. As a leader, enable collaboration by removing the things that prevent it. The members of your group rely on you to be the backing authority, so don’t be afraid to insist upon things — technology, conference rooms, budget, time — that will boost your effort’s success.
3. Encourage and support. Amid chaos, you may feel tired, crunched for time, or unable to include everyone. Your team might start off well but fizzle out as the initial burst of energy dies. Keep positive pressure on the team to arrive at the finish line together.
4. Don’t micromanage. Your support must be unwavering; your presence doesn’t have to be. Roles change over the course of a collaboration. It’s OK to become a more passive member of the team. Understand what your team needs — encouragement, advice, freedom to think — and adapt accordingly.
5. Study group dynamics. To be a great leader, you must be a great student. Learn all you can about how groups operate. Get everyone involved, especially introverted group members. People too nervous to speak in front of everyone often have great insights they’d love to share, given the opportunity.
6. Avoid posturing. Be thoughtful about when you speak, and make sure what you say adds to the conversation. If you try to look important or remind people you’re the leader, you not only discourage their participation, but you also make them resent you.
7. Establish a mentoring system. Encourage input from everyone, and let those who’ve done this before advise newcomers. The purpose of collaboration is to get the best from everyone, so position everyone to succeed.
8. Reward and promote. Your teammates want to know when they do a good job, so tell them. Reward positive contributions, provide incentives for innovation, and promote potential collaborators to give them more opportunities.
9. Avoid internal competition. Don’t pit teams against each other; this promotes information hoarding. Keep everyone working toward a common goal so no one’s input slips through the cracks.
When you collaborate, don’t let people go through the motions. Get everyone working together to make the most of the time — and achieve the best results.
Elise Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, one of the 10 fastest-growing firms globally and a two-time Agency of the Year. She’s been named PRWeek Agency Public Relations Professional of the Year and a Top 50 Power Player in PR.