Collaboration happens when two or more people come together to engage in something significant — a project or endeavor for the greater good where the people participating have a stake in the outcome. Collaboration can be found in creativity, sports, business — anywhere individuals come together with matching concerns.
If you've ever watched improvisational actors, you know that they can take any topic and, on the spot, create a story or play. It will have a beginning, middle and an end, it will have a storyline that flows, it will contain humor and tempo, and it will all be made up in the moment. The performers have no time to think about what they’re going to say or do, they can only be in a kind of dance with the other performers — tuned into each other in such a way that one action spontaneously follows another, without the benefit of a script.
If you asked the actors to explain how they do it, they probably couldn’t answer except to say, you have to do it to understand it. In other words the experience of creating something new happens in the action of creating it. In order for two or more people to improvise, individuality can't be present; it has to disappear into the background so that what is present is the power of group. Improvisation is an excellent example of collaboration in action where something is at stake for the greater good and people have come together with matching concerns.
In the sports world where the stakes are extremely high, professional teams often hire psychologists to train players in the distinctions of collaboration. While there are no formulas for it we do know that if team members are in it for the credit, money or notoriety there can be no collaboration. In team sports, collaboration is what empowers players to rise above the norm and perform at levels never achieved before. We've all seen demonstrations of this on the field and on the court when something shifts for the losing team and we watch in wonder as they turn a loss into a win. Like the improvisational actors above, the athletes transport themselves into a place known as The Zone — a place located outside of their individuality where nothing exists except the team, the game and winning.
Our company has worked with both large and small organizations for over 25 years and seen first hand how collaboration or the lack thereof can impact the health and success of a company. When collaboration is missing look for this behavior:
- Missed deadlines
- Being over budget
- People not keeping their word
- People not being held to account
- Lack of a clear mission—The big picture
- Endless complaining, etc.
Remodeling an organization to capitalize on the advantages of collaboration starts with buy-in from the top. This requires leadership to acknowledge and take responsibility for the unwanted conditions that exist. By telling the truth about what's not working (the things on your list) and taking responsibility for them, leadership and everyone involved creates the space to put integrity back into what's not working. The process of going down your list and cleaning things up is liberating, more importantly, it creates a playing field upon which collaboration can show up.