Winning Through Effective Collaboration: Part II


At Truss we believe that effective collaboration is a cornerstone of any successful team. Earlier this week I wrote about the research I did into collaboration. I’ve also developed a framework for thinking about collaboration which I shared as part of my workshop on collaboration on April 13th, 2018 at ACT-W (Advancing the Careers of Technical Women).

There are 3 prerequisites and 4 essential components of a successful collaborative process:

Prerequisites: Your Mindset

  1. Everyone has something of value to contribute

  2. Build relationships before you need them

  3. Leverage other people’s skills and knowledge whenever you can

Essential Components of Collaboration

  1. Establish alignment

  2. Listen like they are on your side

  3. Be a scientist

  4. Resolve conflicts

Prerequisite: Mindset

To truly embrace the idea of listening to other people’s ideas and trying to leverage the best knowledge and intelligence of the members of the group, a specific mindset is required. You must have an approach which incorporates the following:

  • Everyone has something of value to contribute

    • This is an extension of humility. If you don’t know the solution, it follows that you won’t know in advance where contributions to that solution will come from.

  • Build relationships before you need them

    • When you’re in the midst of a collaboration, your blood pressure can rise. You can get emotionally invested. Having a pre-existing relationship can make a big difference.

  • Leverage other people’s skills and knowledge whenever you can

    • Seek out anyone who knows anything that could contribute to learning more about the solution. Whether it’s a 5 min chat in the hallway or 30 min learning from an expert. Seek others’ knowledge.

Once you’re in the right state of mind, you’re ready to dig into the...

Mechanics of collaboration

1. Establish alignment

  • Are you both working toward solving the same problem?

  • Tactics:

    • Ask “What problem are we trying to solve?

2. Listen (like they’re on your side)

  • When someone says something in earnest, step into their shoes and take their suggestion seriously, even if it conflicts with preconceived notions

  • Annihilate in-group/out-group behavior by making everyone part of the “in-group”. Treat them like someone on the same side as you.

  • Seek to understand their position fully.

  • Tactics:

    • Respond “Yes, and” instead of “No”

      • Saying “yes, and” starts at where the other person is, assumes they aren’t crazy, and lets you move forward toward a solution together.

      • Saying “no” rejects the other person’s vision of how something should work. You lose their contribution.

    • Say “Maybe they’re right” to yourself

3. Be a scientist

  • Treat every non-factual assertion like a falsifiable hypothesis -- and hypotheses are testable.

  • Tactics:

    • State facts, not opinions

      • Don’t bullshit

      • Be willing to say “I don’t know”

      • When you’re coming in to a problem tasked with solving it, it’s tempting to present as an expert. Don’t be tempted.

      • State facts that you know to be true, and direct experience.

      • If you have something you think is true, but can’t state as fact, state it as a hypothesis.

    • Say “Let’s follow this idea through to its ultimate conclusion” when you’re not sure if an idea will work or not.

    • Ask “Who else knows more about this? Where can we learn more?”

    • Define and execute a timeboxed experiment

4. Resolve conflicts

Try as you might to create an ideal collaborative environment, you may encounter conflict. If you find yourself fighting more than you are creating, it’s time to turn to the following.

  • Notice the conflict

    • If you notice that you feel like you’re arguing more than collaborating, or someone is saying “no” or “but” a lot … collaboration has probably broken down.

    • If you notice yourself withdrawing from the conversation, it is your responsibility to identify why and try to bring yourself back in.

  • Pick your battles

    • Don’t sweat the small stuff

  • Hold your boundaries

    • If you don’t like the way you are being treated you must say so. Real collaboration cannot happen without respect, and additionally, you will not contribute as well if you feel disrespected.

    • Communicate the crossed boundary. Be immediate, brief, direct, and non-blaming.

      • E.g. “I’m not comfortable with that language. How about X instead.”

      • E.g. “I would appreciate it if you would not interrupt.”


5. Repeat: Align / Listen / Be a Scientist / Resolve Conflict

  • (Re-)Establish Alignment

    • Find the common ground where you do agree. Keep searching until you find it.

    • Say “Okay, let’s back up. Do we agree on X?”

    • Ask (again) “What problem are we trying to solve?”

  • Listen (like they’re on your side)

    • Try to find underlying concerns driving their position

    • Why do they feel strongly?

    • Ask “What are you worried about?”

    • Try to listen without judgement, and let them show you where they think the important points of the discussion are.

    • Repeat back to them what you think they’re saying

      • “What I’m hearing is…”

  • Be a Scientist

    • Identify timeboxed experiments you can run with, and win conditions for those experiments

    • Be willing to “disagree and commit”

      • Even if you think a solution is wrong or bad, few solutions are so wrong or bad that they can’t withstand a test of some kind to establish virtues and flaws.

      • If you are hesitant, try to identify the characteristic YOU are worried about, and bring that to the table.

        • Communicate your concerns, and be willing to try an experiment to learn if they are valid.

        • Be open to changing your mind.

Ideally you should do all of the above, but since that’s a lot, we suggest working on one at a time, consistently, until you start to notice that you’re doing it without having to remind yourself all the time. In other words, work on it until it’s become habit.