Collaboration is a wonderful way of working. It allows us to do things we just couldn’t do on our own. It brings out our creativity in a different way than working alone does, and it brings us out of our shells and into contact with our colleagues and peers. All of these things are great, especially for those of us who work for ourselves and find ourselves alone in our home offices most of the time.
But collaboration does bring its own challenges as well. Working closely with people tests our working relationships and pushes us out of our comfort zone. People are unpredictable, frustrating animals who dare to have different opinions to ours – opinions they are very attached to and will fight for. And as a result, in collaboration, we can find ourselves out of our depth, out on a limb or simply feeling very uncomfortable.
Human relationships need work. They need attention if they are to grow, if they are to be mutually satisfying, and if they are to improve our lives. And this applies as much to collaborative work projects as it does to our most intimate, personal relationships.
The danger in any working relationship is that we get caught up in all the ‘busy work’ that has to be done. We are programmed to believe that work is about ‘doing’. We come to believe if we are not ‘doing’ then we are slacking off, we are being unproductive and (gasp) UNPROFESSIONAL!
So we put our heads down and we work – hard! We tick off all the items on our to-do list and our collaboration meetings become all about allocating tasks: Who’s going to do what? Who’s responsible for which work area? Who’s leading on what? What needs to be done???? And then, it becomes all about reporting on progress: I’ve done this, this and this. What have you done? I’m ahead on this and behind on that.
What’s difficult in all this busy-ness is knowing when to stop, look up and notice how your relationships with your colleagues (your team dynamic) is doing – noticing how you are BEING with each other.
Once upon a time, I worked in a Children’s Centre in Devon. It was a very dynamic team with a very charismatic manager. They were developing all sorts of exciting and interesting activities and services for the local children. They were constantly coming up with new ideas. One day, after I’d been working there for a few months I led the team away day and we focussed on the team dynamic. The manager had asked me to because I had raised some concerns about the tension that was bubbling just below the surface amongst team members. On the day, after some games to loosen them up and get them playing together, I asked, ‘What are you good at as a team?’ They answered things like, ‘We’re very creative. We’re very proactive. We get things done quickly.’
My next question was, ‘And what are you NOT so good at? What traps do you fall into?’ The most telling answer to this question was, ‘We are so busy doing our own work that we forget to look up to see if everyone is still with us.’
It’s true – they were each so busy being brilliant and dynamic and productive that they failed to check they weren’t leaving anyone behind!
And that is where the tension I was feeling lay. They were so focussed on ‘doing’ they were neglecting who they were ‘being’ as a team. They were neglecting their relationships.
So, my message today is this: no matter how busy you think you are, no matter how long your to-do list, no matter how close your deadline, if you notice tension or you feel uncomfortable or disgruntled or just plain pissed off – even if you don’t know why – say it out loud! Say it to the people on your team, the people with whom you are collaborating.
And then, take it seriously! Put aside the to-do list and the busy work and talk about it even if you don’t get it yet. The fact is that even if just ONE person feels left out, left behind, out of their depth stuck or uncomfortable, then something is wrong! It’s as simple as that and you should ignore it at your peril.
Strong words I know, but let me explain.
Although getting a project to completion is important (and is the whole raison d’ętre of your collaboration), the relationships between your colleagues AND the collaboration itself are vital to the successful delivery of the final product. The truth is, any tension or conflict between you and your colleagues is giving you vital information about the health of your collaboration. It could be telling you that you’re overlooking the talents of one of the group members, or that you’re working in competition with each other rather than in collaboration. It can be telling you that you are trying to move in the wrong direction, that you are focussing on the wrong things, and looking in the wrong places. Focussing on the busy work may be taking you down the wrong path, but taking the time to explore what feels wrong can put you back on the right path again and stop you travelling too far down a blind alley.
So, even when your to-do list is overflowing and deadlines are looming you cannot afford to neglect the energy of your collaboration. Sometimes the most productive thing you and your colleagues can do is concentrate on just ‘being’ together.
By making time to go through the ‘storm’ together, you can keep your project on track, and make sure that it continues in alignment with your shared values. This will strengthen your relationships with each other and deepen your understanding of how you work together.
Believe me, I know how very easy it is to focus on the ‘doing’. Doing is where we’re most comfortable. But if the group dynamic is out of whack, then tensions are likely to take over. Then, your collaboration is going to lose its mojo and it’s going to start to feel like you’re wading through mud.
The bottom line is this:
If collaboration feels hard,
then it’s time to stop doing
and look at how you are being together.
And you won’t want to. It’s scary to say, ‘Something’s wrong here. I feel upset, hurt, angry, frustrated.’ We’re not trained to do it in a work context and we tend to want to avoid conflict and ‘nastiness’ at all costs. But when you trust the process, take a deep breath, blurt it out to your colleagues, and dive into that difficult conversation, things will start to flow again – magic will happen:
- Your relationships will deepen
- You will start to see new and exciting ways of working together
- You will start to see the contribution that each of you brings to your collaboration
- You might even see a whole new innovative way of approaching the project that you hadn’t seen before
And one last word: if you are the person who often feels overlooked in collaborative teams – who feels like they’re always the one complaining or feeling uncomfortable – then the likelihood is you’re a ‘be-er.’ YOU are ‘the canary in the coalmine’ who is first to notice when your collaboration is running out of oxygen.
‘Do-ers’: You really need to listen to your canary. He or she will keep the energy of your project flowing smoothly.
Are you a ‘Do-er’ or a Be-er’? What are your experiences of successful (and unsuccessful) collaborations? I’d love to read your thoughts. Be sure to leave a comment below before you leave today.
7th March 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Collaboration’ is one of The 7 Graces of Marketing. CLICK HERE to read more articles about the Grace of Collaboration. This article also addresses our ‘Relationship with Others’, which is one of the ‘7 Key Relationships’ (in the 7 Graces model) that influence the way we do business and marketing. CLICK HERE to read more articles about the 7 Key Relationships.
Nancy V Goodyear is business mentor & life coach who loves to help social entrepreneurs and small business owners get focused and organised. With a BA (Hons) in Learning Disability Nursing, she has extensive professional experience working in health & social care within the non-profit sector. She is fluent in French, having lived in France for some time, and is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and the Co-Active Leadership programme. Nancy is also Co-Director of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a non-profit social enterprise that provides training and mentorship in ethical marketing to independent business owners, social entrepreneurs and change-making corporates. She works closely with 7 Graces Founder Lynn Serafinn to develop training and consultancy packages for business owners seeking to build and develop their marketing platform ethically. Her over-riding aim in all her work is to help others reconnect to who they and to their business. http://nancyvgoodyear.com
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)