Tips for Successful Collaboration

We might think that collaboration is just about generating ideas and crafting solutions, but the process also often reveals competing ideas and alternative courses of action. If we hope to be a skilled collaborator, we also need to be a competent negotiator. We need to be willing to release our ideas in favor of the best ideas, look for common ground upon which we can build, craft effective solutions, and press for outcomes that will serve the needs of everyone. Remember, negotiation plays an important role in effective collaboration.

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Knowledge and experience play varying roles in collaboration. It’s important to have experience and expertise present to provide context and technical knowledge. However, collaborative work also can benefit from having participants who possess less experience and technical expertise. These group members often ask questions without considering the assumptions and past experiences that might distract more experienced colleagues from novel approaches and solutions. When deciding who will be a part of collaborative processes, consider a breadth and variety of experience, expertise, and perspectives if you want the best results.

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One of the most frequent mistakes in collaboration has to do with what is known as confirmation bias. This condition results from approaching collaboration with a set of assumptions and conclusions already in place that have not been tested with data and experience. We can find ourselves crafting solutions and building courses of action based on what we believe to be true, not reality. You can best protect against confirmation bias by focusing on data, questioning your assumptions, and testing potential solutions before adopting them.

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Here’s a simple technique for getting the input and involvement of every person when collaborating or working in a group. First, ask everyone to write a story describing how the idea or solution would work to serve students and faculty, save time, or reduce costs. Second, have everyone read their story to the group and urge members of the group to write down the most important and supportive ideas being revealed. Third, compile the list of the ideas the group favors most. Fourth, discuss all the ideas until the group reaches a consensus on one design and employ this collaborative effort. Try it. It works.

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Functioning collaboratively and successfully is not about trying to “get your way” or “win every argument.” Rather, it’s about seeking a better way or solution that meets everyone’s needs, especially the needs of students and the work and mission of the school. Remember, finding a better way or solution that delivers what the majority wants is the only way people can effectively work together and continually reach higher levels of performance. Collaboration is most productive when every individual participates and no single person dominates or rules the roost of the group.

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Have you used any of these techniques before? Share your thoughts below!

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