Collaborate or Die

Being an organizational design and talent development specialist necessitates that I identify and keep up on the new and emergent trends that are redefining how business is conducted in the post-industrial age new economy.

This month I want to talk about a trend that is crucial for success in today’s business world: Collaboration.

Collaborations are quickly becoming the stone in David’s sling that is helping small companies to slay their competitive Goliaths. Success in today’s fast paced world is dependent upon being fast, agile, lean and able to assemble superior intellectual capabilities. And Collaborations allow you to be and do all that and more, on an as needed basis.

While the subject of how to design build and implement successful Collaborations is complex, nuanced and deep I want to use this article to define just a few of the fundamental principles that must be embraced at the outset if you are to become proficient at this critically important skill for 21st century executive.

You may be thinking that you already know how to Collaborate, and perhaps you do. But like with anything else, there is always more to learn. And as one who has done scores of them involving many large and diverse organizations coming together to engage in multi-million dollar deals lasting for years at a time, I can tell you that I am STILL learning how to refine my skills.

So hopefully this article will be of value to you. So since I don’t have much space and you don’t have much time let me get to it.

Step 1
Make sure you don’t invite people to Collaborate and then treat them like a Collection!

Nothing will turn people off to you quicker than making this mistake.
The difference between a Collaboration and a “Collection” is that in a Collaboration people have come together as independent entities to work for a common goal. As such they have expectations that they will be working with you and not be expected to be working for you. Collaborators also expect to be respected as equals and to have their wants, needs and boundaries viewed to be of equal importance as are yours and everyone else’s in the group.

On the other hand a “Collection” is a group that has been assembled to work in an Org Chart type hierarchy to serve the priorities of the originator. They are not viewed as equals in either opinions or compensation. And as such you don’t get their full buy in. Which means that since you are not fully engaging them they won’t fully engage you either. This separation is disasterous for any Collaboration

Step 2
Leading Collaborations is a state of Consciousness

Leading Collaborations is not about having power or authority over anyone. In order to lead your fellow collaborators you must gain their respect to the point where they choose to follow your lead and to allow you to influence them.

In order to achieve that you must “Lead with AIR”. And AIR is an acronym for Authenticity, Integrity and Respect. Remember that they are all equals and that you are heavily dependent upon them to succeed. So my suggestion is that you ditch any command and control leadership tendencies or temptations you may have. Use communication instead of domination, seek their input instead of simply issuing instructions. And earn their respect. Then earn it again, and again and again as you move things towards a successful conclusion.

Step 3
The most important people in a Collaboration, in order of priority are as follows:
The Client
The Goal
The Other Collaborators

It is absolutely critical that you never lose sight of the needs of the Client. I know it can be tricky to keep your focus when the bullets are flying and things get challenging but you will almost never have a failed Collaboration if you firmly place and then keep the Client first in everyone’s mind.

Also, while it may seem counter intuitive to put yourself at the bottom of the list the fact is that doing so actually insures that you will succeed, and benefit, in ways far beyond that which you expected. You also insure that people will be willing to Collaborate with you the next time you call a group together to take on another Goliath.

Step 4
Assemble people who play nice in the Sandbox

Collaborations by nature are about compromise, cooperation and communication. Nothing is worse than assembling a team, setting sail and then finding that one or more of the participants is selfish, stingy, petty, immature or a passive aggressive pouter. These people KILL Collaborations because they are incapable of sharing or being flexible. If you make the mistake of not vetting potential partners you will find yourself simply wanting to set yourself on fire! And the other members of the team will be willing to Collaborate with you to provide you with gas and matches just as a way of thanking you for getting them financially and professionally involved in an unfolding nightmare from which they cannot extricate themselves.


Obviously there is much more to the art and science of designing and implementing successful collaborations. But if you follow these basic instructions your loved ones won’t have to worry about keeping a fire extinguisher handy when you come back from a meeting.

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