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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

How do you break through barriers to collaborate? Part 1

If the issue you're trying to resolve is best done so collaboratively and there is a collective will to achieve shared outcomes, then you should still seek to collaborate. Here are the first two of four key strategies to help you get there!

How do you collaborate when collaboration isn't an established way of working or when the people you need to collaborate with find it challenging? There are four key steps you can implement which revolve around how you think about your aims, how you choose what you collaborate on and with whom, and how you approach collaboration.

Here are steps 1 and 2:

1. Manage your expectations

If you have a collaborative mindset and want to implement best practice, it can be frustrating if collaborations are slow to get off the ground or you find yourself doing all the leg work. Taking a moment to think about current or past experiences of working with others, did you set out to work collaboratively but ended up leading the group or found that new ways working didn't embed in the way you'd hoped?

The most important expectations to manage are your own. So, whilst the ideal scenario might be to deliver a specific project collaboratively, if individuals in the group are unfamiliar with good practice and don't work in collaborative cultures, then you may have to work differently to achieve the desired outcomes.

In these circumstances you have to be more open, empathetic, resilient and adaptable for collaboration to be successful. Accept that it will take longer, there may be more stages, more training and development needs to be met, and what you're trying to achieve in the short term may need to be adjusted. Accept too that it might just not work right now or with a particular group – but that doesn't mean you can't seek to achieve the desired outcome in another way, at another time, or with a different group dynamic.

2. Be more selective about what to pursue

Collaboration is an approach. It follows that in any circumstance – whether you anticipate a smooth or rough ride – that you apply it when it's appropriate to do so. So, think about collaborating 'if you want to find the best creative outcome for an issue by working with a diverse group of people using an open and inclusive process'.

But in challenging environments or with new collaborators, it's worth going beyond this first principle criteria. Factors to think about include:

  • scale and complexity – how complex is the project? How many potential collaborators are there? Where are they based?

  • outputs and outcomes – how near-future will the results of the collaboration be seen?

  • profile – what is the potential for this collaboration to be meaningful to an influential audience?

These additional considerations will help you choose which issue to try and resolve collaboratively. And having made a considered choice, it will be more likely that the project will succeed and be more able to influence organisational culture.

The two strategies are equally effective when you're mid-project. It's important to make time to stop and assess how things are going, not just focus on the end result. This will help you decide whether you should try and change your expectations or modify the scope of the collaboration.

This same advice holds when we look at the next two key steps to collaborating when faced with these challenges. The Part 2 blog covers: 3. being more selective about who you collaborate with and 4. modifying your approach.

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