• sabina strachan

Skills for collaboration – the essentials

Cartoon: person saying “Which skills will help us collaborate?” in front of whiteboard with “Skills for… building relationships, an effective approach, and collaborative outputs” with network map, route and hands holding a plant icons that symbolise each grouping.

Working collaboratively to create a new solution to a challenge can be challenging in itself. The fundamental qualities, characteristics or 'soft skills' that help are those that build any strong relationship. When the going gets tough there are skills that will help sustain a collaborative approach, and others that help produce the new solution itself.

This blog will help you to identify priorities for personal development and highlight strengths, development and support needs when bringing groups of individuals together to collaborate.

Building collaborative relationships

A collaborative mindset is open and empathetic, and therefore a good starting point for entering into any collaborative relationship. That way, you will be able to see things from other people’s perspectives and be open to being influenced. Collaboration is not about reaching consensus, rather diverse perspectives are vital for working towards effective solutions.

Good communication skills are essential for building strong relationships, particularly verbal (oral) and active listening skills. Collaboration is not the same as cooperation, but having good cooperation skills (i.e. sharing resources and being aware of and anticipating others’ needs) will help you to work with others collaboratively.

Whilst everyone may not have equal responsibilities, everyone is equal in a collaborative relationship. So a high degree of mutual trust and respect is needed where all perspectives are valued and decision-making is shared.

Remember, you don’t need to have a specific project in mind to start building or developing relationships that could become collaborative. In fact, it will make it easier to find collaborators when you need them if you adopt this approach to networking and cross-organisational working more generally.

Developing an effective approach

Collaboration is likely to be more difficult to achieve if you don’t operate within a particularly collaborative culture or you want to collaborate with people who are new to working collaboratively. And so, being resilient and adaptable are the two other key aspects of a collaborative mindset.

Skills that help ensure the collaboration road will be smoother are: expectation management, persistence and negotiation. Managing expectations means that you check the accuracy of assumptions, communicate so that all parties are clear on shared outcomes, agree expected behaviours, imagine different options and are able to manage situations that differ from your original expectations.

Persistence helps to overcome setbacks, remain hopeful and motivated. And as well as remaining open to influence, it needs to be a two-way street, and so being able to negotiate rationally and persuasively is important.

Producing collaborative outputs

Collaboration is a purposeful pursuit with an end product. An effective collaborator needs to work with others to create a new solution; key skills that underpin this are creativity, flexibility and problem-solving.

Creativity is being open to new ideas, perceiving new possibilities, making connections between seemingly unrelated things, asking probing questions, trying things out and generating solutions.

To solve problems effectively you need creativity, but also the ability to identify problems, analyse issues, identify solutions and work with others to develop ideas. And then you need to be able to decide what to take forward, evaluate how effective that solution has been and apply lessons learned.

Having a flexible approach is about how you respond to the unexpected in a positive way. It doesn’t mean you have to accept all change. It means you can think about problems in novel and creative ways, reflect on the potential consequences of change and be willing to take an alternative direction or change your position.

You collaborate to push boundaries to find new ways to tackle issues or respond to opportunities, and so the unexpected is a likely occurrence. A shape-shifting approach hung on a framework of shared outcomes, commitment, diverse perspectives, challenge and agreed collaborative behaviours is the way to go. That requires good relationship building, resilience and creativity.

Do you think you could benefit from personal, organisational or facilitative support for collaboration? Get in touch with glu.

The next blog revisits collaboration and cooperation. A previous blog outlined which approach is best in which circumstances, next time we’ll focus on skills – which are the same, which differ, and how good cooperative skills helps you to collaborate.