Coming Together: Five Touchstones of Productive Collaboration

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” – Old proverb, author unknown

While too many cooks may spoil the broth, we all know two heads are better than one, especially at work. Aphorisms aside, collaboration forms the very foundation of the human experiment, which has raised us up from isolated clusters of nomads who grew old by 35, to a rich, high-tech, worldwide culture whose members can achieve a full four-score and ten. Beyond bare subsistence, most things require more than one person to do productively, especially in an age where our work tasks usually represent pieces of something grander.

This makes it even more important to play well with others, so we can reach for the stars — literally, in some cases. While you may in fact work alone most of the time, your work likely represents just one module of a larger overarching goal. This doesn’t mean individual workers become less valuable because; in truth, everyone’s contributions move the organization forward a measurable amount. No matter how incremental and small, these movements add up to steady progress —especially when you and your coworkers can work together with maximum efficiency.

Here are some easily accessible, easily digestible ideas help you know and understand how better to collaborate with your team. Add these five to add to your collection.

  1. Daily touchpoints. No surprise here, since nearly all aspects and types of work require good communication. The most productive collaborators have not just good but excellent, regular communications — daily, if possible. You don’t necessarily have to work in the same office or even the same country, given modern technology; but you do have to communicate consistently. Whether you do this by voice or email, or a mixture of both, it’s up to you to ensure everyone’s on the same page and not duplicating or waiting. One way you to do this is to make sure you all attend quick daily huddles, whether face-to-face or virtual.

  2. Speak the same language. To remain on the same page, everyone must understand the details of the project or task in the same way. If the project lead expects you to completely rewrite new product descriptions and you take this as a request only to edit and summarize existing descriptions, then you’re not speaking the same language, at least in operational terms. When this happens, confusion is inevitable.  Make sure you understand exactly what they want, so you don’t make an embarrassing error and clog up the workflow.

  3. Establish clear goals.  This should flow from good communication. Before setting out on your tasks, make it clear exactly where you’re all going and what the final objective is. The more refined and transparent the goal, the easier everyone can work together to achieve it. Check in occasionally to ensure you’re aligned properly, and don’t hesitate to double-check the goal in general as well as your individual piece of it. In the construction world, crews have demolished perfectly good homes just because of a typo on a work-order.

  4. Trust and mutually respect your collaborators. You and your collaborators must have faith in each other to do the job well and on time. This begins with each team member clearly understanding and accepting their part of the project or task, and then knowing when and how to deliver it. Once you’ve accepted this, you can assume this trust at first, but all collaborators must do their best to solidify their assumed trust as they learn to work together. Everyone must do their job effectively for the rest to succeed. It’s one thing for illness or accident to derail a collaboration occasionally; but once the bond has set, any deliberate or negligent breach will shatter it, resulting in the need to rebuild trust, which may not prove possible.

  5. Use the right collaboration tools. It doesn’t take much to simplify collaboration. Google Docs, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, scheduling software like Outlook, a company intranet, process maps, instant messaging, user-friendly collaboration platforms, task management tools (Basecamp, Trello, Asana, TasQue,, Wrike, etc.). Even simple lists and handwritten outlines can help.

A Piece at a Time

Collaboration has always been a human need, but in the modern office, it’s more important than ever. Every piece matters. While the occasional genius still drives corporate success, they’re more likely to act as catalysts and guides than as prime breadwinners. Every position in an organization exists for a reason, and we all contribute to its success. For the want of effective collaboration, the kingdom would be lost.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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