Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. These three short instructions have appeared everywhere in the UK over the past few months as the ‘powers that be’ figure out how we can all work together to fight the Coronavirus. The phrases have not been thrown together randomly. The aims have been kept simple and compelling and the wording deliberately engaging to bring us together as a community to work towards a common goal. In other words, to encourage that all-important leadership skill: collaboration.
According to a study by Harvard Business Review, members of larger, or more complex teams that must, by their very nature, collaborate effectively are often impeded in this aim by four key concerns. These are: a lower likelihood of team members sharing knowledge freely; people not being able (or willing) to learn from one another; an inability to be flexible enough to shift workloads and break up bottle-necks when they occur; and, finally, reluctance to share resources.
Working collaboratively can be achieved in a variety of ways. Different people react to different approaches, after all. The ultimate point of collaborative working is to achieve the goal – there are many paths you can take to get there. However, there are four main areas that are essential to get right if you want to collaborate effectively at work, namely, networking, negotiating, managing meetings and handling conflict and disputes.
The art of networking is something that can – and should – be worked on carefully to ensure effective collaboration. There is, as they say, strength in numbers, and we as a species are designed to be sociable, collaborative and part of a wider community. Networking goes way beyond collecting people’s contact details. It is far more about the quality of the contacts you nurture, and the ways in which you can collaborate with them in the future for mutual benefit and advancement of goals. Having a pool of people whom you can trust will offer many benefits above and beyond business objectives too.
Growing a strong community around you can boost self-confidence, strengthen mental health and help you learn more about the way that people work to improve your leadership skills. Build your community with people from all levels of the business or sector you are in to enable access to different insights and experiences. Connect with industry experts and leaders in their field and make sure that you give back as much as you take out of any relationship you build up.
In a speech delivered by Cherie Blair, QC, to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in June 2020 as part of the Roebuck Lecture series, she made the point that collaboration, rather than competition can benefit the world of arbitration as a whole. In other words, even when two or more people or organisations are at odds with each other, but need to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion, working together can lead to far more satisfactory results than taking a more aggressive, or competitive stance to try and ‘best’ each other.
Preparation is key for successful negotiation. Not only personally researching your side of things and coming up with workable solutions on your own, but pulling together as a team with those involved to plan a joint response. Listening skills are also key – you need to really hear what the other side wants to happen and to listen to your team members when they put forward suggestions to resolve the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but save some room for compromise. You could find that the other side arrives at an idea that you hadn’t thought of, but could still work well for you and your objectives.
Team meetings are another areas where collaboration is key if you are to get out of there with clear decisions, actions and without your bottom going numb from hours and hours of sitting around a table. A common complaint from employees across all sectors is the irritation of having to attend meetings that end up being a waste of their time. It’s not enough to simply draw up an agenda and plough your way through it. Define a clear purpose and make sure everyone knows and agrees with it, right from the start.
In fact, an even better start would be to work out whether the meeting is even necessary, or can the information be shared in an email instead. Keep the atmosphere positive to get the best out of everyone present and optimise your collaboration. Leave personal problems and emotions at the door and focus on the task in hand. Make sure you listen proactively and do not criticise, mock or ignore anyone’s input. Come away with mutually agreed positive action points so people can feel that they achieved something during the meeting. Finally, check in on people’s progress regularly – an important part of collaborative working.
Conflict and dispute
Conflict doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. Getting grievances and differences of opinion out in the open is far healthier than sweeping them under the carpet and silently seething about them. Dealt with well, it can deepen understanding between parties, spark new ideas and improve communications across a business or team. There are two main types of conflict . Personal conflict covers areas such as morals, vision, perceptions and expectations around a project or goal. Organisational conflict focuses more on slightly less emotive areas, such as deadlines, budgetary constraints, processes and reward systems.
Once again, collaboration is your friend when handling conflict as a manager or leader. Always remember that most situations and disputes are about people, fundamentally, and what they want to achieve. One way to negotiate the process of conflict resolution is to start by define the issues at hand and agreeing on what they are, before exploring possible solutions – both alone and together as a group. Working together, agree on the best solution that offers the best compromise and most desirable outcomes for everyone involved. Finally, put the agreed points into action and evaluate progress – along with people’s engagement with it – regularly.
Have you been inspired to explore the gentle art of collaboration further by what you have just read? Speak to Gayle to find out about online and face-to-face coaching and training options available in 2021.
 Source: https://hbr.org/2007/11/eight-ways-to-build-collaborative-teams. Accessed 17 December 2020
 Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p. 49
 Source: https://www.ciarb.org/media/10078/20200611-ciarb-2020-roebuck-lecture-by-cherie-blair-cbe-qc-mciarb.pdf. Accessed 17 December 2020
 Source: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191111-blame-your-worthless-workdays-on-meeting-recovery-syndrome. Accessed 17 December 2020.
 Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p. 129-131.