The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle

I love this quote because it captures the power of a well led team.  When a group of people are able to operate in coordination and collaboration with one another they have the ability to reach greatness.  The key is being able to coordinate and collaborate.  The quote sounds awesome in itself…but getting a group of people to work together is…well…hard work!

If you want to experience the payoff of great team synergy, you have to do the work of collaboration.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts when each of the parts (people) seek to multiply their efforts instead of simply adding them together.  How does a team experience a “whole” that is greater than the collective effort?  The answer is collaboration.

I’ve sought in the last few months to better understand collaboration.  What are the keys which allow a group of people to collaborate and end up with impressive results?  While this is in no way an exhaustive list, here are 7 keys which will help you collaborate with others:

  1. Promote the Ideas of Others – you are not the only source of good ideas. Be intentional in group environments to call out and endorse other people’s ideas. When everyone fights for their own ideas no one wins.  When everyone fights for other people’s ideas the best idea will usually win.
  2. Let Your Ideas be Refined – be open handed with whatever you bring to the table. The best ideas are usually a product of many people batting an idea around, adding to it and removing from it. Take joy in bringing an idea to the table that gets conversation moving forward.
  3. Recognize What You Do Not Understand – if you are an expert feel free to act like an expert. Do not act like an expert when you are a novice.  Be self-aware enough to know when to speak up and when to sit back and listen.
  4. Ask Questions – Seek to understand by asking lots of questions. The process of asking questions helps you take the posture of a student.  Ask questions as a way of seeking understanding.  While our goal might be self-learning, often the questions we ask have the ability to help others gain understanding as well.
  5. Do Not Invalidate People’s Pressure – the answer is never as simple as, “why don’t you just…”. You might not understand someone’s pressure.  You might view the pressure they feel as insignificant.  Never attempt to invalidate the pressure someone feels. One of the quickest ways to lose trust with a person is to invalidate the way they feel.
  6. Clarify Goals and Priorities – A group of people can’t go anywhere effectively unless they agree on a common destination. Collaboration requires a group of people to be on the same page about where we want to go as well as how we will choose to get there.
  7. Celebrate the Contributions of the “room” – my friend Jeremy has a habit of referencing “the room” when talking about a good idea. He will not let a name be attached to the win, he will only allow a group of people be attached to the win.  There is little room for collaboration when people care whose name is attached or whose name is first.