Max Hardy: Top 10 hints for good collaboration

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It’s hard to believe how many people are talking the ‘co’-talk. But are they walking it?

Last year we published our book ‘The Power of Co’ and thought we were using a ‘newish’ term, but the terms collaborate, co-design and co-create seem to be all pervasive lately. I’d love to think we are partly responsible, but of course it’s more than that. Everyone knows we are facing some really tough challenges and we need to work and think differently to respond to them. So ‘co’ words are becoming fashionable, but can we keep it real, rather than merely using the rhetoric of the day?

Becky has invited me to share my top ten hints to collaborate well. So here goes.

If you are going to collaborate effectively you need to be:

1.  …  open to a new solution. If you think you have the answer already and you just want to convince others how clever you are, you are marketing and not collaborating.

2.  … willing to work with people who think and see things differently to you. Innovation and creativity comes from diversity. If you want to play it safe and only work with the people who think like you, or who usually agree with your point of view, you are not ready to collaborate.

3…. less preoccupied with being ‘in control’. Innovative solutions invariably come from messiness, and from letting go. When you overly manage, you take ownership away from those you are working with. Ironically, when you share responsibility you may find that things actual get less ‘out of control’.

4. …willing to fail. This means, if you are not prepared to take any risks you are unlikely to get value from the collaboration. Successful collaboration results from people trying new things, and learning as we go. As Dave Snowden says, in the complex domain you need safe to fail experiments and to learn quickly. Amplify what is working and withdraw resources from things that are not working. It’s about emergent practice.

5. … prepared to co-define what you are collaborating over. Identifying really good questions in itself is part of the answer. When collaborators co-develop the questions there is much more commitment to collectively finding a solution.

6. … prepared to co-design how you will work together. When a single organisation designs the process and invites other to play they are automatically putting themselves in a more powerful position than others. When you design the process together, power is shared. Different ideas are valued. The players are more inclined to commit to a process they have developed.

7. … willing to re-invent the wheel. When people urge others not to reinvent the wheel they assume because something has worked well in one situation will surely work in another situation. They overlook the fact that what makes something work is the inventing process. Solutions are enduring when people invent a solution. Implementing someone else’s solution is not fun and we are inclined to bring it undone because it is not ours!

8. … willing to not hold back. Appreciating what others offer is really important. So too is being willing to value and share what you have to bring. Don’t deprive the collaborative effort of your skills, stories and knowledge. They are needed too!

9. … focused on a purpose that everyone values. It can’t just be yours. Being purpose driven means that some of the unpleasant and challenging stuff that happens along the way will not make you fall. Sometimes people behave badly, are unfair, are non-appreciative, and can bring others down. We are all capable of that. There is something about the ultimate reason for collaborating that can pull us through the difficult times. When we focus and believe in the merit of great collective thinking we are more inclined to be generous, appreciative, inquisitive, and just as importantly, resilient.

10. … willing to admit what you don’t now. I think I only have 9 points and can’t think of another right now. Collaboration means we need to be honest about our limitations. Maybe that is a tenth point after all!

If you want to learn about the Twyfords collaborative governance framework and 5 step model click here to book on to a workshop

As a Director at Twyfords, our guest blogger Max Hardy provides high level consulting services to organisations to build their capability to collaborate and engage with their communities and stakeholders. With a particular interest in Deliberative Democracy and Appreciative Inquiry, Max has developed innovative models for community engagement covering a range of projects, especially those with a health and  community planning emphasis.


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