Collaboration is the currency of the future, will teams finally collaborate?

By Edna Figueroa - May 11, 2021

I recently discussed the topic of collaboration with a team of United Way leaders as they focused on how to effectively bring millions of people together to create more resilient and equitable communities.

Collaboration is one of the most fundamental, and most precious, of human activities. Collaboration fuels the advancement of enterprises, as well as of society.

Growing up as one of five siblings, collaboration, for me, was about the only way to get things done. I’m sure my mother didn’t imagine that her insistence on collaboration was setting me up for a great value system. Yet at almost every stage in my life, collaboration has been the key to building great and lasting relationships. Working collaboratively made me feel relevant and wanted. I experienced a sense of accomplishment when I could share my expertise to solve key business challenges.

But collaboration is hard and, oftentimes, difficult work. Collaboration is a deeply human activity that requires trust and risk-taking. It also requires an individual to do the deeper work of “knowing self,” to understand what motivates or challenges you as you interact with others to achieve common goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic, now almost a year old, has revealed a host of leadership challenges – many of which highlight the importance of collaboration. It showed us that while the world is more connected than ever, people, especially when working remotely, still can feel very isolated. I believe the pandemic also provides us with a platform to transform the landscape of teamwork!

Collaboration Is An Invitation, Not a Challenge

It’s easy to call a group a team. But it takes guided inspiration to create collaborative contributors who share their talents to help an organization anticipate and meet new challenges. Some leaders still struggle to harness the collective knowledge of a group and apply it to solving their organization’s biggest problems. Below are some observations of successful implementation of this concept from my work with clients.

Collaboration is personal and requires building and cultivating relationships over time

The dictionary definition of the word indicates “two or more people working together towards shared goals.” Notice that it’s two or more people. Not one superstar who might contribute her/his best knowledge or keep that knowledge in their own silo.

Collaboration is enacted at the team level

The use of sophisticated technology has blurred the notions of what constitutes collaboration. Digital collaborative tools are useful, but they are not a replacement for people observing – through repetition over time – the precious human interactions that create a sustained impact within a group.

Collaboration supports healthy and innovative cultures

Millennial workers, whose growth will dominate the labor force at least through this decade, especially see collaboration as something exciting and inclusive. But leaders must create a two-way system of trust to entice participants to take the risk of sharing their knowledge. Team leaders must be intentional about cultivating enough trust so that employees can openly share their varied insights and perspectives.

Collaboration is not the same as cooperation

Collaboration is a smart business strategy – not an option – for building a team and organizational success. Teams that leverage collaboration are rare commodities in an organization. They are obsessed with understanding the bigger reality, leading with system thinking, and inviting diverse talents to share their knowledge and perspective. By cultivating healthy relationships, collaborative teams create communities of collective wisdom to solve the problems that we have not yet imagined.

Knowing Self Matters

Leaders who know themselves often are strong collaborators. They are more willing to share risk and more inclined to build a team of collaborative leaders, as opposed to being the heroic leader themselves. Effective leaders engage in self-knowledge and character-building to do the deeper work required to lead teams.

You cannot give nor receive what you do not value. If you do not value collaborating, most likely your behavior and actions will not support a culture of collaboration.

Cultural Roadblocks to Collaboration


You will want to avoid these impediments to effective collaboration.

·        Not enough internal support or incentives.

·        Too many silos. Breaking silos is still a major challenge until clients require a more holistic solution that only a team of collaborative leaders can deliver.

·        All team members must feel they belong. For example, introverts often are overlooked or do not feel comfortable communicating their ideas and perspectives. Extroverts can jam through their thinking rather than reaching out to include the views of less vocal team members.

·        Explain how collaborating will benefit participants. This a perfect case for our Millennials, the most connected generation, who are interested in creating organizational health together. They are more inclusive, want their ideas to count, and are focused on growing their knowledge base – all critical to staying in the organization. They prefer “us”- not “I.” A major benefit companies can leverage is being able to retain talent.

Collaboration is the Currency of the Future

A collaborative culture helps companies retain talent in today’s competitive marketplace. Leadership in the 21st century and beyond must include planning and leading processes and systems that are robust enough to support effective collaboration, and inviting enough to promote building communities of collective wisdom throughout the organization.

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