My friend Carla and I didn’t know each other when we landed in the same boat for an educator workshop. She was assigned to the front and I was the “meatball,” the endearing name given to the third person in a canoe who sits in the middle.
I had a poorly timed shoulder injury which was both a disastrous pairing for a paddling trip and a blow to my standard methods of wallflowering at one of these types of events.
So, I tried something new. I introduced myself to Carla.
We clicked immediately. We found an almost endless string of opportunities to collaborate where our work aligned. We exchanged info, grabbed our life jackets, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Balancing Your Boat
Collegial ecosystems can be tricky to navigate and keep in balance, but they’re often the lifeblood of progress.
Having the right people in your canoe at the right time is crucial. Having a keen understanding of who they are and what they’re capable of – their actual skill set and the innate gifts that might be less tangible – is invaluable.
Specifically, there are four key benefits to striking the right balance that will keep your boat steady and headed in the right direction. Focus on them for yourself. Or, delve deeper into them to strengthen your team and their work together.
The Four Winds of Effective Collaboration
1. Connection: At the core of every project is people. People, individually or as part of a team, bring two skill sets to work with them every day. Of course they bring their paddles, life jackets, and other necessary tools. They also bring experience from every other adventure they’ve been on. Listen, observe, and respond to their cues.
Think beyond the deliverables to the people in front of you. Notice the quieter skills and empower people to show up in new ways as their whole selves. Make space for the talents they don’t typically lead with and see how it impacts the work.
Get this right – foster true connection – and you and your team will be unstoppable.
2. Communication: There is no better way to shine a light on the importance of clear and consistent communication than collaborative work. When you’re willing to see them, the shortcomings of conveying information and messaging come into pristine clarity almost immediately. Think of the last time you completed something only to discover it wasn’t what the other person had in mind. Or, perhaps the assignment is clear, but the purpose was not, making the final product less effective and in need of a redo.
Enhancing communication so that it supports the work might feel like a lost art, but it’s imperative to achieving success while empowering others to do their best work.
Think of good communication as an exercise in altruism. How can you adjust the way you share information so your partners can hear, and more importantly, understand what you need so you can both walk away from the situation having been successful?
3. Efficiency: Being in the same boat demands that everyone is in agreement on a few key things: the destination, the direction, the timeline, and the roles. Not in a hierarchical sense, although that’s important on occasion. Rather, clearly defined roles are important because they limit confusion, duplicative efforts, and the dreaded micromanaging – all of which are damaging to the efficiency of the team.
However, there’s a reason I’ve listed it third and not first. Aiming for efficiency without first cultivating connection and communication is akin to putting all the boats in the water, blowing a whistle, and yelling “see you there” without any further instruction. The foundation needs to be in place before you set out together. Once it is, the focus can shift to clarifying the destination, making sure everyone is indeed rowing in the same direction, and identifying areas for improvement. Efficiency relies on the connectivity and communication of your team.
4. Accountability: Conversations around responsibilities may feel like you’re rocking the boat. In actuality, they strengthen you and your team by weaving sturdy fibers of trust, reliability, and consistency into your work. When the team is connected, communicating well, and firing on all cylinders, accountability is – and should be – unavoidable.
Mistakes are inevitable. Normalize that and shift the focus of accountability from blame to growth. When you offer a predictable, measured, and thoughtful approach to the ebb and flow of collaboration, the focus can remain exactly where it should be…progress. No one is left feeling ostracized, stifled, or that they are rowing alone. And, the resulting correction in effort or direction can create a renewed sense of buoyancy for the team.
Every project has a boat to manage, steer, and keep afloat. Fostering the growth and development of the people rowing alongside you, as well as yourself, is of benefit to everyone. Whether they’re with you for the long haul or just for a moment in time, make every effort to ensure their encounters make them better for knowing you.