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The Mindset of Collaboration

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Collaboration is currently one of the most coveted aims in and across many organisations. Years of working in isolation and silos within organisations has led to duplication of thinking and resources. Massive amounts of unnecessary effort and replication occur due to lack of knowledge of what is happening elsewhere, or an understanding of how to integrate more effectively. Competition or complacency often wins out over collaboration, - it can all seem too difficult to undertake, or too challenging to our own power.
A global expert in education, where collaboration has been a driver of contemporary and innovative practice, Michael Fullan pragmatically poses: ‘Terminology travels faster than the concept’. In most industry sectors, we talk about collaboration, yet in practice, true collaboration is sporadic and not embedded.
Collaboration is about creating something new - together.
Great collaborators understand that for something new to be created, we need to bring something of ourselves and we need to take something stronger with us when we leave. In the space in between we create. We bring in parts of ourselves and we should be leaving with new perspectives; new ideas; new learning; new application. The outcomes of high quality collaboration are not simply better ways of working, they are about building the collective capacity of the people involved, and also the people that are served in our work. It is a space of learning and growth because it requires us to push our comfort zones and do things differently.
There is a movement within thriving collaborative projects and discussions. The energy is one of dynamic interaction – ideas and approaches pulled apart; examined and iterated. The buzz in a collaborative space is compelling and energising.
In reality, in many meeting rooms, people are saying they are collaborating, yet what is really happening is simply compromise or coordination. Coordination and cooperation are the big smokescreens to true collaboration. We share resources, ideas and make sure things run smoothly, it's a nice safe place to be – comfortable and predictable, yet doesn’t really challenge the status quo.
When we enter into any situation where collaboration is a critical component to success, our mindset and what we bring with us into the room is vital. Just as important is the energy and new learning we create with others and what we take away from it to inform our thinking and and growth in our work. It builds our collective capacity to approach things in a more integrated and leveraged way.
But we can get in our own way!
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The Enlightener - The first trap is the lure of our own expertise. If we come simply to add our ‘pearls of wisdom’ , enhance everyone else’s learning and not be in a space where what we hear and discuss adds to our own learning, we are falling victim to our expertise. Knowledge, opinion and ideas are important elements of collaboration, yet if we only bring our own and see the job only to ‘enlighten others’ and leave taking nothing, collaboration is far off on the horizon. Not only that, it usually peeves others no end! It is a very I-centric approach to working with others and not very useful.
The Vacuum - At the other end of the stick, the vacuum comes into a collaborative space to take everything anyone has to offer – advice; templates; resources; ideas. We hoover them up in no time at all. The only problem is- it's a one way pipeline. If we are sitting in this mindset we TAKE massive amounts from others, but don’t bring much.
The Waste of Space - And of course if our thinking is one of ‘this is a waste of time, I’ve got nothing to bring and I don’t intend to add or take anything away’ we may as well go home. Non-contribution is a killer to collaboration. Shifting our thinking to purpose and positive intention are crucial to get out of this one.
The Collaborator - Creating a masterstock with the ingredients of the group is the outcome of the true collaborator. When we are in a high quality collaborating mindset we are able to BRING own expertise; knowledge; ideas and opinions and mix it in with the others on board. But we are also able to drop them and not be held in a fixed state by them. We move to a space of thinking for the collective not the individual. The collaborative space adds to our own learning and the learning of the collective. We are in the space of creating a new recipe – where everyone’s input is shared, and a new way of looking at things is created and taken away.
When you are working with others next: ask yourself: ‘What did I bring? What did I learn and take away? What did WE learn?’ What did WE achieve?
Tracey Ezard works with organisations and leaders to gain momentum. Get ahead of the wave through engagement, collaboration and action. To talk with Tracey about her innovative approaches to bringing leaders and teams into space of collaboration through leadership, learning and strategy,
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Tracey’s book ‘The Buzz’ Creating  A Thriving and Collaborative Staff Learning Culture, writing for education leaders is out August 2015
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