Collaboration Gone Wrong? How to Get Back on Track

The definition of collaboration is “working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals” and when it works, it is amazing.  There is such a sense of common pride and camaraderie when you realize a goal.

But I remember one “collaboration” I was involved in a few years ago that somewhat jaded my enthusiasm for working with other groups for a while. Oh, we started out well, everyone all excited about the task in hand, sharing talents and taking on different aspects of the project. It also made economic sense for us to work together. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it.  Textbook collaboration.

Sadly, that’s not how it ended.  One person started to flex her power muscle, making decisions without consulting with the “team” and then when the works was done,  catapulted herself into the limelight to accept all the accolades, without acknowledging the efforts of others, especially the one person who frankly, I believed, had made it all happen.

Suddenly all the good will and respect were gone.  Suddenly there wasn’t the team to move the project forward.  Suddenly, she was the lone ranger.

It’s too bad, but as always when something goes off the rails, there are some lessons to be learned from collaboration gone wrong:

  1. At the outset, make sure you share the same goals and desired outcomes.
  2. There needs to be mutual respect of the contributions and talents that each person brings to the collaboration.
  3. Clear guidelines are required on decision-making. While you don’t want a cumbersome process through which every minute detail has to be approved by the committee, key decisions have to be brought to the group for discussion,
  4. Where money is involved – in terms of revenue and expenditures, again, regular reporting is required, so there are no nasty surprises at the end.
  5. There also needs to be acceptance and a process through which to reach consensus. You’re not always going to agree on everything.
  6. Match the tasks with the talents available. Avoid, for example, assigning detailed work to someone who prefers to look at the big picture and by nature is last minute.  That’s asking for trouble.

On the other hand, I remember working with our local hospital and health department to create a health guide and diary for women which was well-received by women in the community.

We were invited to speak at a health symposium and one of the first questions asked was who was in charge of the project, who was the chair?  We all looked at each other somewhat shocked, as no one was.  In fact it had never crossed our minds, we each took the lead when our expertise was needed.  It truly was an equal opportunity project, and that, to my mind, is how it should work.

That may have been a unique situation, as often you do need a leader, but it needs to be one who leads and understands how to involve and motivate others.  So if I was to add a seventh point, it would be choose your leader wisely.

In today’s economy, it makes sense to collaborate and partner with other groups.  However, it is important to maybe date first, before leaping into a more serious relationship.

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