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The Work of ColLABORation

Done well, collaboration looks effortless. It appears to be a fluid give-and-take, a hand-in-glove partnership among individuals who make it all look natural and easy. But these appearances belie the fact that ‘labor’ is at the center of collaboration… and that most collaboration is the result of very deliberate work and attention.

Take Kym, a highly successful leader in an engineering firm… and someone who is universally recognized as a world-class collaborator. Kym explains that running in the background behind everything she does is an intentional mental process. She consciously works to approach each situation and opportunity in a way that considers what she needs, what the other person needs, and what they both need together. “It takes energy and focus but I think it contributes to the long-term partnerships I want to build,” according to Kym.

Kym practices an effective and sophisticated skill I refer to as ‘3-D reflection’. Whereas most individuals focus on their own needs, Kym adds depth and dimension to her thought processes. She labors more as she works to constantly consider where those around her may be coming from and what their needs might be. Further, she steps back to take a fuller look at how these frequently disparate needs play together and potentially create new opportunities and possibilities. This more extensive reflection requires additional work, but it also results in greater understanding, stronger relationships, and better results.

In addition to 3-D reflection, effective collaborators understand the importance of investing their time and energy in high-value communication practices. Collaboration is rarely possible in the absence of empathetic listening, effective expressing of ideas, candid feedback, clear requests, honest responses, and genuine appreciation. These behaviors demand attention and effort… they are the work that contributes to collaborative outcomes.

But, perhaps the most challenging labor associated with collaboration involves monitoring and managing one’s own mindset. Take Peg, a high-performing sales professional and consultant. She’s built her business and reputation on quality, long-term partnerships… and it’s paid off in terms of reputation and revenue year after year for several decades. When asked about the secret to her success, she uses words like ‘abundance’, ‘not a fixed pie’, and ‘service to others’.

Through the labor of daily discipline, Peg cultivates a mindset built upon trust, reciprocity, and a commitment to the long-term. Peg works at generously sharing with others, not with the expectation that she’ll receive something in return but with the trust that it’s the right way to be… the right way to build lasting partnerships. She cultivates her belief in universal reciprocity which fuels the ongoing work that’s required when she gives her time, attention, talents, and ideas without any ‘quid pro quo’ expectation.  According to Peg, “It’s actually easier for me to respond to what others need in the moment, than figuring out ‘if I give this, then I can ask for that.’  Worrying about keeping the universe in balance transaction by transaction feels like a lot more work!”

So, the labor that’s at the core of collaboration boils down to three key practices:

  • 3-D reflection
  • High-value communication practices
  • Generosity without reciprocal expectations

Those who work at cultivating these practices enjoy rich rewards in terms of personal satisfaction, loyal friends and colleagues, productive partnerships, and sustainable business results…. all of which sound like pretty sweet fruits of one’s collaborative labor.

What about you? What kind of labor do you invest in collaboration? What kind of labor would you like to see on the part of those with whom you collaborate?


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