Taking the Labor Out Of Col-labor-ation


Dr. C. Tracy Reynolds shares tips on how to take the pain our of collaboration and refresh the collaborative spirit in your organization.

Today, we are fortunate to hear from one of our Growing Leaders’ speakers, Dr. Tracy Reynolds. He provides wisdom about leadership development, relational leadership, mentoring communities, and understanding Generation Y. Today he is sharing his advice on how to take the labor and pain out of collaboration.

Collaborate. The typical dictionary definition includes the idea of working together, joining forces, and teaming up to accomplish a goal. Many leaders describe their style as collaborative.  Yet many, if they are really honest, prefer to work alone. Collaboration is one of those things you know you should do, but don’t do when you feel the pressure to get things accomplished in a hurry.  However, when you actually commit to collaborate, it nurtures a healthy leadership culture and often results in stronger solutions to problems. So, what’s the big deal about collaboration?

Perhaps the secret sauce and hidden angst of collaboration is actually embedded in the word itself: labor. Collaboration implies work. Together work…or working together…cooperatively. Those of us who enjoy working with Generation iY students in higher education environments are continually requiring our students to leverage their work together with other students via collaborative projects. Yet, true collaboration in the halls of academia is a thing of rare beauty in actual practice. The fact is that it is often easier to do it myself. I can run farther faster if I just knock it out on my own. And, what often passes for collaboration between academic departments or work teams in business is more like the parallel play of two-year-olds. Everybody had a good time, nobody got hurt, and the play date was a success in the eyes of the parent, but nobody actually worked or played together. I did my work in my cubicle, the other teammates did their work in theirs, and it was all neatly cut and pasted together at the end of the process in the name of collaboration. True collaboration takes longer and actually requires face time, personal sharing, bargaining about which ideas are best, learning to agree to disagree, and collective ownership over time. But, what does it cost me personally?

Collaboration requires enough humility to admit that ‘none of us is as smart as all of us.’ None of us. Not even me. Collaboration also assumes a level of recognition and commitment to Harry S. Truman’s belief that, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Collaborators model humility by creating both time and space to actually hear the ideas and input of their teammates while believing that those ideas may actually be equal to or greater than their own. In actuality, the loss of a point or yielding of a “pet” idea may yield greater gains for the team.  And what may feel like a small defeat to you could mean a win for someone else and, ultimately, a bigger win for the cause of the team.

To get started, I suggest injecting some ‘collaborative questions’ into the conversations you have with colleagues, friends, co-workers, and teammates. You might begin with questions/comments like:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • What would you suggest?
  • How can we make this better?
  • What am I not seeing here?
  • Help me understand, please.
  • What can I do to help?
  • What possibilities do you see here?
  • What are our logical, strategic next steps?

These questions are not new, but they could help refresh the collaborative spirit in your organization.

Lately, I have been proactively challenged to collaborate more often and more effectively both in my day job at the college and my service at our local church. I am learning that truly collaborative work is extremely satisfying for each player involved in the process and that, when it is done well, it really feels less like work and more like playing on a winning team. So, let this be a reminder to myself: when tempted to go it alone and do it myself…collaborate!

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