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Make Collaboration a Joy: Its all in the Design

When you think of collaborating with someone, what is the first thought that comes to your mind? Is it something you look forward to, tolerate or dread?

I personally, used to be apprehensive about collaborations early on in my journey but over the recent years, I have started getting energized by them. I still value and make time for solo work, but find that when I collaborate, I almost always get to better outcomes. When I do solo work, I am mindful to seek feedback and bring in other perspectives when I can. As with everything in life, there is a balance we need to strike with collaboration to make it a win-win situation for ourselves and others.

Last summer, minutes after logging out of an engaging workshop, I found myself wishing for an opportunity to collaborate with the facilitator of the session (Casey). She had hooked me with her style, presence and energy. I was inspired and wanted to learn from her and co-create something with her. With this wish in mind, I reached out to Casey to setup an appointment to talk about it further.

While I had followed my intuition and reached out, the reality was, Casey and I had never collaborated on anything before. She is an accomplished leader from a sister property of our organization and our paths would have never crossed if it was not for this Employee Resource Group (ERG). I did not know Casey on a 1:1 basis and had only previously seen her in other ERG workshops. Without any idea of how this crazy thought would pan out, I took the plunge.

Little did I know that I would not only find an amazing collaborator— but I would also make a great friend who is now an advocate on my journey ahead!

Intrigued? Let us dive into what I experienced with this unexpected collaboration …

Joyful Collaborations
When Collaboration is Joyful

Exploring Possibilities

A day before Casey and I were meeting for the first time, I started to think about what we needed to do, to build the right environment for this collaboration to be a success.

After validating that the excitement was mutual (phew!), we started to dive into what the collaboration would look like. Our goal was to co-facilitate an upcoming ERG session, but we needed to understand each other’s strengths, needs and styles a bit.

Here is what we explored:

  1. What types of sessions could we co-facilitate? What would benefit the ERG? What were we excited about doing together?

  2. What were our facilitation superpowers?

  3. What did we need support with? What did we feel challenged with from other workshops?

  4. Where did we want to grow?

  5. How did we want to partner on this?

One thing was certain, our chemistry was great from the start! We created a safe space for each other to share our perspectives, and together we realized that our styles perfectly complimented each other.

We wanted to build a partnership where we supported each other in areas of growth, so this was already promising to be a symbiotic relationship.

1. Building a System

With the meet and greet under way, we needed to decide on a session topic, set a target date and get going. But before that, we needed a system for how we would work together.

With the learnings from the book Atomic Habits (James Clear), I have grown to internalize that systems are greater than goals. So that is where we needed to start! We needed a system. This quote from the book stays stuck in my mind and is a great reminder.

“We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems”~ James Clear

Here is what we talked through to build a system:

  1. What would be our high-level plan over the next few months?

  2. What frequency did we want to connect? How long would we connect for each time?

  3. What work would we do in-between our connects?

  4. How would we reach each other in-between our connects?

  5. How did we want to to hold each other accountable?

With the transparency of this system, we were off to the races!

But was this system enough to keep things going?

2. Being a Joy to Collaborate with

Having a system is good. But systems are put to the test, if the people in the systems don’t put their best foot forward. This is where our motivations, commitment and a natural rhythm of blending in asynchronous & synchronous work made it joyful!

Our unwritten rule was “Be a joy to collaborate with”! We walked into every collaboration connect knowing that we both were giving it a 100% and doing our best. Since we had expressed our growth areas to each other early on, we knew where to support and where to challenge.

As the months unfolded, it was clear that our motivations were aligned, rhythms were in sync, commitments were solid, and the trust was high.

To think, this was the first time we ever collaborated on something was hard to imagine. Our experience reminds me of what Amy Edmondson shares regarding knowledge work and how psychological safety plays a pivotal role in it.

For knowledge work to flourish, the workplace must be one where people feel able to share their knowledge! This means sharing concerns, questions, mistakes, and half-formed ideas. ~ Amy Edmonson

Together, Casey and I had created a safe place for us to discover what is possible, iterate and talk about things freely to accomplish our goal.

Was the energy of our collaboration going to come through in our workshop?

3. Giving it your All

The next few months flew by, we executed like clockwork and now the big day was upon us! I was feeling the nerves.

Even though, we had experienced a magical journey up to this point, I wondered how we would do in the moment. After all, this was the very first time we were going to co-facilitate anything live. We had created a rough sketch of who would lead which part(s) and how we would come together jointly. The proof was now going to be in the pudding!

And then it was go time!! All I can say is, we gave it our 100% and we felt the magic. All the time we spent time getting to know each other and supporting each other, helped us dance in the moment together. We flowed effortlessly into each other’s areas and collectively created an engaging environment for our ERG participants.

Together, we took a dream and made it a reality!

So what can you take away from our experience?

Collaboration can be joyful when you build the right environment to make it so. It takes intention and effort, but almost always when everyone puts their best foot forward, it leads to better outcomes.

Every collaboration may not be as easy as it was for Casey and I, and some are honestly more work than they are worth.

At the end of the day, I have realized that if you follow your energy, you can take the right steps to make the collaboration experience a win-win. When you align your motivations, talk honestly about what it will take and reality check expectations, anything is possible. Staying flexible and making micro adjustments to the system helps keep things realistic. In addition to doing the obvious work of building an environment to thrive, you will also benefit from going with the flow and trusting the process. We certainly did!

Think about how you can make your next collaboration a joy:

  • Who is someone you wished you could collaborate with?

  • How might you reach out to that person, mutually build a system and co-create something together?

  • How might you find the joy in it? What is possible if you do?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb


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