Innovative leaders (that’s you!) understand that the challenges before us are too complex, and our collective work is too important, for individuals to go it alone. They understand that to create ongoing success, to bring out the best in what is possible, or to navigate change successfully, takes an ongoing commitment to effective collaboration. Below I offer five quick tips to support effective collaboration:
1. Set up for success – Before the start of a meeting, classroom, or professional learning session, create a location where collaboration can successfully take place. Strategically position tables and chairs in a way that best supports people working together. Effective collaboration can be supported by the use of smaller tables, or by spacing chairs in close proximity.
2. Work with a partner – Assign everyone a partner to work with. Through the session, provide time for partners to discuss ideas or brainstorm the main items being discussed prior to moving into larger group discussions. If collaboration centres on the exchange of ideas, working with a partner sets the stage for this to happen.
3. Write first – It can be intimidating to contribute if we haven’t had time to think about the topic up for discussion. Whether it is a meeting, classroom, or professional learning event, we all need time to think. If we are looking for everyone to share her/his ideas, collectively ensure everyone has time to think them through. Writing first provides the critical thinking time individuals need to successfully contribute. Give everyone a few minutes to record their ideas, and then share them with their assignment partner, prior to a table discussion and eventually larger group discussion.
4. Limit it to three – In a larger group discussion, the energy can fade when a few people dominate the exchange. Often in meetings or learning spaces, collaboration is interrupted when the same voices are heard. After everyone has written, spoken with partners, and exchanged ideas in smaller groups, consider limiting the larger group discussions to three people. This helps keep the energy high, and keeps things focused on the collective rather than the few.
5. Highlight success – Effective, socially just, and mindful collaboration is not innate: rather it is something that is successfully developed and enhanced. If you are leading a group and effective collaboration happened, collectively debrief what took place. Or better yet, create time for the group to participate in collaborative activities and then debrief how and whey they were successful.