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Collaboration Ain’t Easy: Stakeholders, Agendas, and the Importance of Being Earnest

Collaboration and teamwork are not the same thing. Teamwork requires individuals to work together for a common goal harmoniously; collaboration bands together people with various goals, only a few of which are usually shared. And, in typical collaboration situations, there aren’t so much ‘team leaders’ as there are team mediators, since it’s not always clear whose ideas and objectives should take precedence.

When collaboration falters, mediators are forced to shoulder the responsibility of getting projects — and people — back on track. But maybe we can all help them out a little, yeah?

Your Objectives Are Not a Secret (At Least, They Shouldn’t Be)

Anyone who’s walked around anywhere, ever, knows that conflict is inevitable. Some people deal with it well — they work to find mutuality in debates and move on. Some pretend nothing’s wrong, all the while stewing in frustration at thwarted ideas. More aggressive folks might argue a point, but do it so ferociously that disagreements escalate into hostile battles of unrelated nonsense. Sound familiar?

Such is the nature of collaborating, and it can bring team members to an uncomfortable crossroads. If you’re, say, a copywriter working on a landing page, you’ll be at the hub of several different initiatives. Your marketing manager might want the copy to sound whimsical and personable, but perhaps the VP of development cares more about accurately detailing product features. The investments are incomparable, making it unclear which directives matter most. Unless the strategy and objectives have been agreed upon and laid out for the team, getting to that overarching end-goal — a great piece of marketing material — is going to be a halting, confusing mess.

Nobody benefits from misaligned project aims. Stakeholders need to reconcile wants and needs before demanding outcomes, or the most striking thing about a project will be how difficult it was to get done.

Keep Your Agendas Close, and Your Deadlines Closer

Okay, this should be obvious, but: content creators need schedules. Ones they can count on, that is. If you’re going to throw around projects that require input and actions from several people or different departments, it’s key to develop deadlines that not only work for everyone involved, but that are realistic, cushioned for flexibility, and interdependent.

It might seem risky to interlace people’s priorities — after all, one of the biggest office time-wasters is waiting on colleagues to get things done — but codependent deadlines keep teams accountable and communicative. It’s been shown that peer liability is a pretty powerful tool, and sometimes, even more effective than orders from the top. For example, getting the aforementioned copy in hand might be a priority for your lead web developer, but if the marketing manager tells the copywriter to get a first draft done “as soon as they can,” the developer’s initiatives are put on hold, and ye olde domino effect ensues. Independence is important, but freedom without answerability can quickly lead to divided actions, and as a result, take your team right back into the waiting arms of conflict.

Moderators and Transparent Communication

With collaborative team frameworks being deployed throughout many a modern office, you’d think we’d see the more obvious best practices being, well, practiced. But according to a survey by Rypple, 86% of people blame a “lack of collaboration or ineffective communication” for project failures, meaning that even when the technique is attempted, it’s largely ineffective.

It turns out we just don’t trust each other.

Brainstorming — usually the first tactic of collaboration — is supposed to be a safe place where even stupid ideas are free to fly. But nobody buys that, and when faced with varying levels of experience, authority, and subject expertise, vulnerability runs rampant. Fostering real collaboration takes a moderator who can steer the conversation, encourage silent participants, stop steamrollers in their tracks, and reconcile opposing viewpoints. Most importantly, moderators need to keep teams honest: transparent communication about agendas and challenges inspires team members to appreciate each other’s input and suggestions, rather than resent them.

Simply put, collaboration doesn’t just happen because you’ve thrown a group of people together and given them an assignment. Be clear, be honest, and with a little bit of give and take, you’ll be successful, too.

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