“Well we all get emails about ‘hot girls for you’ but that doesn’t mean anything.” Yep, I was on mute. While I can be mouthy, I do observe a certain degree of professional decorum. But let’s backup a few moments. I was on a teleconference. The host started to review changes that will be in the next release of the system. There is one item we all start to question to which the host responded, “Well, you all received an email.”

This incident has once again illustrated confusion around collaboration. Collaboration is working together to achieve shared goals. Collaboration allows us to do things we could not do alone. We innovate faster. We keep pace with change. We utilize strengths. The first causality of working at home seems to be collaboration. Or maybe it’s a concept that has always struggled in the business setting.

Collaboration is not:

  • Sending out a presentation, email or community post and asking for feedback. Don’t get me wrong – it could be input into collaboration. But it is not collaboration. Infiniti asked for my feedback on the G37, but I am under no illusion that I actually collaborated on the design of the new Q60 sports coupe.
  • Presenting a concept is not collaboration. It is presenting, or as some consultants call it – socializing an idea, but it’s not collaboration. The movie theater can “present” me with previews before my feature film starts. I am now familiar with the coming attractions, but that does not mean I collaborated on Spiderman II.
  • Finally, conducting a meeting and providing me with a list of choices is not collaborating either. When I go to a restaurant and order from the menu, just to be clear, I am not collaborating with the chef.

Yes, we do all these things in the workplace — we have focus groups, we ask for feedback, we give people a menu of selections. There is nothing wrong with any of the methods and I don’t get riled up, unless it’s falsely called collaboration.

In Partner Yoga you must have constant communication and agreement on who is moving which way and how you hope to end up. Otherwise, muscles will be pulled, tendons will be snapped and faces will be planted on the floor, and the possibility of fractured bones. Participants need to calibrate experience levels, pose goals and movement strategy.

The same is true with business collaboration. What’s the shared goal? Who has strengths in what areas? Who is going to do what? How do you signal for trouble?

Not expecting the last one? That’s why relating to fitness helps. In Partner yoga, you definitely need to let someone know if you are losing your balance, feeling fatigue or slipping. Not only that, you need to understand the handoffs. Partner Yoga is a movement from one set of holds and balances to another. Communication is critical, trust and respect is the foundation.

Last year, I collaborated with a great team to do a two-minute film series called, “You Can’t Make This Up.” There was one video that was a little off. I was a little hesitant to say anything, you know feelings and all, but I finally did. The problem was, initially, none of us signaled trouble. As a team, as collaborators, we had a shared goal that this was going to be the coolest thing ever. For myself, I initially didn’t express dissatisfaction because I wanted everyone to feel good about themselves. I approached the project manager first and just asked, “Do you think this entry is weak?” I was a little relieved that the project manager agreed, but then we needed to talk to the art director. Of course the art director responded, “Oh, I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to illustrate that one.” We all agreed we could edit and update for a better outcome.

As the executive sponsor for the project, I had encouraged ideas and creativity, but how to signal for trouble, well, not so much. I created an environment of trust and respect; what I learned and do now is also set up how we signal when things are off-balance.

The steps for collaboration are much like Partner Yoga. You have to communicate, trust and act.

  1. If it is truly collaboration, there will be a mutual goal. State that goal and get agreement in the beginning.
  2. Know what direction you are going in and what you expect people to do. What are the expectations of the collaborative team? If someone doesn’t have a role – they may be part of the team – but not part of the collaboration. That’s OK, but it’s helpful to know this.
  3. Finally, political correctness has made us stupid. We need to have sense enough to say, “Oops this is starting to off in another direction.” It’s great at the start to determine how you will communicate and set the expectation that things may go wrong – but we have to speak up.

Collaboration can be phenomenal. With communication, trust and a shared goal, collaborators become true partners in success. The result of this collaboration becomes innovative solutions to business problems.