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INTRODUCTION > 14 Keys to Creative Collaboration

14 Keys to Creative Collaboration

Organizations often openly promote collaboration, but teams often fall short. The intention is there, but the teams lack the skills and know-how to make successful collaboration a reality. The result is neither creative nor collaborative. So the question is: “How can we ensure that when our teams meet, we collaborate effectively and creatively?” Here are 14 key guidelines for you and your teams:

  1. Generate ideas when you generate ideas; decide when you decide; present when you present. The three key processes that occur in a collaborative meeting are generating ideas, making decisions, and presenting information. In meetings these processes often get mixed up. One person is generating ideas, another is sharing information, and still another is making a decision. This does not work because each of these processes has its own set of rules and mental operations that work best with that process. Make it clear to the group what process you are using. This may be the most important thing you do to create a creative, collaborative team.

  2. Ensure equal contribution. Provide an opportunity for everyone on the team to contribute to the team’s discussions and problem solving. This means that when the team generates ideas, make sure everyone’s ideas are heard—no idea is better than another at this stage. When you discuss an issue, everyone gets a say. This way, when you make decisions, you will tap into the best thinking of everyone in the meeting. This is not about being “fair,” but rather leveraging the talents and perspectives you have brought together.

  3. Communicate all team changes to the entire team. In a team, no one likes surprises and everyone wants to be included in communication about changes. Communicating up front lowers resistance and provides team members the option to influence the changes and decision-making.

  4. Align on purpose. Spend time going over the mission of the team or project and the purpose of each of the group tasks. Make sure everyone agrees on the outcomes—what you want to get out of the collaboration. Your group’s success requires a clear understanding of purpose. Establishing a purpose will provide the means for everyone to be at the same point at the same time, working with a shared understanding of why they are doing what they are doing.

  5. Establish a process. Make sure your processes for generating ideas, making decisions, resolving conflicts, and solving problems—such as the team creative process described earlier—are clear to everyone on the team. With an understanding of how to solve problems and make decisions, team members can better focus on the what (the task at hand) rather than the how (the process).

  6. Record the ideas, decisions, and results. Record the meeting results in a way that all members can literally see the work in progress. Doing this will also provide visual focus to the group. Use a flip chart and assign a recorder.

  7. Accept and value diversity in knowledge, ideas, and styles. Find ways to get your team members not only to be open and respectful but also to actually value different points of view. Reinforce good listening. Good team listeners listen attentively to ideas and perspectives they may not like. The best ideas often come from using a diversity of ideas and perspectives.

  8. Establish team ground rules. As a team, co-create a set of guidelines or ground rules for how team members should treat one another. These guidelines will make expectations clear. An example of a guideline might be “only one person talking at a time.”

  9. Tolerate occasional group tension. Tension and conflict often occur naturally in a team. It is also natural for a team to be in “nowhere land,” in a state of ambiguity at times. Encourage members to tolerate the stress, ambiguity, and conflict. Help them realize that it is a natural part of the creative process.

  10. Celebrate. At the end of each phase or step of a project, celebrate the successes and the failures. Just mentioning that you reached a milestone can be a celebration of sorts. Proverbial celebrations such as group lunches, toasting, and giving gifts should not be overlooked.

  11. Evaluate the team. Make sure that you take time as a team to evaluate how the team is doing, how well you are meeting your goals, and how well you are using collaboration tools. Allow a few minutes at the end of every meeting for discussion, and enable your team to continuously improve its work together.

  12. Recognize introverts and extroverts. Include processes that focus on both introverted approaches (“alone time” for generating ideas) and extroverted approaches (“group time”). Some people think more effectively by themselves with no distractions, and some like the stimulation of other people. Most need both.

  13. Pace the group. It is important in a group to pace the work. If you move too slowly, you will bore your team members and sap their energy. If you move too quickly, you will lose most of your team members. Stay flexible and get feedback on the pace. The right pacing will differ from team to team. A good rule of thumb is to increase your pace when you generate ideas and slow down when you make decisions.

  14. Use warm-ups and energizers. We tend to pack too much into our meetings and end up with little time to set the stage for great participation and collaboration. If you take the time to warm up and energize your group, you will get better results: more creative ideas, better participation, diverse perspectives, more energy, and better decisions.

Ready to get started? First, consider these tips for using the tools and activities in this book:

Adapt the tools as needed according to your own goals and situation. They can be easily modified to fit your particular needs.

Make sure that everyone has an equal chance to contribute to the activities, but also allow individuals to “pass” on a particular activity if they wish.

Most of the activities require not judging the participant’s answers. Make sure to tell your participants that they should avoid judging others’ responses as well as their own.

Throughout this book the word “problem” is used. This means any challenge or goal a group might have.

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