It seemed like such a simple question:

As leaders, what can we do to help people and teams work better together? 

But within that question — many more questions: 

  • Do we really need collaboration on every project? 

  • Who should be involved? 

  • Should everyone be involved, and at every stage? 

  • Does collaboration really facilitate a sense of ownership? 

  • Does collaboration really breed innovation? 

  • Is there a silver bullet: a process, model or formula? 

  • Can’t you just grab a whole bunch of talented people, lock them in a room together, and let the collaborative juices boil over?  

So. Many. Questions.

Speaking of questions, I’m not entirely sure how this quarterly topic became collaboration. I think Jen and/or Darren told me we should all work on it together, which would be typical of both their collaborative processes. No arm twisting required, however — how the possibilities shimmered! Four lone wolves collaborating on a piece about collaboration? So layered! So avant-garde! Such potential for genius, or at very least (or perhaps best-case scenario) — magnificent failure. No-one likes the straight-forward story — give us adversity! Give us conflict! This project offered the possibility of both, with the opportunity for learning also. 

The four of us working together is nothing new. We’ve pooled skills on culture, leadership and engagement programs for PepsiCo, Suncorp, Telstra, and McDonalds, to name a few. I could predict the dynamic before we began. Darren would employ his fast and furious approach: “Give me model!” and “I want box! With cool things in!”, he would bellow belligerently — daring anyone to challenge him. The other alpha, Jen, would stamp hooves and lock horns, before finally submitting to the more dominant bull, and skulking off into the undergrowth. Alison would compile pages of clever things that she would never share, what with the extroverts trampling the grass in vulgar displays of dominance. And me? I’ll be the first to admit I often do not play well with others. Combine high introversion with low self-esteem, but also seemingly incongruent ego, and I’m a seething chemical reaction destined to implode. I’d most likely sit there in quiet judgement, giving bad face and passive-aggressive commentary, before doing whatever the heck I pleased anyway. 

Yes, certain fun times ahead. 

This quarterly follows a slightly different format from previous (lest we habituate!). Scroll south for five topics exploring aspects of better collaboration, paralleled by the chronicling our own collaborative experience over four catch-ups. The latter we executed in symposium format. Not the bastardised, mind-numbing conference format though — oh no! This is the way the ancient Greeks collaborated — taking discussion out of the usual work environments and into a social setting, combining food with wine and witty repartee (more on this later). Following each symposium — a reality check. Each of us would take an individual survey on the symposium just passed. An opportunity for review and self-reflection; a time to recognise and reward individual performances, while evaluating the performance of the group; a chance to learn and grow from our experiences. Also, a means for a little good-natured banter. I hoped no punches would be pulled, nor quarter given. I intended to show them neither. 

Prepare yourselves for a rambling tale — topsy-turvy; tangents ahoy! I have no idea what may happen next, but given the individuals involved — it’s sure to be good. To slay this many-worded, multi-headed hydra, we’ll chop it down and present each part weekly. The schedule — as follows:

Week one
Symposium I: Salad fingers & a slightly inauspicious start.
Topic 1: The basics

Week two
Symposium II: Many hands making light work of bagels.
Topic 2: Myths, assumptions & pitfalls

Week three
Symposium III: When in Rome, or Rainbow Bay.
Topic 3: Alternative models
Topic 4: Current research & best practices

Week four
Symposium IV: The temple of unbridled enthusiasm.
Topic 5: Cultures of collaboration

As always, we fascinate more to the chase than any clear-cut solutions, and snort scornful at the prospect of solving collaboration in a mere two months. Rather, we approach collaboration with a bent based on our combined expertise in employee experience, behavioural science and psychology, communication, culture, and leadership.  

What do we learn? Do many hands really make light work? More importantly though — what goes wrong? Are friendships shattered beyond salvage? Does Jen spend more time in the pack, or off in the undergrowth? Does Ali get the chance to drop knowledge? Does Darren get his model? Do I finally learn to subdue my seismic instability and work with others, or erupt volcanic — laying waste to relationships in a hot molten fury?

Come satisfy your morbid curiosity…