Following on from the previous word-fat topics, let’s endeavour to summarise with as few sentences as possible.
The common thread we’ve seen strung from definition, through myths and into the research, is evidence of collaboration as a process — not a tool. It’s not the hammer nor the wrench, it’s how all the contractors work together to construct a building. Enough with flagellating metaphors though. Regardless of what we want to produce: a product or service done better, cheaper, or faster; more innovation; shared knowledge; increased connection with work — it all boils down to people working together better. And that, friends, we suggest comes down to culture.
A culture of collaboration is a people-centric culture. Performance, quite contrarily doesn’t mean becoming efficiency-driven robots, it’s a celebration of human. A culture of collaboration is shaped by leadership, communication, branding, and a shared sense of purpose, amongst other factors. It considers psychological safety and accountability as core pillars. It’s not a quick fix and forget, it’s a work in progress.
We’re not going to wrap this quarterly up with dot-point summary though, that’s for sure. You’re clever enough to take the detail you need from the research without summarising other people’s work into seven top tips to collaborating better. Instead, let’s come at the conclusion from our own experience. What findings did we confirm? What did we see through a lens of employee experience, engagement and communication? Are there conclusions we can draw?
Let’s begin by asking The Big Obvious Question:
For this quarterly, did we achieve more together than I would’ve on my own?
Without hesitation — yes.
This collaboration was always going to be challenging. Despite our familiarity, we’re four strong-willed individuals, each set firm in our own ways of working. But despite our differences, the group produced something more interesting than I could’ve on my own.
The real fascination was how closely our collaborative experience mirrored the findings. What was intended to be primarily a humorous narrative to weave through the research, with perhaps a few loose parallels to justify it, turned into its own unique case study. It sure would’ve been a different symposium experience had I not had cohorts.
The informal symposium format created an environment where ideas ran rampant. Perhaps a little too rampant at times, but it certainly sparked some pivotal discussions. The agenda topic provided a loose structure for conversation, with plenty of latitude for tangents — of which there were many. Yes, no agenda ever held this lot back, but knowing the topic in advance gave everyone the opportunity to prepare. From a completely selfish standpoint, having regular touchpoints also kept me inspired, motivated, and moving forwards.
In terms of process, I defaulted to the collaboration method I felt most familiar and comfortable with — the advertising/artist model (described in topic 4). This is the way we work at Jaxzyn. Our project team comes together early, in a safe space for generating ideas and exploring possibilities, then execution is driven individually with support from the group. It works well for us, but how the other three felt about this process — we’ll wait till the epilogue to find out.
The post-session surveys were by far my favourite part of the experience. They provided a delightful snapshot of ideas, and the group dynamic at every stage. It was fascinating to see the unique perspectives, and the often entirely different things that each person took away from the same session. It’s such a simple tool too — one that can be easily wrapped into project process, or used as a regular ritual to keep a finger on the pulse of a group. It isn’t a traditional performance review though — oh no — it has to be human. It should give the opportunity for humour, honesty, fallibility and vulnerability. It should be shared shortly afterwards, and in as engaging form as possible. As ridiculous as awarding an MVP was, it provided the opportunity to acknowledge and recognise contribution, even if it was a blatant appreciation of one’s own efforts.
The survey responses also revealed a high level of psychological safety within our group. When people are completely comfortable calling you various objectionable names, and letting you know in no uncertain terms exactly how you messed up — that’s safety. It certainly helped we knew each other well before the experiment, and we wouldn’t suggest that every team jumps straight into straight-up sledging. No, that takes time to build rapport and trust — incremental steps towards that sort of gleeful savagery.
While we’re discussing the surveys, I should really take this opportunity to apologise to the others. None of them, not even Jen, knew I would use their responses verbatim. Heck, neither did I. I’d always intended to use extracts as features… up until about an hour before releasing part one into the wilds. Perhaps it was for the best, to ensure their comments remained raw, honest, unfiltered and uncensored. We can all agree — they most certainly were. Still, there’s no doubt discovering their answers had been included in entirety after they’d been published would’ve been a truly wonderful surprise. They dealt with the airing of their laundry like champs.
But enough of the backslaps and high-fives — what went wrong?
If I’m to be particularly honest (and I never beat bushes) — leadership was lacking. Despite my best efforts, I still default to running as a pack of one. Yes, although I set the structure and framed the piece as a learning exercise, I could’ve definitely established clearer roles for individual contribution, and painted at least an abstract picture of what the outcome might look like. This probably would’ve been much easier if I’d any notion of where we were going myself.
There’s also conversational turn-taking to consider. Oh yes, certain faces featured prominently and regularly in the ‘who talked most’ and ‘who talked least’ sections of the surveys. Given that this pattern wasn’t unexpected, and confirmed in the first couple of symposiums, I regret not facilitating equal contribution from everyone. This would’ve been relatively easy using a method like conversation tokens, which ironically was suggested by the chief instigator of conversational hijacking during symposium I.
So alas, we finish our experiment with lukewarm leadership and petty conversation-monopolising as our most savage offences. A sad anticlimax really — I truly expected (and promised) more. Still, I think we’ve grown and learnt: cultures of collaboration, psychological safety, collective intelligence, post-collaborative journalling — clear paths paved towards better collaboration.
Perhaps success is enough to satisfy after all.