Oh, collaboration. It seems like a great idea, right? Better solutions! More efficiency! Less duplication of effort! And of course, the big one: the magical creativity of the group brain!

Are you rolling your eyes? (Or feeling a constriction in your belly?)

In practice, working with people outside your core team ends up being pretty tricky. Who’s in charge? Whose systems and norms are you using? What’s your work culture when you’re coming from such different contexts? And did you really accomplish anything in that meeting?

The problem is not the people

"When a good person meets a bad system, the system always wins."
Frank Voeh

No, it’s not that there’s something wrong with you. And no, it’s not that there’s something wrong with the people you’re collaborating with.

The real problem is that the traditional methods and structures you’re using for collaborating are simply insufficient for these times of rapid change and increasing complexity.

To begin with, the days of creating a long-term plan as the first task for collaboration are over. What we need now are dynamic collaborations that adapt, learn and move decisively toward their purpose.

Start with three essentials

Truly effective collaboration in today’s world isn’t easy. Many elements contribute to success, but you can get your collaborative effort off to a solid start with these three essentials:

1. Common purpose

Without a uniting purpose, unfocused energy and efforts can actually work to undermine collective success. The purpose is typically most alive in the person initiating the collaboration who is sensing a clear need or gap to be addressed. For example:

The gap or challenge: Lack of access to technology tools and training are holding back some departments and staff.

The purpose might be: Making competent and confident use of essential technology a company standard and a source of staff pride.

2. Effective operating model

Once your purpose is clear, you need structures and systems that enable your collaboration to be dynamic and responsive. Here are questions to help get focused: How do we make who is doing what clear and transparent? How will we stay in sync and track progress? How will we make decisions?

Next, discern the absolutely essential roles you need to get started. For example, they might be convener, facilitator, and progress tracker. Yes, there might only be three. We really mean just the bare minimum.

Decide who will start out filling these essential roles. Remember that this isn’t a life sentence. You can always swap role fillers once you’re rolling. And don’t forget to get clear on what everyone else can expect from those roles!

Hungry for more background about effective operating models? Check out Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux and Holacracy by Brian Robertson for more principles and practices. Holacracy’s Integrated Decision Making Process is especially useful for collaboratives.

3. Kick-off project

Dynamic collaborators work in incremental steps. Kick things off with a small, short project or two. This will help your collaborative to achieve a shared success, learn more about opportunities and challenges and discover  natural strengths and expertise of members.

For example:

Let’s say you’re a member of a collaborative aligned around the purpose of making fruits and vegetables more accessible in your community.

As your first incremental step, you start with a project to map local resources.

It seems small, but that first project gives you precious information about specific needs, potential partners — BEFORE you’ve invested tons of time, energy and money.

From there your collaborative can evolve roles, add the next incremental projects and continue progress.

The time for more effective collaboration is now

The world needs people who know how to work together to innovate and solve problems in dynamic ways. Adopting new purpose-driven models and improving the systems of collaboration won’t happen overnight. Moving beyond the status quo takes both persistence and patience.

"Collaborators aren’t born, they’re made. Or, to be more precise, built, a day at a time, through practice, through attention, through discipline, through passion and commitment–and most of all, through habit."
Twyla Tharp

Your group has such important work to do in the world.

If you can’t bear coming to the end of another 90 minute meeting asking, “Does it really take that much time to get so little done?,” Dynamic Collaboration is here.


We at Duet are here to help you realize the greatest potential of your group. Start with our complimentary consult. We’ll provide recommendations you can use right way!

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