Project Return

Learning Collaboration Skills

June 27th , 2016

Everyone agrees it takes work to be part of a team. All the drills, coaching, practices, training, playing experiences that go into making a winning team are hard work. And when the team is pulling together, awesome things happen.

Collaboration is teamwork, too. And like teamwork, collaboration gets better with training, practice, coaching, and playing time.

The foes of collaboration are powerful forces:

Competition: the idea that there can be only one winner.

Avoidance: Dropping out of the work altogether.

Compromise: Negotiating to protect our own interests rather than the teams.


Accommodation: Giving in to be cooperative and keep the peace, but resenting it.

These forces are powerful because they are instinctive reactions to conflicts arising from the normal give and take of teamwork. They are the way we try to protect ourselves. Collaboration, however, tops them all as the driver of innovative teamwork. It’s not an instinctive force; it is a learned skill.

Collaboration training makes us aware of these forces and how they can block us from achieving a shared goal; scenarios and role playing give us opportunities to develop skills to handle them; coaching provides guidance when putting collaboration into practice in actual situations.

Training is useful when developing skills, especially repetitive behaviors. For example, how to enter the correct information into database screens in a sequence of ordered steps. The learner needs to do it the same way each time in order for the application to work.

Instruction moves us past knowing the rules to applying them. More than training is needed to help learners generalize what they are learning and apply it in situations that may be different, for example, handling customer complaints. There may be a general set of principles, but each customer and each complaint are different and the learner needs to be able to adapt to each new situation and use judgment.

The broadest level of learning is education. The authors explain that education comes from life experiences, coaching, watching role models, forming mental models and building value systems. Education takes time. It is at this level that collaboration is mastered. The principles of collaboration are simple: working together to achieve a shared goal from quote to cash or Idea to launch; resolving conflict in a way that meets the needs of each partner. You can memorize these principles and recite them. You can generalize them to apply to different project situations, for example, recognizing when consensus is not the best decision-making approach to take. But it takes experience and a deep desire to practice collaboration to know when you are actually reaching solutions through collaboration and not just cooperating. Your outlook changes.

Actual Learning brings transformation—change taking place. You do things differently because you have learned something.

The authors explain that the successful approach to teaching is to be “learner-centered and performance based.” This includes first gaining empathy with the learner, finding out as much as possible about their concerns and needs and then designing training, instruction, and education that connects with (reaches) the learner. Performance-based means that specific learning objectives will be met. “The learner will be able to……” is a goal statement that defines the change in performance, which can be measured.

Mastering collaboration is a process. Be patient with yourself and others as you begin to learn it. Take opportunities to practice it and learn from experience. It takes hard work, but those who are transformed by collaboration reach the goal of leading change.

Here is the tie to Communication, Collaboration, Project Management in a nutshell.

Communication: First communicate with the learner to find out their needs—gain empathy—to design training that is learner centered. Before training sessions, communicate to the learner what the learning objectives are: You will be able to ... So the learning will achieve a measurable goal.

Collaboration: Collaboration is learned. It is a process that includes connecting life experiences, coaching, watching role models, and building value systems.

Project Management: Provide learning opportunities as part of the team building experience. Team members will be various levels of experience. Encourage them to learn from each other, share experiences, and gain insights from practicing collaboration in project situations.



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