Projects Matter

The second critical part of collaboration is the cultivation of a project mentality. If you and your team don’t turn everything you do into collective projects, you will only flirt with collaboration. The trouble with our current “departmental” view of organization is that it increases territorialism and reduces the possibility of collaboration. There is often too much at stake within a leader or manager’s department to worry about collaboration with other teams in the organization. In fact, in an unhealthy departmental model, collaboration can actually hurt a manger’s department. Why would a Department Head sign up for that? If collaboration penalizes a team leader it will be the last thing he or she wants to pursue. Here are some ways to break the territorialism that blocks collaboration through a project mentality.

One: Create Mission-Driven Projects that Require Collaboration

    Everything, and I mean everything you do—with regards to the mission—should become a project. Collective projects create immediate collaboration because they require people to work together. The traditional department model of organization requires people to segment. There is of course a place for the departmental model. I understand the value of segmentation and distribution of work. However, the way in which we’ve organized in the past one hundred years has some real deficiencies. One of those deficiencies is the lack of collaboration. To break this rut, you will have to find tangible ways to pull those departments—and the leaders of those departments—back together. Meaningful projects create the impetus for such a change.

Two: Allow the Project to Determine the Who and the How (As much as Possible)

    My friend Joe Meyers, owner of SETTINGPACE, a textbook publishing company, uses this concept in his business. Here is the heart of the concept: 

The project, as it unfolds, should determine as much as possible everything that is related to collaboration.

What if we allowed the project to:

• Determine who should lead at any given moment.
• Determine what teams should form, who should populate those teams, and how long those teams should exist.
• Inform deadlines for completion and evoke celebration upon completion

You get the picture.

In other words, the project itself has a voice, and that voice helps to determine the “who” and the “how.” When the project determines important items, then people rally around those items to lend their skills and gifts at the appropriate moment. It’s no longer about territory, but about surrounding the project with what is needed. The project is bigger than any one person or team and therefore enfolds all people and teams into the possibility of collaboration.

I see this process, in my imagination, as human-beings-in-the-rhythm-of-work. That rhythm cycles between donating and yielding. At times, the project calls for certain ones to donate their part and then to yield to others. As people move in and out of collaboration (donating and yielding around the project), the project moves forward until completion. This moving-in and moving-out is at the heart of collaboration. Without both sides of the movement, there can be no collaboration, because collaboration requires people to honor the collaborative space. This, at times, requires their hard work, and at times, requires their willingness to yield to others. Without this spirit, collaboration remains only a good idea.

Unite Territories by Creating All-Organization Projects

    Because so many organizations are departmental in nature, it’s important to find a way to transcend those territories while respecting that they need to exist. The way to unite the territories is to create all-organization projects. If you have a real territorial staff, full of departments, create a project that EVERYONE is involved in accomplishing.

As teams work together on all-organization projects, the trust between them increases and the likelihood of collaboration back in daily work increases. As all- organization projects become part of your culture, you will find an excitement about collaborative execution growing. People will begin to anticipate these projects and the return that comes as a result. Think about an initiative that your organization could do together and then “think stream.” Allow the organization, the teams involved, to add their energies to the whole and watch collaboration rise.

Get out of your way

    For leaders to embrace and enable collaboration, they need to realize it begins not with activity but rather with specific attitudes. Execution of collaboration begins with your leadership disposition. Though we could talk about a number of attitudes that a collaborative leader cultivates, let’s highlight just one. It may not be the one you expect, but it is the one we need. Cultivating this attitude will increase your ability to invite others into discovery and implementation of collaboration. 

Cultivate Mortality

In my work with leaders, I’ve noticed that those that have the hardest time letting go or surrendering (in any area of life) are also unable to collaborate. Here’s the deal: the more in control a leader must be, the less the team can collaborate. Simply, the more controlling the leader on a daily basis, the more difficult it will be for him/her to surrender or share power.

The more controlling (you are), the more controlling (you are)

What to do?

Leaders would do well to remember, on a regular basis, their own mortality. We are all, one day, going to let go for good. The leaders who learn to let go (die to the overambitious ego) are the best collaborators. They realize their own mortality, the limits of their skill and gifting, and then invite others to contribute their gifts and skills as well.

Can you let go?

    Facing and living in your own mortality is critical to your team’s ability to collaborate. So here’s a few things you can practice the execution of your own mortality (pun intended).

•  Let someone else lead a project that matters to you

•  Don’t swoop (come in right at the end and change something based on the fact it doesn’t suit your fancy).

•  Let others fail. If you want people to succeed, in the long run, you will have to allow for failure. No failure, no growth, no growth, no proactive innovative people to unleash in your organization.

•  Coach and mentor. Leaders bemoan numbers one, two and three, because they are afraid that the organization will drift into mediocrity without their constant pressure on task completion. Wrong. If you want an actualized organization, you must develop actualized (and actualizing) people. Invest in the people and you will find it easier to let go of the task.

•  Expect excellence. Letting go isn’t about settling for shoddy work. Letting go should come with a new expectation that people will do their best. Expect it. But, as you expect excellence, don’t forget number four.

•  In daily life, let go. Let a person get in front of you in the grocery line. Actually let a person in front of you in traffic. Occasionally, slow down your pace. Let go of the hurry in a given moment. Surrendering in daily life allows you practice the art of surrender outside your leadership moments at work. The practice though, is transferable. Take what you learn outside your work-leadership and live it when you lead.

Take Ideas to the Next Level

    Every day we make choices as leaders. Will we enable and participate in the wonder of collaboration or grind it out alone. Once we’ve awakened to our need for real change, real execution of collaboration, the next aim is to stay out of bed and make it an ongoing practice. If we do, the benefits are amazing and the relational connections we make along the way nourish and enrich our life. It’s worth the work indeed.