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The importance of becoming a worthy collaborator

A team’s capacity to deliver impacts a client’s experiences, an employer’s reputation, operational efficiencies and effectiveness, and profitability. Resilient teams are essential for organizational health. That’s why I’ve been working with clients to develop stronger and more adept teams. In our discussions, we’ve generated a list of qualities that healthy, high-performing teams possess: good communication, clarity of roles and responsibilities, use of initiative, accountability, agility and responsiveness, creative problem-solving skills, alignment with purpose and goals and priorities, ability and desire to collaborate, and a willingness to learn and grow. When these attributes play out in their day-to-day interactions, teams – and organizations – thrive.

Fostering a culture of collaboration

In my observation of high-performing teams, the one trait that keeps emerging is the willingness and dexterity to collaborate. It’s not just something they do in a facilitated team meeting; it’s how they relate to each other at every turn, and it’s how they show up in their respective roles. For collaboration to work well, the culture must value learning and embrace change.

Team members who value learning demonstrate it by asking and giving feedback genuinely and generously. They are transparent in their thinking, openly sharing relevant information, and operating from a flexible, receptive mindset. They reveal comfort with change by shifting gears when priorities change, adopting new processes and procedures, listening to a colleague’s difference of opinion, and trying new approaches.

A strong team knows its goals and expectations and is committed to driving the results. A team member recently explained his perspective on powerful teams: “We’ve got each other’s back. There’s a sense that we are in this together, that we will navigate the ups and downs, twists and turns, deliver like pros and take care of each other.” The underlying message: People want an environment where they can trust and rely on each other. To foster deep collaboration, the culture must embody respect, transparency and accountability. Engagement must be the standard code of conduct, not because it’s required, but because it works – and it’s rewarding.

Are you a worthy collaborator?

While collaboration is a team endeavor, it requires individuals to step into the role of “worthy collaborator.” One must bring a willingness to contribute, be open to feedback – both giving and receiving, and being fluid in one’s thinking with a desire for growth. A worthy collaborator brings a sense of curiosity and an appreciation for others’ strengths, experiences and perspectives. It means you care about optimizing results as much as you care about respecting your team members.

I am currently coaching a young engineering manager who is intellectually sharp, emotionally aware, and hungry to produce and grow. Our conversations are fluid exchanges. He comes prepared to every session, openly sharing any struggles he’s facing. Together we examine the issues and co-create new ways to navigate. Another colleague of mine is skilled at being present, asking good questions, and offering views that challenge and expand my thinking. Worthy collaborators help me raise my game and bring a deeper satisfaction to my work.

This level of engagement requires bringing your “A” game to every task, every conversation, every meeting. When professionals work in partnership with high-caliber, passionate and dedicated colleagues, there’s a bigger collective impact and a tighter sense of camaraderie.

What gets in the way?

The opposite of collaboration is operating in silos. When this happens, teams are defined by function rather than cross-function. Communication breakdowns occur at critical handoffs, roles and responsibilities are unclear, blaming and bad-mouthing commence, and accountability drops. Egos and turf wars win out over shared goals. Side conversations and passive-aggressive behaviors creep into the dynamic, deteriorating trust and elevating fear.

Fears show up in team undercurrents in insidious ways. Afraid of showing what they don’t know, people fail to meaningfully participate in conversations and meetings. They stop asking good questions, contributing ideas, and offering feedback, often because it is perceived as not valued. When fear is prevalent, drama soars and collaboration suffers.

Take the K Challenge:

How can you be an active and valuable team member – a worthy collaborator? Commit to one of these ideas below for one week and see what useful contributions you can make to your team.

Are you waiting for something to happen? Stop waiting. Rather than offer commentary, bring a contribution. Initiate a conversation, define a work plan, take the first step, drive results. Explore new solutions when you, the team, or an initiative is stuck; change your language from, “We can’t …” to “How can we …?”

Bring a willingness to grow, learn, discover and adapt.

Celebrate shared wins, practice the language of “we” rather than “I.”

Be reliable. Get things done when you said you would.

Be willing to ask for help.

Seek others’ opinions. Listen to others’ ways of seeing the issues, as they may bring a perspective that could move something forward.

Don’t point fingers, blame others or make excuses. Don’t criticize other team members.

Inspire excellence. Do good work. Do the right thing. Do more than go through the motions. Seek to make a difference.

Challenge the status quo way of thinking for the sake of continuous improvement.

Don’t retreat when things get challenging. Don’t avoid conflict; instead, get in front of the issue with your team members. Have candid, courageous and respectful conversations.

Bring expansive thinking for more creative problem-solving.

Effective collaboration can bring a shared sense of accomplishment, which strengthens team bonds. It also brings increased confidence in capacity – your own and your team’s – to overcome challenges, make an impact, and build momentum. To gain the full benefits of collaboration, teams must believe in Aristotle’s words, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” How will you raise your game as a worthy collaborator?

Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or karen@natzel.net.

About Karen Natzel