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5 Things I wish I learned earlier about collaboration.

Over the last year, I have collaborated successfully with a lot of people – creating YouTube Channels, presenting on a weekly live streamed educational show and writing for a blog series or two. Unfortunately, not every collaboration has been a success. So why do some collaborations still fail?

Without trust you have nothing

When there is a lot of trust in a relationship you feel empowered. You are ready to take on the world and you are enthusiastic to support the ideas and actions of others. It makes collaboration easy, you like to say yes to people you trust – after all they are likely to act in your best interests too, so collaborating must beneficial for you too

But what happens when this trust is lacking?

If the collaboration is between unconnected individuals or groups, the collaboration simply stops. People say – “I don’t want to do this anymore,” or they ghost you completely.

If it is between groups or individuals working for the same organisation the impact is more severe, sometimes called “negative competition” a lack of trust occurs because both groups feel that their professional arena is being encroached on by the others, which leads to barriers being erected to any smooth collaboration.

If it is lack of trust in leadership it can be disastrous, this level of distrust doesn’t just affect collaboration though, it affects all areas of an employees performance as they become disengaged from the workplace.

Yes, it can be hard, but take the time to build trust before you start any collaboration.

Are you communicating effectively?

You already know that without communication, collaboration is virtually impossible. Before you start any collaboration consider what needs to be shared, how often it will be shared and how you will share it.

The last point is an interesting one, there are lots of ways of communicating these days, so choosing the right one for you is crucial. Email and meetings often take up too much time and or get swamped by other messages. Choosing a dedicated online collaboration tool is often more sensible. Slack, Trello, Google Drives etc are all popular – particularly for one-off collaborations.

Lack of recognition

When working together on a project, you may feel that you have contributed more than other members of the team. For example, it is your ideas that are implemented, or you picked up the slack at a crucial stage of the project. You don’t want to claim all the glory, but you certainly may feel you deserve some individual recognition.¬†

Everyone likes being appreciated for their efforts. Taking the time to thank people for their individual contributions encourages them to work harder, and go that extra mile. You can also reward people in other ways too, perhaps by showing trust in them and giving them more autonomy on the next project.

If you don’t recognise contributions to collaborative efforts, you could burn your bridges for the next collaborative effort.

If you are leading the collaboration, you don’t really care about claiming credit. Your mission is seeing something happen, something get created. If anything, you want other people to get the credit, for you it is about creating change, something that can be used by others.

Too much "Yes!"

Sometimes agreement can be a problem. The whole point of collaboration is bounce ideas of each other and create something that is more than the sum of the parts. If the majority agrees with one idea before you have had an opportunity to express your thoughts and ideas then you may be tempted to stay quiet and keep your ideas to yourself – even though it is potentially much better.

This is dangerous because it stifles innovation and your great ideas may be forgotten about. Developing a culture where all ideas are considered, shared and accepted as valid, no matter how out there is a great way for your collaborations to be more effective.

When leading a collaboration, you want the outliers to speak up, you want to hear the non-conformists contribute, you desire the different. This is where innovation happens and the truly great collaborations are born.

Engagement is low

This seems obvious, if people don’t engage then the collaboration will fail. So, how do you get people to engage? In these circumstances the collaboration is usually being driven by a lead partner or from above. So engagement often comes down to four key aspects.

Communication of the Vision

If people don’t engage it’s because you haven’t communicated your vision well enough. Think about how you can allow the others to see what you are seeing as the outcome of the collaboration. What do they get out of it?


Empower the people participating by removing any element of blame if it doesn’t work. People are more afraid of being blamed than they are of failure. Empower them by removing these shackles.


Engagement with others is low if the person leading the collaboration doesn’t walk the talk. It is no good having values expressed if the values are not lived. There is no trust and no integrity without values being expressed as actions.


If you are participating in a collaboration you must have an opportunity to be heard, to have your views and concerns listened to and responded to. Without this, you are not a collaborator but an employee.

The next time you collaborate with someone take the time to think about these issues and take the steps to overcome them. Start with trust and communication and the rest should follow.

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