How Not Understanding Collaboration Makes you a Rookie Collaboration is key to increasing productivity and effectiveness.

It is no secret that teams are the way business is done in the 21st century. But how do you make a great team? If there is one word that describes teams better than any other, it is collaboration. Teams collaborate. If your people are not collaborating, they might be good people, but they aren’t a team. The benefits of collaboration are manifold: Improved learning, faster innovation, reduced defects, cross training, efficiency, reduction in work (really), agility, risk reduction, job satisfaction (joy), information sharing, and the list really goes on and on. Lots of people talk about collaboration, but very few people even know what it is much less do it.

In the diagram below, you can see there are three elements necessary to have collaboration. If you are missing one of these elements, you have something less than collaboration. Let’s have a look at them.


If you have safety and a common goal but not interdependence, the best you will have is cooperation (zone 1). Common goal plus interdependence but no safety will result in mere compliance (zone 2), not engagement or collaboration. Safety and interdependence without a common goal, you have coordination (zone 3). When you have all three (Common Goal, Interdependence and Safety), you have the potential for collaboration. Of course just having these does not make collaboration happen. The people have to want to collaborate, and they need to see the value in it.

Do you want compliance, coordination, cooperation or collaboration? Digging deeper.

Common Goal

In this context, the goal you are shooting for as a team must be a common goal for which you are mutually accountable. Having a common goal for which you are not mutually accountable would be something like individual sales targets. Yes all of the sales team is shooting for a common goal, but they are not mutually accountable. By contrast, a departmental sales goal is a common goal for which the sales team would be mutually accountable. No one can claim victory without everyone claiming victory.


In my experience, this is the least common aspect in organizations. They think they have it, but they don’t. Most commonly, they have sequential dependence, which is not interdependence. Sequential dependence is when one person works on something and completes his or her task or effort then hands it off to the next person. Person 2 is dependent upon person 1, but person 1 is not dependent upon person 2. Each person can claim success when they complete his or her part of the work. Interdependence is easy to see in a sports team. Every player is there to support every other player.

Even the MVP of a game depends on the rest of the team to win.


Safety, also known as psychological safety, is the perception that it is okay to risk vulnerability in this group of people. Without safety, individuals in a group will always be on the defensive and not trusting the others. In psychologically safe environments, team members will question processes and authority in order to improve as a team. They also will risk trying something new because they know that they will not be condemned or ridiculed for trying and failing. I have seen safety shift in my clients, but it takes time and is most successful when the leaders in the organization are supportive of the change. I see it fail in clients where the leaders are not supportive of creating safety. In these organizations, the leaders use the withholding of information as a tactic to control and maintain power.

What can you do?

Teams are the heart and soul of most organizations, and collaboration is the oxygen they breathe. As CEO, the most important thing you can do is to start creating an atmosphere of safety in your first team and across the organization. Most executive Teams, are nothing more than people who are at the same level in the org chart. To create collaboration you need to foster the three elements of collaboration.

Here are three steps you can take.

  1. Appreciate: People need appreciation more than we think they do. People often leave their jobssimply because they don’t feel appreciated…how hard is it? When you model appreciation,people will respond and begin appreciating one another too.
  2. Be a supportive Leader: Supportive leaders don’t direct and control; rather, they give controland serve the people they support. If you model supportive leadership at the executive level andtalk about it as an expectation of all leaders, you will create a culture of support, and that ispowerful.
  3. Create opportunities for empowerment: You cannot force empowerment, but you can createopportunities for people to be empowered. Create these opportunities for your executive teamand encourage them to do the same. Over time, your culture will grow.

Collaboration is key to increasing productivity and effectiveness. But it is misunderstood and confused with other types of interaction. Only collaboration is the synergistic combination of your people creating a force to be reckoned with. As CEO, you can help make opportunities for collaboration at your organization.

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About Joseph Flahiff

Joseph is an internationally recognized leadership and organizational agility expert. He has worked with Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and start-ups. He is known to executives at these clients as a pragmatic, clear communicating and experienced advisor. Joseph is a regular contributor to numerous online and print publications.Joseph’s innovative book on mixed agile and traditional businesses, Being Agile in a Waterfall World: A practical guide for complex organizations was published in October 2014. Joseph speaks internationally to organizations about the challenges they face in today’s business environment: organizational agility, culture design, and the shifting management style necessary for today’s workforce.Learn more about Mr. Flahiff at

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