How to set the mood for collaboration

Image credit: O Palsson on Flickr

Did you know that the words you use can have an impact on how your team works together? Leigh Thomson, author of Creative Conspiracy: the new rules of breakthrough collaboration, found that asking people to read statements that include specific words can either encourage them to focus on themselves, or on others:

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Can you design your way to great collaboration?

What if companies started applying the same design principles they use to develop great products and services, to design collaboration in their teams? I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and this post is a collection of early thoughts and some good articles I’ve come across recently.

With the growing awareness of design thinking, it’s clear that design is not just something that is stuck on the end of a project to make things look nice. Companies are now using it at a more strategic level, and it’s permeating through all departments. Companies like Apple, Airbnb and Pinterest are all championed for their design attitude.

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What I’m learning about collaboration from social psychology

Late last year, I took Social Psychology on Coursera which is a course run by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University. I took the course more for personal interests, but it also had the benefit of helping me to understand more about collaboration. Social psychology is defined as “the scientific study of how people think about, influence and relate to one another”, and during the course I learned that we have various tendencies that can impact our efforts to create and innovate together.

I realised that there are even more reasons to consider the conditions that support great collaboration in the workplace, rather than just putting people in teams and hoping for the best.  There are theories which explain behaviour from individual to group level – here are some that I picked up from the course and a few other sources:

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Three books about working with other people

I recently read three books, all loosely on the topic of working with other people:

  • Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t – Simon Sinek
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
  • Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration – Leigh Thomson

Although they each focus on a slightly different area – leadership, motivating others, creativity – there are many corresponding ideas in them which help us to understand what we need to do to get the best out of ourselves and work better with those around us.

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Are you really listening?

If you were to listen back to a recording of a conversation that you had with a colleague, would you be completely sure about what you heard, and what you had said?

This came up as a topic in the twelth episode of StartUp, a podcast that I’ve been hooked on over the last couple of weeks. StartUp, which first aired in August 2014, documents the story of Alex Blumberg, as he launches his new podcast company (yes, a podcast about launching a podcast company). He’s running a business for the first time and we get a unique, behind-the-scenes insight into his journey of raising investment, naming his company, getting a partner, hiring staff and also the impact it has on his family life. It’s candid, insightful and well worth a listen right from Episode 1.

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The science of collaboration

Is collaboration an art or a science? It’s certainly down to the team to contribute their individual flair and skill, keep motivation going, develop great ideas and stay flexible to any opportunities or challenges that arise. But if anything involves people, it’s clear that psychology – the science of the mind –will also have a major influence.

Following a couple of articles on the science of productivity and the science of creativity, I’ve collated some of the research I’ve come across that helps us better understand some aspects of collaboration – from relationship building, productive conversations, brainstorming and the physical environment.

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Practice (and play) makes participation

This post is inspired by the OK Do talk that took place during the London Design Festival on ‘Strategies for Participation’.

OK-Talk.-Guy-Archard-300x200The talk brought up lots of questions on how we decide who to collaborate with. I really liked the point that Celine Condorelli and Ulla-Maaria Engeström were making – that we choose who to work with based on our values, but those values develop the more we work with others.  So essentially, the more we collaborate, the better we get at knowing who we will work with best.

So perhaps we should practice collaborating, and find ways to make those practice runs non-monetary and playful, so that the main aim is to learn a bit more about how we work.  Perhaps we also shouldn’t get put off if our first attempt at collaborating doesn’t go so well.  Collaboration is a skill so the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

Photo: Guy Archard.  From the OK Talk event organised by OK Do.

Dealing with conflict

When choosing collaborators, we tend to gravitate towards those that are like us and who agree with us.  Naturally, we’d rather spend time with people we agree with rather than those we don’t.  But it’s those that have opposite views that we’re likely to learn from most.


Photo: Guy Archard.  The collaborative breakfast served at the OK Talk events organised by OK Do at The London Design Festival.