How Do You Collaborate? Exploring Collaboration Styles
In this episode, Brian, Linda, and I reflect on some of our earliest memories of our collaborative experiences and discuss how they have helped to shape or impact the way that we collaborate on teams today. As you listen to this episode, think about some of your earliest memories or memories in general of ways that you have collaborated. How does that impact you today?
Brian’s Collaboration Memory
When I was in middle school, I learned a very valuable lesson about collaboration that would shape my collaborative perspective for the rest of my career. As a kid, I was a hockey player but my parents thought it would be good for me to learn how to play a musical instrument. I decided to take lessons in both the piano and the tenor saxophone, and as it turns out, I was pretty good at tenor saxophone, quickly earning first chair in all of the bands. My parents heard about an opportunity for something called the Minneapolis All-City Orchestra and they encouraged me to try out. Not one to miss a challenge, I auditioned and was accepted. On the first day of practice, I sat second chair to Sam, who began his warmup with what I can only describe as improvisational jazz. I knew right away that I was in trouble.
I learned two valuable lessons that first day of band practice: The first was that I was an athlete who could play tenor saxophone, and Sam was a musician. I knew how to play sports. And Sam knew how to play and create music. Sam and I formed a friendship and partnership and my finest memories of playing music are those we shared together. The second lesson I learned was that if I was going to be successful, I needed to learn how to work with someone whose approach was the opposite of mine. That second lesson turned into my lifelong approach to collaboration. You see, I have never had a role in my career where I did not have someone partnering with me who provided this opposite perspective to collaboration and I call this type of collaborative relationship, oppositional forces.
Oppositional Force Collaboration
Oppositional force collaboration is when you work with people who are different from you, which provides a diversity of thought and opinion, and ultimately leads to a better outcome. For me, my mind and my thoughts really get opened up to new possibilities, new opportunities, and new emotions through oppositional forces. I really find that working with people different than myself creates the best outcomes, not to say that it’s not a struggle, but I found the value of that is in listening.
One takeaway from what I learned with Sam is don’t be afraid of someone who does something different than you do. Be open to someone else’s innovation and creativity, and be willing to explore, make mistakes, and ultimately ask, how can we work together?
Nathan’s Collaboration Memory
My memory of collaboration goes back to when I was 8 or 9 years old in 4H. In my local chapter in Northern Minnesota, we were trying to decide on what should we call our club.
I remember, I was really into baseball, specifically the Chicago Cubs, and as we were brainstorming for club names, I just kept shouting out different versions of the Chicago Cubs; the cubs, cubbies, the cubby bears. The leader of this group was doing a really good job, saying, we’ll write it on the board, but remember, we really want to reflect who we are as a club. How do we maybe show some of our values with our club name? How do we tell people what we’re about? When we were prepping for this, I was really reflecting on how this memory, that I hadn’t thought about in 20 or 30 years, is kind of how I lead and collaborate today. I remember thinking about how everyone was contributing, how the leader was helping us brainstorm, reword our ideas, and collaborate on them together so everyone was happy with the name. In the end, our club was called the Grand Marais Go-Getters because we were about action and doing things in the community. It sounds really cheesy and corny now that I even say that out loud, but I think the lesson for me in that was that I’m someone who loves to brainstorm. I believe that the best idea is like a treasure hunt. You have to go find it and it exists in no one’s head but in everyone’s head. How do I find everyone’s idea and kind of cultivate them to create something that’s greater than the sum of its individual parts?
I’ve learned how to identify my role on a team or in collaboration, and how to discern which battles to choose in conflict. As you think about your collaboration style, what is your approach? What is your most important piece of this?
Linda’s Collaboration Memory
My first collaboration memory is of jumping rope. It was an activity I could do by myself until I was introduced to Double Dutch. which required some true collaboration. And unless you were the first one to the playground, you had to earn your jumping privileges by spinning the rope. Sometimes you had to wait it out and sometimes you played the role where you were leading the sing-song rhymes. Sometimes you either cheered or jeered for the other jumpers or those that were turning the rope. I remember when it was your turn to jump, it was like game on. I remember smiling the whole time and for me, I wanted to jump the longest. I wanted to break records. I wanted to make people laugh. And even if I messed up, I would usually thank the people turning the rope and cheer for the next person.
Another memory I have is from graduate school with my professor, Dr. Mulvihill. She was one of those teachers that really helped people learn, understand how they learn, and then how they lead. She was teaching a class called leadership in higher education and I remember one evening the course was about situational leadership, and I thought, Dr. Mulvihill, you have just uncovered what I do, and that is situation leadership! A leader who looks at the situation and then fills in where there is a need. I finally realized it wasn’t that I was wishy-washy and I don’t know my role. I would step into places, fill gaps to meet the needs of others, but also motivate and inspire. As we have taught collaboration over the years, I think I’ve learned that is how I collaborate. I’m a situational leader. I diagnose what’s happening. I bend and flex, and then I find a way to make the partnerships work.
Linda’s Collaboration Takeaway
In terms of collaboration, I played a variety of different roles while jumping rope and I enjoyed all of them. I think what I really loved is that you could play so many different roles and the enjoyment of jumping rope was multiplied.
Your Collaboration Style
What are your current collaborative preferences and where do they come from? Whether you lead from the front, from within, or whether you collaborate from around, it’s important to know where you best fit as a collaborator and what you bring to the table.
We would love to hear your story as it relates to collaboration or any of the other elements that we’re talking about when it comes to building great teams. Do you have any stories or earliest memories of communication, conflict/change, compassion, courage, or collaboration? Pull out your phone or audio recording device or you can even send us a video. We would love to potentially use your stories in a future episode. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
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