The Fruits of Collaboration – Part 1

In any organization or initiative, we want people motivated to bring their best thinking and ideas to the work, fully participate, and take action. In a world where much work is done in cubicles interacting with screens, I believe there is an overlooked and often unrealized desire of people to contribute and gain the benefits of being part of a collaborative community.

The way we design work -including every meeting – is key to spurring people’s meaningful engagement. Carol Sanford, in her book, The Regenerative Business, writes, “when work design is practiced at the highest levels of skill and imagination, it becomes an art of evoking motivation.”

I believe that the way a group works together to get to desired outcomes can be as important as the outcomes themselves. Collaboration can bear many fruits beyond a list of action items, if you design for these. It helps to focus in on what motivates people. Carol Sanford writes that we can assume people share these qualities:

  • Have an innate desire to grow and improve
  • Are social and benefit from opportunities to engage with and learn from one another
  • Derive a sense of meaning and purpose from contributing to something larger than themselves.

How can we design collaborative work and each meeting in ways that fulfill these desires? For example, in a strategy session with about 30 people involved with local food systems, we created small group conversations where people first talked with others working in different areas and then those working in similar areas. They shared stories of their work and what they were seeing and what they sensed was needed next. This offered ways for them to connect and deepen relationships, learn from each other and share the benefit of their experience, and cross-pollinate ideas on how to work toward their shared vision. Each person contributed to something larger than themselves, while also gaining new insights to support their individual work, by learning and thinking together.

Good collaboration doesn’t just happen. It rests on a solid foundation of trusting relationships that takes intention to build and attention to sustain. At New Directions Collaborative, we use the following framework to focus in on these dimensions/phases of collaborative work. This builds on work of Pete Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor. I have added a dimension of Learning Together, as I have found this is a source of unique value that emerges from conversations and healthy collaboration. Plus, this ability to collectively learn and adapt is key to the healthy evolution and innovation process in organizations and society.


Please join us for this upcoming on-line workshop series where I’ll be sharing practical methods for designing meetings and collaborative work that generate lots of benefits.

See Part 2 where we describe what collaboration in each of these dimensions looks like and share examples of how to facilitate it.

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