Collaboration, a skill to teach

6 Techniques to work better together

Discover in this article the 6 techniques that can enable both leaders and employees to work well together, learn from one another and overcome psychological barriers that get in the way of doing both. These techniques are mostly applied at Pixar Animated Studios and are based on research conducted by Francesca Gino, Professor at the Harvard Business School.

#1 – Teach people to listen, not to talk

The business world prizes good self-presentation. Employees think a lot about how to make the right impression – how to frame their arguments in discussions, how to get their points across in meetings, persuade or coerce their reports to do what they want. This is understandable, given the competitive nature of our workplace, but is has a cost. All too often when others are talking, we are getting ready to speak instead of listening.

We fail to listen because we are anxious about our own performance, convinced that our ideas are better than others, or both. As a result, we get into conflicts that could be avoided, miss opportunities to advance the conversation, alienate the people who haven’t been heard, and diminish our team’s effectiveness.

When we really listen, on the other hand, our egos and our self-involvement subside, giving everybody the space to understand the situation and one another and to focus on the mission.

# 2 – Practice Empathy

Being receptive to the views of someone we disagree with is no easy task, but when we approach the situation with a desire to understand our differences, we get a better outcome.

Jamie Woolf, Pixar’s leadership development manager said: “When someone is, consciously or not, trying to promote his or her own point of view, we intervene so that we give the person an opportunity to apply the technique correctly and other the opportunity to learn”. With this approach, at Pixar, ideas get full attention and consideration. Creative solutions are generated, and team members feel that they’ve been truly heard.

When team members focus on conveying empathy more than on sharing their opinions, everyone feels more satisfied with the discussion. Showing Empathy also makes other more likely to ask you for your point of view. Collaboration proceeds more smoothly.

#3- Help people to get more comfortable with feedback

Good collaboration involves giving and receiving feedback well and from a position of influence rather than one of authority by 1-Discussing feedback aversion openly. 2- Making feedback about other’s behaviour direct, specific and applicable. 3- Giving feedback on feedback and finally by adding a plus to other’s ideas.

#4- Teach people to lead and follow

A lot of attention is paid, in the literature and in the practice of management, to what makes a truly leader. There has been much less consideration on how to follow, though that, too, is an important skill. It helps to increase self- awareness and learn to delegate.

# 5- Speak with clarity and avoid abstractions

When we communicate with others, psychological research shows, we are often too indirect and abstract. Our words would carry more weight if we were more concrete and provided vivid images of goals. Clarity and purpose are key when communicating.

# 6- Train people to have win-win interactions

In successful collaborative projects, people are open about their personal interests and how they though they could contribute to solving a problem. Many organisations teach leaders to find win-win solutions through exercises in which each participant has information that the others lack, as is true in most real-world collaborations and all are asked to try to reach the best deal possible for everyone.

By balancing talking (to express our own concerns and needs) with asking questions and letting others know what your understanding of their needs is, we can devise solutions that create more value. With a win-win mindset, collaborators are able to find opportunities in differences.

To conclude, leaders who are frustrated with the lack of collaboration can start by asking themselves a simple question: What have they done to encourage it today? It is only by regularly owning their own mistakes, listening actively and supportively to people’s ideas, being respectful but direct when challenging other’s views and behaviour that they can encourage lasting collaboration.

Daniela R. Murphy

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