Elements of Successful Collaboration

 In Collaboration

People collaborating around a white boardSuccessful collaboration is a multi-dimensional process.

We are not always aware of the elements that contribute to successful collaboration efforts.

First, teams need to agree on what it means to collaborate successfully.

For example, some people focus solely on the outcome. The product (service, performance, experience) is high quality, it sells well and the intended audience is receptive, therefore it was a “successful collaboration.”  However, what if the collaboration process involved bitter arguments and personal attacks? Was it really a successful collaboration? In another scenario, a collaboration process could be creative, engaging, supportive, and result in deep learning, yet the outcome isn’t well-received, or it fails in the marketplace.

The Cavani String Quartet and Mwatabu Okantah, Poet

The Cavani String Quartet and Mwatabu Okantah, Poet

In my research related to successful collaboration among classical musicians, I found six key elements that contribute to successful collaboration: positivity, commitment, empowerment, shifting perspectives, co-presence, and expressing energy & love. I will elaborate on these elements of successful collaboration in another post. As I consider my various current and recent collaboration projects, here are a few

Additional elements of successful collaboration: Patience, Pacing, Shared Responsibility, and Learning.


Green chrysalis      butterfly outside chrysalis

Certain collaboration projects take time. For example, I’m writing a book with my colleague Annie Fullard of the Cavani String Quartet. We started to work on the book in 2015. Due to our travel schedules, work commitments, and family commitments, we are finally at the point where we have a solid first draft of the book. It took time to discover how we best work together. At first, we worked in-person, sitting side-by-side with our materials spread out on the dining room table and with one or both of us on our computers. While we still get together in person 2-3 times per year, we now work together virtually via video-conference software. We have lively dialog, share different ideas, while continually re-shaping our book content. I lost count regarding the number of titles we used for the book during the past four years!



Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Many collaborative efforts require a short timeline to deliver a product or service to a client. Sometimes the outcome of a collaboration effort is not well-defined because the effort is exploratory. In this type of collaboration, it is important to allow time for general dialog, and even to sit in silence together for periods of time in order to allow ideas to emerge. This is the case for a recent collaboration with my colleague Maiken Piil. We designed a masterclass called Leading from Your Higher Self, intended as a transformative developmental journey for individuals who wish to deepen their self-awareness, presence, and decision-making capabilities in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. We used silence, as well as a visioning process, to allow the outline and flow of our masterclass to emerge.

Often, teams will work at an accelerated pace, using a triage process to prioritize the essential components of the outcome. In these situations, the collaboration will be smoother if teams clearly define roles and write down the outcomes with priorities so everyone has access to the information. Which leads to the next element of success.

Shared Responsibility

Churchill quote - responsibility

Image by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Collaboration efforts work better when team members feel empowered to share responsibilities in a mutually supportive manner. If one or two people take on most of the responsibility, they or others on the team may feel resentful. Sometimes those who take on the lion’s share of responsibility do so because they are control-freaks. They won’t let go, which dis-empowers others on the team. A healthy team openly discusses what each person is willing to be held accountable for. The team should also discuss how they will support each other when individuals encounter challenges in their work process.


Dorianne and team in group activity

Dorianne and team in group activity

Ideally, every collaboration effort should include some aspect of learning. If the nature of the work is repetitive, such as creating management reports, there are still opportunities to learn. In this example, team members can seek ways to improve the reports. Or they can ask questions about the information included in the report to better understand the business they support. And, there are numerous ways that team members can learn to improve their collaboration, for example, by observing how they communicate with each other and reflecting together on their work process and habits with each other.

You might notice that I have not yet conclusively defined “successful collaboration.”  For me, successful collaboration includes the elements of success described in this post, along with the six elements I will cover in my next post.

The question remains, does it matter if the outcome is not achieved as planned?

In my collaboration effort with Maiken, we did not get the minimum number of participants to move forward with our masterclass. Despite the outcome, we considered our collaboration to be a success because we developed excellent curriculum and content for the course which we can use with our clients, and we worked together with patience, pacing, and shared responsibility (plus the 6 elements of successful collaboration from classical musicians). We learned to use social media and various tools for marketing. We energized ourselves and each other to create and to serve others. And, most importantly for me, I reignited my writing process for this blog and my future books!

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  • JD Stein

    Insightful! Looking forward to learning w.

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