Boss Lady

Collaboration skills: what do you need for successful collaboration?


This guide outlines why collaboration skills are increasingly important in today’s business world, and how to improve yours.

Facemasks, social distancing, virtual meetings and lockdowns don’t restrict the human desire to connect. We’re a social animal driven to improve our outcomes and nothing ever has or ever will stop us finding avenues to collaborate and develop. While COVID has thrown a spanner in the works, our will to overcome, prosper and grow has not been scratched.

There’s an African proverb many are familiar with… If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. So it begs a few questions – are you planning to be in business in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Are you wanting to build something special so others may thrive in your wake?

If so, you’re going to need supporters, advisors and collaborators to help you carry the load, endure the hard times, celebrate successes with and keep you on the straight and narrow. It may be hard to fathom through a COVID prism, but these people are your connections to success. They are your guides, inquisitors, helpers, referral partners and cheer squad. They’ll pick you up and dust you off when you’re down, help you become the you that lives inside and be the warmth that floats your spirit.

Why are collaboration skills important?

Collaboration skills are critical to business success, especially in roles that require a lot of teamwork. Companies have created increasingly diverse and multidisciplinary teams, which is excellent for bringing together different points of view and enriching discussions, planning and ensuring more assertive decision-making.

However, none of this is possible without a collaborative environment, where all people are valued and feel comfortable to contribute ideas, experiences and opinions. Collaborative professionals help colleagues and managers with empathy and contribute to increased productivity, creating healthy relationships at work and, of course, business growth.

In other words, like other soft skills — such as critical thinking, communication and creativity — collaboration skills are generally not learned in a course, but rather developed throughout life through personal experiences.

Why are collaboration skills an advantage for professional and personal life?

Knowing how to work in a group is a very important characteristic for anyone who wants to stand out in their career, especially if one of the goals is to grow professionally and occupy leadership positions, which is where collaboration skills come in. Managing people is one of the biggest challenges in the job market, and companies have been looking for professionals capable of doing this with the collaboration skills of empathy and assertiveness.

For this, it is necessary to have a very well-developed set of collaboration skills, as that is the only way we can see the potential of all the people involved, make room for new ideas and pursue a common goal.

But collaboration skills are not just for those who dream of leading teams. Knowing how to collaborate with the team is essential in any role, after all, even self-employed professionals need to work with other people, dealing with customers, suppliers and partners.

And personal life also benefits a lot, you know? Interpersonal relationships with family members, spouses and friends become much better and healthier when everyone collaborates for a peaceful, constructive and affectionate relationship.

How to develop collaboration skills

Even if you’re already a collaborative person, it’s always good to look for experiences that help us hone our collaboration skills, right? And, if you feel that collaboration is not your strong point, know that it is still time to develop and start using this soft skill to your advantage in your personal and professional life! Start developing your collaboration skills!

Search for new experiences

Exposing yourself to new experiences, with unknown people and unexplored environments can be a good opportunity to practice your ability to collaborate. It is common for us to experience some difficulty in changing our behavior or testing new approaches in groups with which we are already used to living.

However, as you meet new people and participate in different activities, you can strive to be more collaborative and do a self-observation exercise to understand how you are feeling and what your difficulties are. Prioritize experiences with diverse groups that really help to work collaborative potential to achieve a common goal.

Practice listening

Knowing how to listen to other people is fundamental to creating collaboration skills. So focus on practicing and developing empathic and truly attentive listening. By doing this, you open space for people to share their opinions and experiences, in addition to creating bonds and a sense of belonging to the group. These factors are essential to strengthen not only your collaboration skills, but that of the whole group, as they work on empathy and understanding.

Participate in integration actions

Don’t run away from actions and events with the objective of integrating the company’s people! These spaces are very productive for creating collaboration skills and bonds between colleagues, which guarantees a more harmonious, pleasant and collaborative work environment.

Be available to help

Making yourself available to share knowledge and answer questions from colleagues is also an interesting way to develop and improve your collaboration skills. You can do this by letting people know about your availability on a day-to-day basis or at specific meetings.

Another way to do this on a recurring and more comprehensive way is to make a time available in your calendar for anyone who wants to schedule a conversation with you about common projects or subjects you master, for example.

See how collaboration skills are valuable? If you want to be successful in your career, get along with your work team and stand out in the profession, don’t forget to pay special attention to all your collaboration skills.

3 Tips to consider when looking for collaborators

  1. Find collaborators who work with the same target market as you
  2. Ensure your values are aligned
  3. And that you can share clients and create a “Two-way street”

Collaborators with the same target market.

Understanding your target market, and their purchasing journey is an important step. For Rebecca Badenoch, a divorce lawyer it is imperative. Often her clients are too emotionally distraught to look for a lawyer and clearly advertising does not really work. Rebecca has formed relationships with marriage counsellors, psychologists, and other professionals likely to deal with her client upstream of her. These are what we would call the obvious collaborators.

The less obvious collaborators might be those that deal with her client in other facets of life but still would be aware of her growing crisis an the need for a divorce lawyer; for example house cleaning & child-minding services, personal trainers, image consultants and masseurs.

Ensuring your values are aligned

This often starts with a bit of introspection as you define in your own mind your values. Think of how quickly you respond to a query or what you will do if something goes wrong.  Trade these stories to paint a picture of your collaborator’s values.

Ultimately you really want to connect with people who do what they say they will do. So, on first meeting agree to follow up with a conversation and a small action. It is a simple and effective test.

Good collaboration requires that you refer your collaborators goods or services to others. Remember, it’s your reputation on the line so be sure that your collaborator will deliver to a standard that you would be proud of. No, you don’t need to have used them yourself, although this is preferable. If they have testimonials given from people you trust, then explain this in your referral.

Two-way street

Good collaboration is a two-way street it quickly becomes ineffective if you are doing all the work and getting nothing in return. When you first meet and engage with new collaborators you need to understand if you can give them referrals. It’s easy for those with the same clients as you but not so easy with the less obvious collaborators.

This was a dilemma that Ingrid Sutherland from Archive Winebar, pondered at a Referral training workshop. After she listed her potential collaborators, she realised one of her main suppliers of events was from a personal organiser, Lou. Lou had given Ingrid loads of business with family parties & events from the people she worked for. Who could she refer to Lou and how could she help Lou get more business to deepen the relationship?

The answer came to her in a blinding flash! With the onset of COVID Ingrid had to extend her bar outside and needed a project organiser to liaise with council, regulations & tradies. It was an obvious choice to engage Lou.

They have built and deepened the relationship, both with a better understanding of one another’s businesses. Today they have a program of events ready to go as soon as the restrictions have lifted.

So, what are you waiting for? You’re going to go far, right? So now is the time to initiate some relationships, rekindle others, cement a few more and create an ecosystem around you where mutual benefit takes wing so the time and distance can be covered together.

About Lisa Sweeney

Lisa Sweeney is an inspired networking professional building a business, Business in Heels, to support entrepreneurial women world-wide with resources opportunity and choice. I negotiate win-win deals for businesses looking to further their reach through our face to face events and social networks. We aim to help woman in business be successful on a global stage with equality.

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