Being able to collaborate with others, and getting them to collaborate with you, is the secret weapon of success. However, sometimes we are reluctant to collaborate because of perceived competition, or not knowing the other person well enough or feeling inferior. Don’t let that stop you! Here’s how to build strong collaborative relationships:
- Know your strengths… and your weaknesses. I’m a fan of the Clifton Strengthfinder, where the premise is that you should focus on your strengths rather than on your weaknesses. If you spend your energy on the things you like doing and are already doing it well, you’ll get a higher return on the investment of resources (like energy and time). What about your weaknesses, then? The stuff that you hate doing, but that still needs to get done? That’s where collaboration becomes a clever way to manage your weaknesses. Find someone who likes doing the things you hate and ask them to collaborate. You might be able to offer some of your strengths as a trade, which might be their weakness. Everyone wins! A colleague of mine reached out a couple of years ago. She had a concept for a training course and all the content but wasn’t good at designing an intervention. Knowing that this is my strength, we collaborated and created a very successful training course.
- Dig your well before you’re thirsty. This book, by Harvey Mackay espouses the value of networking and building relationships continuously. Don’t wait until you’re dying of thirst before you dig a well – so, don’t wait until you need to collaborate before you invest in relationships. Have a plan for building and maintaining relationships in your network in an ongoing way so that you can call on these when you have the need for collaboration. Schedule lunches and coffee dates often and invest the time and effort in relationships. It will stand you in good stead.
- Don’t be shy. The world is a global village. You are just a couple of degrees removed from your idols. Send them a connection request on LinkedIn or reach out in an email. The worst they can say is no. Imagine if they say yes! A key lesson that I have learnt in life is to ask for what I want. So, ask the people you’d like to collaborate with if they’d be interested, even if they are gurus way out of your (perceived) league. It might just be the smartest move you make.
- Be visible online. Having a presence online is a table stake. Even if you’re happily employed, keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, post articles and respond to other posts. This is a great way to build your digital presence. People get to know you online, and when you ask for collaboration, they will be more willing to respond.
- Do favours when you can. People tend to repay favours. Research shows that it is a very powerful social contract. If someone asks a favour from you, do it without expecting anything back. Chances are that they will pay it back when you have a need of them. Investing a little effort could pay off bigtime in the future. I had taken part in an online research project a couple of years ago for a student’s Masters. It took me but 20 minutes. Two years later I received an email from her. In her new corporate job they needed services from a consultant like me, and she thought of me. This led to a very lucrative project. Not bad for a 20-minute investment…
Being able to collaborate effectively is a critical skill to keep yourself future-fit. According to the World Economic Forum the top skills for 2025 includes problem-solving, self-management, working with people and technology use and development. With the world of work changing so fast the ability to collaborate effectively is not just a nice-to-have. Make it your secret weapon.