What on Earth is Collaboration, if it’s Not Simply Agreeing to Compromise?

Collaboration is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean? Many people might think it just means compromising – each person gives a little to reach an agreement. But true collaboration goes much deeper than that. 

Compromise involves each party giving up something they want in order to meet halfway. Collaboration, on the other hand, involves working together to find a solution that fully satisfies everyone’s interests and needs. The focus is on finding a “win-win” rather than a “lose-lose.” 

In compromise, the discussion is about what people are willing to give up. In collaboration, the discussion is about how we can work together to make sure all needs are met. Compromise results in an okay outcome that no one is fully happy with. Collaboration results in creative solutions and outcomes that everyone feels good about.

Some keys to true collaboration:

Focus on shared goals and desired outcomes rather than individual positions. Understand everyone’s interests and motivations:

In compromise, people tend to lock into their individual positions and argue for what they want. Collaboration requires moving beyond these hardened positions to focus on what people are really trying to achieve. 

Start by identifying the shared goals and desired outcomes that everyone can get behind. If you can align on the bigger purpose and objectives, the individual positions become less rigid. 

Also take time to understand where each person is coming from – what interests, needs, and motivations underlie their position. Often when you dig deeper, you find common ground. Different positions can actually be complementary rather than opposed, serving the same fundamental interests. 

For example, one person may take a position that maximising short-term profits is critical. Another person argues that it’s more important to invest in long-term sustainability. By discussing underlying interests, they discover that both are focused on ensuring the company survives and thrives over time. This shared goal and motivation allows them to generate solutions that address both short-term profits and long-term investments.

Taking the time to uncover shared goals, interests and motivations is essential to collaboration. It enables the group to see beyond the superficial positions to find the common ground. This creates space for creativity, cooperation and finding win-wins.

Foster open and honest communication. Create a safe space for all ideas and perspectives. 

Open and honest communication is crucial for collaboration, but it doesn’t happen automatically. People often hold back ideas or gloss over disagreements to avoid conflict. 

True collaboration requires creating an environment where people feel safe to express any perspective or criticism. Group members must be able to share their thinking transparently without fear of judgement.

Some ways to foster open communication:

  • Set ground rules encouraging candid but respectful discussions. Allow debate and dissent, don’t squelch it.
  • Adopt an attitude of curiosity. Ask lots of questions to understand reasoning behind ideas.
  • Don’t take disagreement personally. Focus on content not delivery.
  • Give affirmation and appreciation for people’s contributions, even if you disagree. 
  • Make sure all voices are heard, not just the loudest. Draw out quieter members.
  • Allow time for reflection and processing before decisions. Don’t rush.
  • Keep body language open and encouraging. Avoid crossed arms and other closed postures.
  • Use brainstorming techniques where all ideas are captured without criticism. Build on others’ ideas.
  • Keep the end goal in mind. Different opinions can advance the shared objective.

An environment of psychological safety, where people can speak their minds without fear of embarrassment or retribution, is key. With open communication comes creativity, innovation and collaborative solutions.

Look for new alternatives and possibilities. Creative brainstorming and thinking beyond the obvious.

Collaboration works best when the group gets out of either/or, binary thinking. Often the most powerful solutions come from generating entirely new options, not just choosing between pre-existing ones. 

Set aside time for blue-sky brainstorming where the group can think freely and wildly. Encourage everyone to voice unusual ideas and perspectives. Write down any idea without judging initially. Build on others’ ideas.

Thinking outside the box requires suspending assumptions and taking different angles on the issue:

  • How might we approach this if we had unlimited resources?
  • What solutions might customers or community members come up with? 
  • If we could start from scratch, how might we design this?
  • How have other organisations or fields addressed similar problems? 
  • What underlying constraints or assumptions are we taking for granted?
  • What would a radically different solution look like?

Give people permission to have fun and get creative. Imagining unrealistic or exaggerated scenarios can spark insight. Capture inspiration from outside sources.

Don’t get locked into only what seems practical initially. Stretch your group’s thinking. The most impractical idea might spark a great new direction.

Sometimes the first ideas are too similar to what you’re already doing. Pushing for new alternatives unlocks innovation and leads to powerful collaborative solutions.

Be open and flexible. Willingness to change approaches and find new solutions.

Collaboration requires letting go of ego and being willing to change your mindset. People often get anchored in their initial opinions and advocate stubbornly for their position.

True collaboration involves maintaining an open, flexible mindset. You have to be willing to listen, evolve your thinking and recognise valid points that may cause you to change approaches.

Some tips for flexibility:

  • Don’t be wedded to your original proposal. See it as a starting point rather than the final solution.
  • Be attentive to new information that contradicts your viewpoint. Don’t dismiss it automatically.
  • Periodically summarise and reflect back key points you’re hearing from others. Make sure you understand.
  • Ask yourself “What if my assumptions are wrong?” Consider different premises.
  • Thank people for ideas that expand your perspective, even if you’re not fully on board yet. 
  • Remain calm and thoughtful when people challenge your opinions. Don’t get defensive. 
  • Focus on the best outcome, not defending your ego. Be willing to combine or change your idea.
  • Remember you don’t have to originate every solution. Support improvements from others.
  • Recognise when it’s time to abandon an approach and try something new. Don’t stick to a sinking ship.

Staying nimble and adaptive allows breakthrough solutions to emerge. Letting go of ego makes room for the collective wisdom of the team.

Establish group rapport, trust and respect. Recognise everyone’s contributions.

Collaboration depends on a foundation of strong relationships and team cohesion. People need to feel safe, valued and understood by the group.

Take time upfront for team building activities – this helps break down barriers and establish rapport. Look for common interests and connections outside work. 

Personal relationships foster trust. Share a bit about yourself, your work style and passion for the issues. Admit mistakes and vulnerabilities.

Express genuine interest in each person’s unique background and experience. Recognise the distinct perspective they bring. Draw out introverts.

Make sure everyone has opportunities to contribute meaningfully. Consider individual skills when assigning roles.

Actively listen without judgment. Seek to understand rather than debate. Ask clarifying questions. Paraphrase key points. 

Give affirmation and validation when you see merit in someone’s ideas. Acknowledge good points even when you disagree overall.

Avoid power struggles or forming factions/camps. Don’t allow a few loud voices to dominate. Facilitate equal participation.

Celebrate group achievements. Recognise accomplishments both big and small. Express appreciation frequently.

The human connections enable challenging debates without rupturing relationships. Rapport builds the trust required for risky creative problem solving. 

With mutual understanding and respect, the team can productively collaborate to achieve collective success.

Ensure all voices are heard. Draw out quieter team members.

It’s easy for a few extroverted or outspoken members to dominate discussion in a group. Collaborative solutions require input from every perspective.

Make sure to actively draw out quieter team members. Some ways to help give everyone a voice:

  • Go around the table inviting each person to weigh in on key topics. Don’t let dialogue bounce between just the loudest. 
  • Ask directed questions to hear from less vocal members: “Maria, what are your thoughts on this approach?”
  • Use brainstorming and written exercises so ideas can be captured anonymously. 
  • Break into smaller groups so each person gets more air time. Report back key points.
  • Set ground rules that discourage interrupting or criticising ideas prematurely. 
  • Facilitate discussions to regulate who speaks when. Don’t let a few domineer.
  • Watch for non-verbal cues from less assertive teammates. Draw them out if they appear to want to speak.
  • Ask explicitly for perspectives that seem to be missing from the debate. 
  • Paraphrase quieter members’ remarks to amplify and affirm their contributions.
  • Don’t default to the most charismatic personalities. Prioritise ideas over influence.

Making sure all voices contribute prevents groupthink and leads to better outcomes. Hidden gems often come from the least vocal people in the room. Valuing all voices is key to true collaboration.

Think abundantly. Believe there are enough resources and success to go around.

Collaboration often breaks down when people perceive limited resources or opportunities. An attitude of scarcity leads to competition, protectiveness and distrust. 

Abundant thinking assumes there are enough resources, credit and success to go around. It creates an expansive, generous mindset.

Ways to encourage abundant thinking:

  • View the market as unlimited. More success for others expands the pie for everyone. 
  • Avoid zero-sum mentalities. Don’t fall into “If they win, we lose.”
  • Celebrate wins for other departments or teams. See them as shared success.
  • Focus on achieving collective goals, not competing for limited rewards.
  • Believe ideas are unlimited. We can generate endless creative solutions.
  • Imagine resources expanding, not static. How might we obtain more funding, time, people?
  • Be willing to share materials, data, insights across the organisation. Don’t hoard.
  • Have individuals share recognition for achievements. Highlight group contributions.  
  • Avoid limiting language like “We only have so much budget.” Speak in expansive possibilities.
  • Benchmark success based on the team’s shared goals rather than comparing to others.

Thinking abundantly helps people be more generous, creative and cooperative. It enables truly synergistic collaboration that amplifies outcomes for everyone.

Be willing to reconsider your initial assumptions and ideas. Let go of ego.

We often become attached to our first ideas and assumptions. It’s natural to want to defend our brainchild. However, collaboration requires the humility to recognise your idea may not be the best approach. 

Come to discussions with an open mind, not just advocating for your pre-set position. Be genuinely willing to have your opinion changed through debate and new information.

Ways to reconsider assumptions:

  • Ask others to challenge your assumptions and logic. Don’t be defensive.
  • Periodically summarise the discussion and paraphrase key points. Let others refine or correct your interpretation. 
  • Frequently re-evaluate the goals and desired outcomes in case they need updating.
  • Recognise when people make valid critiques of your ideas. Don’t stubbornly dismiss all feedback.
  • If you find yourself repeatedly explaining the same thing, take a step back. Are you missing something?
  • Consider shelving your preferred solution temporarily to allow completely different ideas to emerge. 
  • Thank colleagues who shift your viewpoint even partially. Build on that momentum.
  • If there are clear signals your idea isn’t gaining traction, don’t force it. Move on.

Letting go of ego enables breakthrough solutions to emerge that no one initially envisioned. You “win” when the team achieves its shared goals in the best possible way.


True collaboration is not easy. It requires investing time upfront to build trust, rapport and understanding. This lays the foundation for creative problem solving.

Patience is crucial, as uncovering shared interests and generating innovative solutions takes time. It’s important to move past initial positions and assumptions. Deeper breakthroughs emerge through extended, thoughtful dialogue.

Each person must remain actively engaged with an open, collaborative mindset. Avoid retreating into defensiveness or compromise. Keep exploring avenues for shared wins.

Approach debates with curiosity not combativeness. Maintain positive momentum even when disagreements happen. The friction leads to better solutions.

When collaboration succeeds, the results are empowering. People feel heard, valued and respected. Ownership extends far beyond any individual contributions. 

Unique synergies emerge that no one could produce alone. Diversity of thought becomes a superpower. The collective potential is unleashed.

It takes work, but the outcomes make collaboration worth the effort. When people come together creatively, in trust and good faith, they can achieve truly incredible things.

Let’s take the first step – opening our minds. From there, the direction will reveal itself through the combined wisdom in the room. The possibilities are endless.

So are you ready? It’s time to start collaborating, not just compromising. Our shared success awaits!