At OFE, we define collaboration as the ability and willingness to work effectively and efficiently with others to achieve a mutual goal. There is a lot to unpack in that one sentence, but the most important thing to notice is it goes beyond “working with other people”. When you collaborate with others, you build a sort of partnership where you agree to be open to other perspectives and opinions to find the most fitting solution for the task at hand.
Employers need people who can collaborate well because very few roles exist in their own bubbles. Not only that, but usually those who are willing to work with others also possess skills like, problem-solving, adaptability, and willingness to learn, which, added all together, equals a very desirable employee.
Lucky for you collaboration is a skill, and like any other skill, you can get better with intentional practice. Here are some tips to get you started.
Cultivate a “learning” mentality. It’s time to admit that you don’t know everything and that you don’t have all the answers. When you start with this mindset, your capacity for professional and personal growth increases exponentially. This is because admitting that our knowledge is lacking forces us to seek others to learn from. And maybe there are things you know more about than your colleagues – great! Instead of holding on to all of that information, share it with your co-workers then listen to their comments or suggestions. (Say it with me, “I don’t know everything!”) In this way, both sides have the opportunity to discover something new and better. At the very least, sharing information, whether you’re asking for it or giving it, helps you gain a better understanding of other perspectives across the company, which will definitely help you in the future.
Listen more than you speak. If you decide your goal is to learn, then it’s important you listen with no agenda. Don’t focus on what you already know about the topic and don’t look for the next chance to correct, argue, or disprove. Instead, just listen. Adopt active listening techniques, like restating in your own words what the other person told you, to help you focus if needed. Doing this also gives your brain a chance to process what you just heard, which can lead to valuable “a-ha!” moments.
Participate in tasks or projects outside of your role or job description. Is there a better way to learn how to collaborate than by doing something unfamiliar to you? Even if you’re just volunteering for low stakes projects like planning a company outing, you can still use that time to learn how to ask questions, how to speak up to give your input, and how to take direction. Plus, participating in activities around the office allows you to build rapport with your co-workers, generally making it easier to work together when harder tasks are inevitably thrown your way.
When you combine the experiences, expertise and ideas of the people around you, there’s a high chance something amazing will come out of it. If you haven’t thought much about your ability to work with others, now is the time to be intentional about it. Don’t underestimate how far collaboration can take you in the workplace!