How to Build a Collaboration Based Culture!

When executed correctly, great collaboration efforts between entities have a way of igniting innovation, and inspiring people to go beyond what they (or anyone else) thought possible. Unfortunately, most collaboration efforts fall short. Why? Because collaboration leaders and team members rarely apply the Collaboration Rules of Engagement.

The good news is that collaboration, like all management conventions, is a process. This means that collaboration can be broken down into logical components and processes. The goal is to inspire Disciplined Collaboration. This session delves into the mechanics of collaboration performance and behavior and will guide you through the Collaboration Rules of Engagement.

History: Collaborative Behaviors

Early human (indigenous culture) survival was based on a collaborative model; primarily based on ‘learning and pitching in’ as part of a community. When communities split, due to lack of basic resources, tribes formed. Tribes typically compete rather than collaborate.

We make a choice to compete or collaborate based on how we view our world – COMPETE or COOPERATE.

The first time the word ‘collaboration’ was used was 1845.  From the Latin: “To work with others.”

Great concept, but collaboration has a few negative connotations that we cannot overlook. Widely used in World War II: “Cooperate traitorously with an occupying enemy.”

Examples of Collaboration Efforts:

Skunk Works: Used in engineering and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with advanced or secret projects. A team formed at Lockheed in 1943 developed highly innovative aircraft beating its first deadline by 37 days.

Manhattan Project: Even though the idea of collaboration was recognized as critical, it still took significant lobbying (and a Presidential Mandate) to form the National Defense Research Committee which resulted in the collaborative project (USA, UK, Canada) during WWII that developed the first atomic bomb. The project succeeded in developing and detonating three nuclear weapons in 1945.

Trust, fear, perception, and experience play a role in people’s willingness to collaborate.

“Collaboration Willingness” is driven by:

  • A person’s natural behavior pattern: We use the common framework of DISC.
  • Maslow’s Pyramid of Motivation: If everyone is on the same page and/on the same level, collaborative efforts tend to go more smoothly.
  • Cognitive dissonance: The individual’s level of comfort and skill at reconciling differences.

Trust, fear, perception, and experience play a role in people’s willingness to collaborate. If you are working in a team environment, it is just as important to be ‘brain literate’, ‘motivation literate’ and ‘influence literate’ as it is computer literate.

DISC is an acronym for:

  • Dominance: The need for control and your source of ambition. Whenever you are feeling self-motivated, you are using your ‘D’ factor.
  • Influence – The need for communication and your source of persuasion. Whenever you are feeling talkative, you are using your ‘I’ factor.
  • Steadiness/strategy – The need for planning and your source of thoughtfulness. When you are being strategic or go out of your way to help someone, you are using your ‘S’ factor.
  • Compliance – The need for structure and your source of organization. When you become extremely focused on completing your tasks, you are using your ‘C’ factor.

Flexing: Dialing Behaviors Up and Down

Cognitive dissonance: Effects on collaboration, communication, and behavioral choices:

  1. Fight: Stand your ground, give no quarter, don’t budge on principle
  2. Flight: Ignore the issue, force others to deal with it, disengage
  3. Stall/freeze: Refuse to move forward, delay decision making, defer postpone critical conversations
  4. Reconcile differences: Agree to disagree, give grace and give way, submit to the greater good, have a collaborative mindset.

Perils of Poor Collaboration Efforts

The greatest risk is that if people experience poor collaboration, they become reluctant to engage in the future.

What you can do to balance the risks, challenges, and rewards of collaborative efforts?

Recognize the challenges, barriers, pitfalls, and opportunities inherent in collaborative efforts.

  • Poor collaboration is a disease afflicting even the best organizations.
    • Misdiagnosing the Problem (Is collaboration the answer?)
    • Underestimating the Costs
    • Implementing the Wrong Solution
  • Lack of trust leads to a lack of collaboration.
  • BAD COLLABORATION is worse than no collaboration.
    • Over-collaborating
    • Overshooting the Potential Value
    • Collaborating in Hostile Territory (where trust isn’t warranted)

Disciplined Collaboration: Rules of Engagement

  1. Put collaborative leaders in place.
  2. Evaluate opportunities for collaboration.
  3. Set collaboration goals.
  4. Define collaboration roles and responsibilities (including individual and shared accountabilities).
  5. Determine the collaboration boundaries.
  6. Put collaborative team members on the team and explain the Rules of Engagement.
  7. Spot barriers to collaboration.
  8. Tailor solutions to tear down the barriers.

Disciplined collaboration takes place when people from different entities work together in cross-entity teams on a common task or provide significant help to each other to address a threat or complete goals.

Collaborative Leadership

Collaborative Leadership is the ability to engage a diverse set of individuals (who may or may not be in your span of control) and inspire them to work cooperatively and collectively towards common imperatives, objectives and/or goals.

Skills needed:

  • Mission-orientation (to align entities)
  • Teamwork (to provide structure and rules of engagement)
  • Influence (to promote and motivate)
  • Social smarts — Understanding behavior (to drive activity) How to:
    • ‘Flex’ self and others into a collaboration mindset.
    • Nip anti-collaboration behaviors in the bud.
    • Leverage Neuro-biological Drivers of social intelligence to enhance collaboration efforts:
      • Mirror Neurons: People mirror and match other’s behavior.
      • Oscillators: Coordinate people physiologically (energy, responses to stimuli, coordinated activity)
      • Spindle cells: Control how we feel about a person or group; and whether we will flee or follow.
        • Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher inspired and ignited people to serve customers happily by smiling, hugging, high energy, thanking people constantly.
        • Churchill galvanized a nation promoting stoic optimism.
        • JFK stimulated the US scientific community and united the country, creating a collaboration mindset. Reagan was dedicated to the unraveling of the Communistic Block uniting Allies to the cause.

The questions that beg answering when collaborative efforts are undertaken should be:

  • How do you get people to willingly, cooperatively, and innovatively work across boundaries (geographic, multidisciplinary, organizational, cultural, and with disparate interests/goals)?
  • How do we deal with the level of complexity collaborative efforts require?
  • Why do so many collaborative efforts fail to deliver what they logically could?
  • What precisely can we do to ensure that our collaboration efforts succeed?
  • What do we do when conflict arises?
  • How do we best make decisions in a collaborative effort?
  • How can we make sure the best results of collaboration occur; without getting bogged down by the worst that could ensue?
  • Are their natural behavior patterns that promote collaboration?
  • Using DISC-based research to unpack behavioral components.
  • How do you capitalize on your collaborative behavioral strengths and compensate for your collaboration-based behavioral challenges?
  • How do I learn to change habits and take on collaboration-based behavior if these are my strong suit?
  • How do I teach my team to do the same? How do I provide feedback to those who aren’t on the collaboration bus?
  • How do I ‘flex’ my behavior for my role on a collaborative team?
  • What specifically do collaboration habits and behaviors look like?
  • How can we hold everyone accountable for these?
  • How am I supposed to portray myself, my team, my organization and how am I expected to act? What are my boundaries?

Cost/Benefit: Getting Collaboration Wrong … or Getting It Right


“It was just an incredible team effort. There were no boundaries. The software guys, the hardware guys, the firmware guys, everybody worked together.” Which led to their success.

SONY (Walkman)

“Sony has long thrived on a hyper-competitive culture, where engineers were encouraged to outdo each other, not work together.” Which ultimately led to their demise.

Know When to Collaborate, and When Not To

  1. Understand the case for collaboration—to appreciate how collaboration can:
    • Increase performance
    • Achieve a lofty goal
    • Attain a mandate more efficiently, or
    • Serve a public good more effectively
  2. Evaluate the upside for the organization—to consider the potential for the organization overall or its stakeholders.
  3. Assess when to say no to a collaboration effort. Put in place and articulate a decision rule for when to go ahead, and when not to, at the leadership level.

The Enemy of Collaboration

  • Control versus Autonomy: I want you to collaborate, but run it past me first…”
  • No Trust (in other entities, team members, or been burned before.)
  • Lack of Transparency: “They don’t need to/have the right to know.”
  • Not-Invented-Here Barrier: “What do they know? Why do we have to cooperate and do things they say or their way?”
  • Protecting/Hoarding Barrier: There’s a risk if I let them know. They’ll take credit, tell people our secrets, discover we aren’t as ready/competent/good/confident as we said.
  • Transfer Barrier: Once they have this (control, tool, person, process, information), we won’t get it back…

Reasons Collaborative Teams Fail

  • Groupthink
  • Compartmentalized Information Dissemination
  • Ethical or Legal Constraints
  • Contractual Constraints
  • Effort-specific Constraints
  • Insufficient Support
  • Information Withheld
  • Too Many Members
  • Lack of clear goals flowing through to RA² Interface documents
  • Lack of Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  • Over-management

How to Tailor Collaborative Solutions

  • Understand that human behavior is typically collaboration adverse.
    • Choice: Cooperate or Compete.
    • Reward collaborative behaviors.
    • Call out non-collaborative behaviors.
  • Be a collaboration messenger.
    • Speak the language of collaboration.
    • Push for a common value of collaborative teamwork.
    • Remind people why collaboration is vital and important.
    • Stress the risks of not collaborating and the rewards of collaborating.
  • Appreciate Communication Choices:
    • Smooth the waters: Diplomacy, leadership, listening, engagement
    • Stir up a tempest: Gossip cements distrust
    • Refuse to engage/cooperate: Build resentment, disrespectful
  • Build nimble collaboration networks.
    • Release the control when the collaboration goal is launched.
    • Put trusted and able collaborative team members on collaboration teams*.
  • Unify collaboration entities around the goals and outcomes.

Using Teamwork Principles to Guide Collaborative Efforts

  • Create a Core Value of Collaboration Teamwork to:
    • Increase Efficiency – Transfer of Best Practices
    • Grow Collaboration Knowledge Base Through Shared Expertise
    • Improve the Quality of Decisions Through Listening, Being Open, Peer Advice
    • Develop New Ideas and Opportunities Through the Cross-Pollination of Ideas
  • Create a Unifying Goal that must:
    • Create a Common ‘Fate’
    • Be Simple and Concrete
    • Stir Passion
    • Put Competition to the Side
  • Collaboration Must Be Measured through Data Analysis and must be:
    • Evaluated against original goal and expectations
    • Have Realistic Consequences for Success or Failure

Commit to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach

All members of a collaborative team must be on the same page. The purpose of the team must be clearly identified before the members of the team are chosen.

Team’s Governing and Restrained Behaviors

What causes stress for individual team members?

  • Without insight as to what their natural behavioral tendencies are, team members, find it a bit of a ‘hit or miss’ figuring out how to adjust to what the team goals require as well as figuring out how to interact effectively and efficiently with other members whose natural behaviors might be quite different from their own.

Understanding an Individual’s Behavioral Governance

  • There is a fundamental in understanding behavioral governance: Anytime you make the choice to behave, you make the choice to use a behavior governed by a DISC Factor (or two).

How do DISC Factors typically result in behaviors and actions?

  • Behaviors and actions are determined by which behavioral factor is the most ‘overriding’ or ‘governing’.
  • Adjusting to what the team’s goals are is a major consideration in accomplishing team objectives.

What precisely is Team Governing Behavior (TGB) and why is it so important to understand?

Assessing a Team’s Governing Behaviors (TGB)

  • Assessing the behavioral makeup of a team using assessment tools is important. By employing team assessment tools to evaluate a team’s strengths and weaknesses, you garner insight that might take months to uncover.

Reviewing the Team’s Restrained Behaviors (TRB)

  • Assessing a Team’s Governing Behavior is an important aspect of team dynamics. Just as important are behavioral elements that might be missing or non-governing (restrained).

9 Fundamental Operational Steps of High-Performance Teams

  1. Create and Articular the Team’s Vision, Mission, and Values
  2. SMART Goal Setting
  3. Conduct a Situational Analysis
  4. Derive the Team Strategy
  5. Develop the Action Plan
  6. Communicate the Action Plan
  7. Execute the Plan
  8. Control and Revise
  9. Conduct an After-Action Review (AAR) & Evaluate Lessons Learned

Phases of Team Development

Forming:  The first phase of team development. when individuals start to incorporate themselves into a team and see themselves as team members. This period often includes confusion, testing of behaviors, testing the behaviors and responses of other team members, getting to know how team members fit in. People spend time and energy trying to grasp the political undercurrents and dynamics of the team. There is a heavy dependence on a team leader for direction, vision, motivation, and information.

Storming: Without a doubt, storming is the most difficult phase for a team to get through. This stage is often characterized by jockeying for position, infighting, challenges among group members, defensiveness and competition. Team members respond emotionally to demands and resist taking action, thinking:

“How am I going to take on more work when I have too much now?”

“Do I want to be on this team?”

“Joe’s difficult to talk to, so do I have to work with him? How will we work together?”

Norming: Norming is the stage where all the elevated emotions of the previous stages begin to subside and everyone begins to relax and adjust to their roles and responsibilities in the team.

Performing: Performing is the ultimate stage that all teams must strive to reach. It is during this phase that team members are totally comfortable with one another and focus entirely on their work.

Adjourning: Adjourning occurs when group members have completed their appointed tasks and are ready to go their separate ways. This might be a permanent split at the end of a seminar or workshop, or it might simply be a temporary break until the next meeting for an effort-oriented team.

RA Squared – Responsibility, Authority, Accountability


  • What you have to do
  • Performing tasks required to get the job done
  • Obligation to get something done
  • Accomplishments/Failures
  • Core Responsibilities cannot be transferred
  • Implicit and Explicit job tasks/Functions
  • Taking the initiative for a task or request
  • Acceptance of the ability to do the task


  • Power to get the job done
  • Power to delegate to get something done
  • Power to make decisions and power to act
  • Power to utilize and deploy resources
  • Power to set the accountability factor
  • Knowing what it takes to get the job done
  • Growing out of the Responsibility and the Accountability – it is a cyclical relationship
  • Ability to command, control and direct resources
  • Make a request to get expertise in order to make a logical decision


  • If you say you’ll get it done, you’ll get it done
  • A promise that can be measured
  • Needs to be measured (hold someone accountable by the metrics)
  • Heart of delegation
  • Following through with your commitment
  • Accountability is how we measure our action or responsibility
  • Measurement of who and what
  • Consequences for meeting or not meeting your tasks
  • Responsibility and Accountability are not synonymous. They should not be used interchangeably.

Team Commitment Contract

There are four components to the Team Commitment Contract

The Team Commitment Contract is a four-part document that asks team members to define in writing what the following four following terms mean to them:

  1. Safety
    1. Physiological (Environmental) safety
    1. Psychological safety
  2. Support
  3. Education – Growth & Learning
  4. Fun – Enjoyment & Satisfaction

Providing Guidance through the Team Commitment Contract


  • Provide an opportunity for employees to get involved.
  • Provide time for employees to attend the meetings and do the work.
  • Attend the meetings/events yourself.
  • Read the minutes and associated communications.
  • Designate a coordinator who is responsible for reporting to /updating management.
  • Provide the appropriate resources for team success (budget, technology, etc.)


  • Verbally endorse the team
  • Draft/send a letter of support to the team leader and individual team members, which acknowledges and appreciates their participation (effort, commitment)
  • Play a role in (be present at) the initial team training session or team meeting
  • Include status updates about the team at other management and department meetings
  • Talk positively about the progress of the team at various opportunities
  • Pay a visit (unexpectedly) to a team meeting


  • Track team success.
  • Implement a reward/recognition program for teams that includes team and individual awards.
  • Celebrate achievements and milestones.
  • Help to identify barriers to team success, if necessary.
  • Assist in the removal of barriers to team success.
  • Walk the talk. Be a role model for methods, tools, and techniques.
  • Publicize. Make the team visible.


  • Provide guidance to ensure that the team is in line with strategic objectives. Help to steer the team to the appropriate course, if necessary.
  • Hold people responsible and accountable. Help team members to grow from the team experience.
  • Give authority to team members, where appropriate. Support their authority to achieve success.
  • Promote teamwork concepts and methods in other forums and examples.

Urgent and Important Decision Making: Consistently Doing What Drives Team Results

  • The direct benefit of what you do every day on the team is important
  • Work on team goals and sustain adequate motivation and drive:
  • Initial positive emotions: Recreate and maintain those initial positive emotions when you joined the team
  • Excitement: Remember why you were excited to be working on the team.

Maintaining Control of Team Meetings

For a typical collaboration meeting, look at these points to maintain control of collaboration objectives:

  • Begin on Time.
  • Appoint a facilitator.
  • Set the tone.
  • Determine what you want to accomplish.
  • Cover Agenda Items According to the Schedule.
  • Set deliverables and timelines.
  • Close the Meeting on time.
  • Restate the mission and thank the collaboration members for their support.



  • Does everyone understand the purpose of the group?
  • Is the time available being put to good use?
  • Are personal goals conflicting with the group’s goals?
  • Is the group avoiding issues that may be difficult or unpleasant?
  • Do individuals on the team really listen to their team members?
  • Does discussion deal with facts and verifiable information, or does it deal with speculation and opinion?
  • Did we manage our time well?
  • Was there an instance where an entities’ goals conflicted with the group’s goals?
  • What did we learn?