How To Be A Collaborative Partner (And An Independent Pioneer)

David K. Williams, Forbes
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While collaboration isn’t one of the 7 “soft skill” traits I cover in “The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning” (Respect, Belief, Trust, Loyalty, Commitment, Courage, Gratitude), it is one of the core capabilities that helps every company go. Without collaboration, an organization can go only a fraction as far as the committed and synergistic result of a collaborative team. The sum of the parts is truly greater than the whole.

Henry Ford, one of the masters of invention, was also a master at collaboration. If he hadn’t collaborated with colleagues like Thomas Edison and even athletes like racing cyclist Tom Cooper, the world might not have ever fully benefited from the wonders of the assembly line and that Ford Model T. And we might not be driving our beloved Ford F-150s, but rather Studebaker pickups.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself,” Ford once said. “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”

While people may use different terms for it—harmony, synergy, teamwork, cooperation, alliance, symbiosis—those buzzwords all mean the same thing: Collaboration. Of course we all know the definition of collaboration, but how do we incorporate the concept in the business world while still remaining an independent pioneer?

Being a collaborative partner doesn’t mean you have to give up being an independent pioneer. It means that you have the skills, knowledge and experience that will improve any team effort. The following are four ways you can increase your level of collaboration.

Listen to your gut. Successful, independent leaders know themselves well enough to trust their intuition when making decisions, a skill found in great collaborators because they bring that intuitive knowledge to the team dynamic.

A neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, Antonio Damasio, published a hypothesis about instincts—or gut feelings—in 1994, called the Somatic Marker Hypothesis. The idea is that your body will mark decisions with right or wrong feelings, called somatic markers. When you regularly listen to your instincts, you more easily recognize those gut feelings and can back them up based on your previous experiences.

“An expanding body of research from a number of fields—including economics, neurology and cognitive psychology—confirms that intuition is a real form of knowledge. It’s a skill you can develop and strengthen—one that’s particularly valuable in the most chaotic, fluid business environments, when you must make critical, high-pressure decisions at a moment’s notice. At such times, intuition usually beats rational analysis,” said Renee and Don Martin, authors of The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Who Built Great Businesses Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies For Success.

Gut feelings aren’t always right or always wrong, but they are invaluable decision-making tools. Listening to your instincts empowers you to be a better leader and decision-maker, and allows you to bring new, pioneering ideas to any collaborative effort.

Go the extra mile. We all have heard the inspiring stories of kindness when someone goes the extra mile, right? Turns out that extra mile is a great business skill as well, and incredibly useful whether you’re on your own or working as part of a team.

Being an extra-miler means you take on more responsibility with the team, or are willing to do more than your role requires. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that an extra-miler on any team will influence the effectiveness and processes of that team, even more than any other member. And the influence of the extra-miler is even more pronounced when that person has a central role in the collaboration effort.

“Even a single extra-miler in a vital position plays a more important role in driving team processes and outcomes than do all the other members,” the study states. A person who’s an independent pioneer is likely to take on a central role in any collaborative effort and will end up being an influential voice. Be the extra-miler, and you will influence your team for good—and your business will thrive.

Keep your creativity. Creativity and business success go hand in hand, and that’s especially true in a collaborative environment. A person who identifies as an independent pioneer is someone who’s creative and who can be described as a free spirit and independent thinker.

“A business has to be involving—it has to be fun. And it has to exercise your creative instincts,” said Sir Richard Branson. He should know—he’s the founder of Virgin Group, which holds more than 200 companies in countries around the world. Letting your creativity flow and exercising your creative instincts while working in a collaborative environment—or on your own as a pioneer—will lead to greater success.

Ask for help

Part of being successful, collaborative and independent means knowing when you don’t know the answers and being willing to ask someone who does. You want to be the team member everyone looks to for help, the person with the central role who’s going the extra mile, the one with the great instincts. But sometimes you don’t have the answer, or the right skill, for the task at hand.

Let’s say you’re working as part of a sales team. You have years of experience in the industry, and the younger team members look to you as their mentor. But one day a client has a question about technology that you don’t have the knowledge or skill to answer. Do you pretend that you do? Do you brush off the question as unimportant? Or do you go to someone on the team who does have that knowledge, who can teach you something, too?

Asking for help or trying to learn something doesn’t mean you’re abdicating your role as a leader. It means you’re humble and smart enough to ask for help or learn more about the business, your team or your industry.

All of these ideas are vital enough to collaboration that I would like to go much deeper into each of them in my series of columns to come. But for now, remember that being part of a collaborative effort doesn’t mean giving up your individual role—in fact, it only serves to make you stronger as an independent pioneer. Collaboration allows you to use the skills and knowledge you’ve gained working independently to make your team better.

 

This article was written by David K. Williams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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