Globally, technology is underwriting a sea change in everything from how we communicate to how business is conducted. No matter how much lip service is paid to “thinking outside the box”, it is clear that to find solutions for survival, even the most well-intentioned of us are often trapped in the box and don’t know how to get out. Jeremy Rifkin’s got a pretty interesting theory about how technology is initiating a change to how the global economic ground is shifting, where it’s going, and the role collaboration is taking. Worth a look. Whether he’s right or not about the big picture, it is worth examining the question of how collaboration and creativity might be two of the strongest assets we have.

It has been said that we are not living in a time of change, but rather in a change of times. This means that we have to question just about everything we assume we know about how we do things. And times of thin resources can sometimes lead to some fairly unhealthy dynamics: the danger is that we might become territorial, defensive, and vicious in competing for survival. In this scenario, it’s dog-eat-dog. So what do we humans have in our fabulous adaptability toolkit to keep our working relationships from going south in a hurry? One of the greatest tools in the box is our ability to pull together and make magic happen even when things look grim.

Working Together: 1 + 1 = 3

When resources are thin on the ground, but the dreams are big, collaboration with another person or group to achieve a shared vision, impact, or goal can make the impossible possible. Whether it’s a small task at home, like throwing in winter wood, or a big challenge, like solving a socio-economic question, two old adages hold truth, like “many hands make light work,” and “two heads are better than one.” When you throw in the wood alone, progress seems slow. Somehow, when you add a friend, the physical work goes faster but something else happens, too: psychologically, the burden of the task has also lightened, and somehow adding one friend feels more like you’ve added two, and the pile melts away. 1 + 1 = 3.

Increasingly, fiscal restraint is becoming de rigeur. Situation: grim. Enter collaboration: the act of working with another person or group to achieve something. It isn’t new. This tool has been in the adaptability toolkit for longer than homo sapiens. But through it, outcomes are often far greater than ever expected at the outset.

Smoothing the way

Collaborating has its challenges – it is important to meet and talk in depth with your potential partners – especially on more complex initiatives – to ensure that you’ve explored as many aspects as possible of what everyone wants to achieve. This helps ensure that everyone begins from a common place of understanding and agreement on shared outcomes. It minimizes potential frictions and maximizes the chances of success. Here are some sample questions to address when collaborating: Where are the overlaps in priority? Where do some of your aims differ? Are there differences in approach? If so, what can be fundamentally agreed upon at the outset as a plan of action? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each collaborator? How can tasks be assigned to leverage these strengths and minimize weaknesses most strategically? What tasks are assigned to which parties? How will you communicate, and how often? If there are costs, how will they be shared? Are in-kind contributions possible if one party can’t contribute at the same level financially? If publicity is needed, how will it be handled to best advantage?

It’s addictive

As you begin to partner more often, you’ll find that the outcome is always a broader scope, greater positive impact for those we serve, and a shared sense of accomplishment at lower cost. Whether it’s solving a challenge in the office, a local initiative to hold professional development workshops, a regional initiative to host a first ever symposium, signing an MOU for an exchange between jurisdictions or a national collaboration to address programming gaps, working with others not only achieves amazing results – shared accomplishment feels GREAT. Once you get started, you’ll want to do more.

Akoulina Connell

Akoulina is an experienced executive and arts advocate who catalyzes systems transformation through co-creation and data innovation strategies to increase agility, transparency, and public engagement. She has worked in both the public and private sectors; she has led two provincial funding agencies, was managing editor of a literary press, worked in the IT sector, and has held communications roles for Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Statistics Canada, Service Canada, and Transport Canada.