Collaboration, the Harvard Business Review, and a personal example

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Conflict detracts from productivity. Sometimes mediation is necessary to overcome conflicts. When everything clicks with collaboration you enhance relationships, revenue, and results. A recent summary of seven books by the Harvard Business Review brings this to light. However, slogans like “work smarter not harder” are not the answer. This article takes the key lessons and gives you further insight based on a personal example to take collaboration to the next level for you and your organization.


What is collaboration?


Collaboration is not simply communication and dialogue. Collaboration is simply two or more people working together to accomplish a goal. There may be differences of opinion. There could be passion about different approaches. These can be healthy and productive. They can also become corrosive and negative. So, how do you keep strong personalities focused on the goal and avoid negative conflict?


What are the keys to collaboration?


The key is to help the parties find ways to connect with each other. Building a bond. Building teamwork with camaraderie, having fun, and realizing that we are all human with all our faults, but still, we need to see the good in each other focusing on the goal. Connecting relationships is the first element of collaboration. Listening to each other without interruption. Making sure everyone has a chance to be heard is critical. Listening actively to others ensures that the problem can be correctly formulated, alternatives proposed, impacts identified, and evaluation of the impacts (economic, environmental, social) all come together to make the best possible solution. This allows all stakeholders to participate in the process and be heard. When this happens the probability of success is enhanced.


Harvard Business Review Materials


The Harvard Business Review recently came out with a seven book set for $190. This seven book set includes

Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity, and help Morten T. Hansen

HBR’s Ten Best Reads Collaboration

HBR Guide to Collaborative teams

HBR Project Management Handbook: How to Launch, Lead, and Sponsor Successful Project by Nieto Rodriguez

Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well Being by Rob Cross

Dealing with Conflict: Assess the Situation, Manage Your Emotions, Move On by Amy Gallo

Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos by Heidi K. Gardner

This reference set coming from the HBR from these distinguished authors will provide you with great insights to help you with collaboration. The documentation promoting this set of materials indicates that “Collaborative work consumes 85% of our day and yet most of us don’t do it well. Fostering Collaboration: How to Work Smarter Together is HBR’s best content on how to effectively collaborate.”


Some additional thoughts


Experience is a great teacher. We are all shaped by our experiences. Having followed and bought into prior recommendations from the Harvard Business Review I have a tremendous respect for their offerings.

A personal example

I would like to share an experience with you based on my research when I came into a dysfunctional group with half of the group filing a union grievance against the other half of the group. That pretty much explains the situation. They hated each other. Three other individuals in the last year and a half had come in as the manager with slogans like “work smarter not harder,” but to no avail. What was I supposed to do? When the director asked me to consider taking over the controller’s position with this dysfunctional group, he first asked me how I might address this. Giving this question and some thought I offered the following:

  • Meet with everyone individually and listen
  • Meet with both groups and listen
  • Bring on board a facilitator to help the entire group and me to listen to each other
  • Explore our processes on how and why we do things. As it turns out this was critical. A recent blog on conflict resolution and process improvement addresses some of the elements to consider.
  • Find ways to promote team building and understanding
  • Find ways to have the parties from the different groups to work with and learn more about each other from the other group
  • Promote joint efforts
  • Recognize and reward collaborative behavior

The individual team members had their own ideas on how to make things better too. No one had asked them. Some were entrenched and were oriented towards revenge and retaliation. They needed to be listened to, and yet we had a job to do. They had to decide if they wanted to stay and focus on the issues before us or not. Everyone stayed. It was not easy. I am not going to say it was easy. There were times when individuals took a step back instead of steps forward. Patience, perspective, and perseverance paid off.

What should you do?

As a leader keeping a positive attitude, helping others to stay focused, staying above the line, searching out others for their ideas, and listening actively were the keys.

Do reference the outstanding material from the Harvard Business Review. Learn from the theory and the practical examples they offer. This is outstanding material.

Do not underestimate yourself and your network. Who do you know that is a great collaborator? Who can mentor you? When it comes to listening who do you admire? Reach out to them. Why? They know you. They may understand your situation. Ask them for help. Asking for help is one of the greatest ways to show someone you really respect them. Stay positive. Stay focused. Be there to help. Encourage and help others to see that a better product results when working together than the product would be working alone.

Keep going and let me know what you think

This is what great leaders and organizations do. You will make mistakes. Do not blame others or yourself. Learn from your mistakes and keep going. When you are outside of your comfort zone you are learning. Build on this and continue to give yourself positive feedforward while working with your network and referencing the material to make yourself into a better leader.

Let me know what you think. I welcome your comments and insights.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]