I’m proposing a question today, here, and on the LinkedIn discussion group, and I’d love for readers to comment: What was your best experience with collaboration?
For me, it’s actually two identical experiences. In each case, I was working towards a master’s degree, had an assignment to analyze a case study and provide recommendations, and was to work in a team to produce the paper. In both instances, my partner and I wrote a paper which not only received top marks, but raving accolades from the professor. (The “can I use this as an example to show other students?” variety.)
Sure, we were tickled to receive such praise, and proud to have written a fine work, but deeper than that, the PROCESS was enjoyable. In both cases, my partner and I already had a mostly professional, but partly personal, relationship with each other. We knew how to get along; we truly respected each other and not simply because getting along is the right thing to do. We felt comfortable critiquing each other’s work, knowing that it was directed at the product. We appreciated each other’s strengths and were comfortable having the other person help us through our weaknesses. We were patient with each other, but also held our team to high standards, which required effort and time at the grind. For myself, knowing I was accountable to another person helped me meet the periodic check points we set for ourselves for each portion of the paper to be completed. And so, not only was it a rocking’ paper we produced, but we had it completed ahead of schedule.
In the organizational behavior field, there’s the idea of high-context and low-context cultures. When applied to work meeting formats we see that in both, the project is completed, but how the teams get there is quite different. In the low-context approach (which is more typical of the American and European corporate styles), it’s all business and you slog through the process to achieve the task. In the high-context approach (more typical in other cultures, say, Arab, African or Asian), you hang out for a while, get to know each other, relax over coffee, and then when the time is right, get the task done lickety-split. Neither approach is better than the other. But upon reflection on the experiences I recount above, these were in fact a bit more of the high-context approach, and frankly, more enjoyable than typical group projects.