In Meetings

8 Tips For Successful Collaboration at Work

Most of us have been part of a project when communication has fallen apart and our collective behavior has devolved into shouting and finger-pointing over the sorry state of affairs. Was it avoidable? In the vast majority of cases, yes.

Here are 8 tips for successful collaboration at work to support you in ensuring a successful collaboration and outcome.

8 tips for successful collaboration at work

1. Provide the vision and set the context: If you are leading the project, this is your job. ‘Paint a picture’ of your project vision for your co-collaborators. Then provide them with context. This means let them know the what and the why of your approach.

2. Persist until you have clarity: If you are a member of the team, it’s crucial to get a clear understanding of the project to avoid filling in the gaps with assumptions. For example, after your boss lays out the plan and the explanation still leaves you scratching your head, dialogue with her until you get the clarity you need. Don’t assume that you are stupid or that she provided a good explanation that you somehow missed. More time is wasted on the back end by not getting clarity up front.    

3. Establish a real deadline: If you are given a deadline that is ‘sometime before the end of the month,’ this does not constitute a real deadline, and your belief that it does can come back to bite you. A deadline without a date and time is not real and is therefore always open to interpretation. Whether you take on a project or are assigning one to someone else, you are entering into a contract. Agree on a specific date and time.

4. Summarize: At the end of each meeting, summarize what each of you understood to have agreed to and have a dialogue until you are sure you are on the same page. I recommend putting that summary in an email so you all have a written record of your agreements.  

5. Create operating agreements: Do this before leaving your initial project meeting. Operating agreements provide you with a playbook of understanding regarding how each of you operates and what you can expect from one another during the course of your collaboration. Imagine trying to play a board game if you don’t know the objective or the rules. Not having operating agreements is like that.

Examples of operating agreements:

  • What is your boss’s preferred form of communication — i.e. email, phone, in-person?  
  • How frequently does your project lead want to receive project status and what does this look like? A weekly written report or a quick verbal status?
  • What action will you take if the project deadline slips. Agree on the what, the who and the how in advance.
  • Make sure you know one another’s boundaries. For example, is it okay for your boss or colleague to fire off a bunch of emails to you on weekends and then expect a prompt response? Get clear on this before it becomes an issue.

Have an operating agreement that says you agree to talk about whatever is not working is a good idea, too. This gives all parties “permission” to address problems as they arise so they can be quickly resolved. By establishing operating agreements in advance, you create clarity and avoid assumptions. Get everyone’s buy-in on the operating agreements and make sure all have a written copy.

6. Establish and maintain clear boundaries: If you have a boss, colleague or client who has a tendency to take advantage of your good nature and step over your boundaries, operating agreements can help. If it happens, gently and firmly remind them of the operating agreements that you agreed to, then kindly request that you both stick to them. If you find that an operating agreement is no longer working, then renegotiate it -- together.

7. Speak about your common goal: This is especially important when things get tense. Remind one other that you all want the same thing -- a successful outcome and happy stakeholders, for example. Explicitly speaking to this during the course of your collaboration will help you all stay in alignment when the going gets tough.

8. Last but certainly not least...appreciate: Appreciation is the number one thing that people say they want most at work and in life. So look for opportunities to offer appreciation: telling your boss how much you appreciate his taking time to clarify project details for you, or thanking your colleague for staying late to crunch those numbers, or appreciating someone’s upbeat attitude. Not only does this encourage more of the same thoughtful behavior, it will serve to create a spirit of collaboration and goodwill. And this supports a successful outcome!


What to do when the objective is unclear

Back Pocket Coach Strategy 12: What expectations do you have of me?

“I’ll never do that again!”

In the post-mortem of “what went wrong,” you discover that no one was on the same page from the get-go regarding the objective of the project. It’s a big aha moment for the team, with quizzical looks and much head scratching, implying, “How could that have happened?!”

The funny thing is, it happens more than you might think, and for a variety of reasons. One prevalent reason is that the leader, and perhaps some other team members “assume” that everything is abundantly clear and it never even occurs to them to validate that assumption.

Another big reason is that team members are afraid to ask for clarification because they are concerned that they will sound stupid, out of the loop, or simply unknowledgeable. I have coached many leaders and teams in aerospace over the years and observed that the fear of sounding stupid is alive and well with really smart people.

The fact is, if you are unclear about the objective, chances are pretty good that you’re not the only one. There are many different ways in which an unclear objective shows up in our lives. As such, Back Pocket Coach has more than five strategies that can help guide you out of the weeds and into greater clarity.

what to do when the objective is unclear

Here’s one you could try. Strategy 12: “What expectations do you have of me?” By asking this simple question, you are demonstrating your authentic interest in being part of the solution or success of whatever it is you are involved in.

Whether we realize it or not, we all bring different expectations to the table. Instead of assuming you are both on the same page regarding, for example, who’s going to do what by when, clarify! By asking this simple question, you are implicitly conveying your commitment and interest in being aligned with what needs to be done.

Fortunately, all of these strategies / remedies are quite simple to use. And if you use any one of them, it just may leave your colleagues with a newfound appreciation for your commitment to clarity -- and results.

For more strategies on this and other situations, visit or

Potent strategies for turning conflict aversion into effective conversations


What is conflict aversion? Broadly stated, conflict aversion is an indirect way of dealing with an issue or a person to avoid confrontation. Conflict averse people tend to avoid conflict at all costs and have inner dialogues that rarely get voiced – much to their detriment. Consequently, their viewpoint is usually not represented in situations and discussions they may care passionately about.As coaches, we find conflict aversion at the core of many situations our clients are working through. We believe this is an important topic because If not managed, conflict aversion will likely have a negative impact on relationships and outcomes at some point in one's life or career. When people who have something to say don’t join the conversation, good ideas may never come to light and unique perspectives will not be shared. Even worse: assumptions are inevitably made from the various parties’ perspectives and the environment becomes ripe for misunderstandings, resentment, and further disengagement that can lead to project or program failure.

Conflict aversion is not rare. Many people we’ve coached with over the years report conflict aversion to some degree. You might wonder why a person is conflict averse. Often it’s a reaction to the environment and a question of safety. When leaders encourage competition among team members, the intent might be to motivate or encourage creativity and output. But the outcome more likely discourages conflict averse team members because it threatens safety, trust, and relationships. Conflict aversion may develop from experience or it may be temperament –  an aspect of one’s personality that runs deep. No matter where it comes from, you don’t need to stay there.

So, if conflict aversion sometimes gets the better of you, take heart. There are effective strategies you can use – whether you are a conflict averse person or whether you are working with one. The end goal is to improve relationships and outcomes and this can be done by improving your communication.

Okay, so how do you do that?

Being conflict averse is an emotional reaction. It’s a feeling of impending doom when you think about having to speak up because you have a sense of what will happen. The words aren’t even there to say because you may be too nervous to talk. Thoughts are running through your head like, “I’ll sound stupid,” “No one will listen, they’ll just argue,” “I’ll look bad.” Know this is common –  even and especially for super smart people.

The first step is to take control of your nervous system by breathing slow, deep breaths (no one has to know that you’re doing this). This will help calm you. Next, ask for clarification from the other person. Repeat back exactly what they say. People love this because it tells them that you were listening and you heard them. Example: “What I think I heard you say was….Is that correct?” This give you further opportunity to calm yourself as you continue to breathe and slow the pace, reflecting back what you hear. You created a conversation rather than a confrontation. How great is that!

Now that you’ve calmed yourself by using the above process, you might consider a few additional strategies available to you in Back Pocket Coach. One that comes to mind immediately is Strategy #20, the powerful and simple question, “May I ask you a question?” This is a great multi-purpose strategy. And in this particular example, using the question leads you further into the conversation in a polite and non-confrontational way. You show up as curious and interested in what the other person has to say. And you are taking all the confrontation out of it. Before you know it, your conversation will be proceeding smoothly.

Know someone who’s dealing with conflict aversion? Share these strategies.