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Collaboration...The Key to High Performance Teams and Effective Leadership!

Collaboration...The Key to High Performance Teams and Effective Leadership!

When you see the inspirational images and quotes around team work…..what is one of the top traits that is listed as critical to creating a high performance team?  I think one of those top traits is collaboration…along with trust…commitment…and accountability.

When I embarked on my career many years ago and first started leading teams I was a business book junkie.  Admit it…you were too and may well be one still today!   I don’t know about you but I was determined to take all the best ideas…from all the brightest and best minds to figure out how to interact and build teams that were best in class and that proved that as individuals we were good but as a team we were unstoppable.  As it turns out….there is a difference between reading books with fables and interacting with real people….in real situations….with real politics…concerns and intervening variables.  It has been a challenge and a joy to work with each and every person I have had the privilege of collaborating with.  For it is in collaboration…making yourself vulnerable….and truly listening that trust…commitment and accountability are unleashed!

There are two key exercises that I have done with teams over the years which have proven time and time again the simplicity and power of collaboration:

1.  Memory Tray Game

You may remember this game from children’s birthday parties.  Works best for teams up to 20 and min of 8.

  • Get a tray and place 25 small, unique, random items and cover it with a towel
  • Have the team gather around the table with the covered tray in the center
  • Tell the team that they have 30 seconds to examine the items and try to remember as many as they can
  • At the end of the 30 seconds – cover the tray back up and remove it from the table
  • Give each person a paper and pen/pencil to write down as many items as they can – not speaking or sharing with anyone else.
  • Now – go around the table and have each person reveal how many items of the 25 they remembered (without revealing their specific answers)

 How many did they get?  Most individuals are able to get 8-10. 

Next…split the team into two groups and tell them that their groups can collaborate and see how many they got with their combined results.  It turns out that once they share their information they are almost able to get the entire list!

For those of you with remote teams…fear not…this can work for you too!  Create a table with images of objects and flash it up on your shared desktop for 30 seconds and warn people that taking a screen shot is frowned upon and cheating!  Then…rather that having them get in groups simply go around the horn on the answers until the collaboration of the team fills in all the answers!

2.  Old Woman/Young Woman

Show your team the following picture. 

After staring at it for a few seconds have the team separate themselves into two groups.  Those that see the young woman and those that see the old woman.  Have them take turns explaining to each other what they see until everyone sees each other’s point of view.  Spend time debriefing from the exercise on how it could be that everyone was looking at the same image – yet saw different things.  How could both be correct in what they saw?  How important was it to listen to the other group and be open to seeing things differently?  What is the lesson learned from this exercise and impact for your team?

It never ceases to amaze me how taking a few minutes out of your team meeting to do these exercises gives so many people their “aha” moment on collaboration and how important it is.  Collaboration means that you don’t have all the answers and that even though you may see the world in a certain way and feel that you have all the answers….there is always a benefit in working and listening to others…it makes the team stronger and drives better results.  I believe that this is particularly difficult as leaders as we often feel that it is our job to have the vision, to deliver it as we see it and spend our time convincing others that the way we see it IS the way forward.  My opinion is that where true creativity, effectiveness and change happens is when we take time to reflect, to listen and to leave ourselves open to the possibility that there is more than one way to see the art of the possible.  As leaders, we need to be open to a paradigm shift in our thinking.

My lessons learned from the exercises can best be summed up as:

  • Seek first to understand and then be understood
  • Find a way to win-win
  • A Paradigm shift is a change in the way your perceive things


Leadership Questions of the Week for YOU:  “Do you agree that collaboration is a critical trait for high performance teams?”  “Have you used the exercises listed above in the past and if so, what were the outcomes?”  “What tools or exercises have you used with teams that you can share with us that reinforce the benefits of collaboration?”

I always find picking a title for these articles one of the toughest tasks of writing it.  What would YOU have titled it?

Thanks for reading and remember…..YOU make a difference!

Be sure to continue the conversation by liking, commenting or sharing this post.  You can also follow me on twitter @marciedwhite.

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