This article was initially published on Forbes.com
I talk a lot with those around me about co-creative leadership and collaboration. My team and I collaborate a lot with our clients, but not as often as we do with each other.
More often than not, you have the choice whether or not to collaborate. When you keep collaboration optional, you’re allowing a way out for yourself, and you’re likely to find a reason not to do it. But even though collaboration can be uncomfortable at first, the more you practice, the better you get at it.
My team and I still struggle to agree on certain things when we work together on something, but it’s part of the fun of collaboration. It goes to show that even the so-called “experts” sometimes run into difficulty too!
Here are five ways you can allow yourself to be a voice among many in the conversation:
- Have a clear goal.
To begin collaborating on something, you need a shared understanding of what you are trying to do. Without a clear and common goal, it’s difficult to do anything as a team. The goal can be as simple as a statement everyone agrees on. You may find it more useful to have a list of three or four bulleted objectives as well.
For the next few weeks, as practice, observe the meetings you take part in. What’s the purpose of the meeting? What happens when the purpose is clear, and what happens when it’s missing? How do people take part in it?
- Give others permission to lead.
The key for you to remember is that good leaders also need to be good followers. The real secret is identifying when you need to lead and when you need to follow.
Think about the last meeting you were in that had many people in it with strong personalities. Did people graciously collaborate or did people butt heads most of the time? People clash when they don’t give others permission to lead and when they don’t want to follow anyone else.
When you notice people butting heads in your next meeting, give someone permission to lead. See if they accept the permission or decline it, and, more importantly, notice whether they extend that same permission to someone else.
- Allow space for other ideas.
One type of baggage we carry as leaders are the ideas we bring to meetings. When you get too attached to your own ideas, how much space do you really leave to hear the ideas of others?
Once again, you want to find the right balance. How can you listen to the ideas of others while building upon them with some of your own? The reverse is also true: how can you put your own idea on the table and allow others build upon it? In the end, worry about coming up with the right solution, not about whether or not you or someone else is right.
Take the time to listen and be more aware of what others on your team are saying. What ideas are they bringing to the table? What ideas do they listen to, and what ideas do they ignore? Notice whether or not people are only listening to ideas that will better position their own. What other ideas can you support and try to build upon?
- Be flexible with your own needs to satisfy the needs of others.
Aside from ideas, people clash because of their needs. For example, someone might need to find a bulletproof solution while someone else might need a quick fix.
When you’re unaware of others’ needs, it can create awkward situations. There is no opening for convergence because people don’t know where to converge. Sometimes you need to be flexible with your needs in order to enable collaboration.
Try to listen to and identify the needs of your team. Are they communicating them out loud or are they not communicating them at all? Ask everyone to name their needs and put them on display for all to see. What can you do to make sure the conversation meets the needs of most people in the room?
- Be humble.
Collaboration thrives when everyone is humble enough to accept what others bring. You have your own strengths as an individual and so does everyone else.
Humility is either how you respond when people challenge your ideas or how you challenge the ideas of others. Do you respond to challenges in a calm manner or do you judge others instead? It’s also how you show up with your team. Do you speak of yourself like a rock star? Or do you help others become rock stars?
Take a moment to reflect on what humility means to you, and jot it down. In your next meeting, notice how humility appears and what happens when it does. What’s your level of comfort with being humble as a leader?