Working on a Mission: Our Collaboration
A chance to “walk the talk” for a mission-driven collaboration
Sometimes, individuals come together around particular ideas—a product, solution, or project they have in mind (and sometimes these collaborations work easily; other times, they are harder than one had hoped). However, there are instances when mission develops naturally over time, when like-minded individuals come together because they want to work together. Through the process of getting to know each other and talking, mutual interests can sometimes develop into powerful missions.
This case is the story of our own collaboration, working together to develop the ELEMENTS and the tools to help individuals make use of the framework in their own lives.
A few of us from the Harvard Graduate School of Education had been studying collaboration. For three years, we interviewed individuals about their own collaborative experiences so that we could learn some of the elements that contribute to good collaboration, as well as some of the warning signs that particular collaborations do not work. Our goal was to discover how we could help people to “collaborate well.”
Once we had collected and analyzed the data, we felt that we had some important findings. Specifically, we learned that many collaborators do not make time for due diligence before moving ahead with collaborations. People don’t feel the need to get to know one another on a personal or professional level, and they oftentimes don’t carefully plan a process for collaboration nor take time to reflect on the collaboration. Not only did we need to write about these lessons; we also wanted to help people put the “theory” into “action.” And so we developed a “Toolkit”: a set of materials that helped people to become aware of what is important in various stages of collaboration and how to implement the suggestions.
Once we had a first-draft product, we shared it with an acquaintance, who in his work helped people to collaborate better. We asked if he would like to try out our new resource, sharing it with others who might try it and giving us some feedback. In a polite and direct manner, our collaborator told us that people found our Toolkit too dense. He asked, “Where do people begin? How do they know where to start? What activities should they chose?” We had come together with a specific mission of making our tools and materials accessible to the wider world, and while we thought our first draft was promising, it clearly needed some structure based on the feedback received.
Motivated by a mutual desire to help people collaborate in genuine and helpful ways, we began going through our own Toolkit in an effort to foster our collaboration, using the various activities and prompts to get to know each other and to see if a plan of action would naturally develop from our sessions.
Each of our meetings began with an informal check in—personal and professional. While at first, this “rolling up of sleeves” seemed to take valuable time away from working on our mission, we quickly realized that this process helped us to form strong relationships. Because we had talked about our own traits, skills, and values with one another, we quickly assigned roles: one person kept us focused on the big picture and pushed the collaboration along; a second person took copious notes of all of our meetings so we were all on the same page; and a third person was focused on the practicality of the Toolkit—how can our process be adapted for other people who come to this for the first time, without any context? How can our tools become a user-friendly resource?
In many ways, our process of collaboration was a model that incorporated many of the ELEMENTS in this Toolkit. We thought about the pieces of our collaboration that seemed to work the best, and how these mapped on to the ideas we learned in our research. We effected connections to the materials we developed as part of the original Collaboration Toolkit. Together, we came up with the 8 essential ELEMENTS to collaboration—a simple, yet (we believed) powerful way to explain an important framework. We then worked together to write stories (based on our data) to help further define each ELEMENT and worked for many hours deciding which activities should be connected to particular ELEMENTS.
Every time we met (about once a month), we followed the same process. We spent time chatting about weekends and free time, diving into the materials, taking notes, assigning responsibilities and tasks, and holding each other accountable for our overall mission. Though we had a clear idea of what we wanted from the collaboration, we did not have a prescribed way to get there.
The fruit of our labor is the website and Toolkit you are reviewing. Hopefully, you will find this collaboration “successful” in aiding your own efforts to carrying out meaningful and effective collaborations.