In Business, Communication, Leadership, Teamwork

Ok. Here it is. The single step you need to take for world-class collaboration:

Always move the action forward. (Repeat.)

If it’s immediately clear to you how this sentence applies to collaboration, then thanks for reading. If you’ve got an eyebrow raised, allow me to elaborate.

Improviser’s Collaboration Guide

Though we all collaborate every day, in many small ways, some of us are better collaborators than others. What’s better mean? It means making contributions that get us closer to a shared objective together. And some people are more effective  than others at working together to close the distance between us and our objectives.

Take meeting setting for instance. It’s easier to set a meeting with some people than it is with others. And it’s not just because of full calendars. Sometimes it’s about collaboration skills.

Setting a meeting with someone can take a whole lot more time and effort than it should. Just trying to set a coffee meeting between two people can seem like planning a mission to Mars for all the effort and the number of emails it may take. And scheduling coffee is about as simple as a collaboration can get.

Improvisers — people who create theatrical performances together by finding inspiration from each moment (with no advance planning or scripting) — have something to offer on this score. It’s a principle of improv that can truly enhance all business communication.

According to legend, Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the whole of God’s teaching while standing on one leg. Pardon me while I stand up from my chair to sum up the whole of collaboration.

“ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD.”

Let me give you couple of examples of failing to employ this principle that may clarify. Warning: This may hit a little too close to home.

EXAMPLE ONE – NOT GOOD:

At a networking event, you meet someone new, or encounter an existing contact where there’s promise of mutual benefit in the relationship. You say, “We should get coffee sometime.” They respond, “Yeah! We totally should.” You both mean it. And then you go your separate ways.

Months go by, and you never go to coffee. No one took any action. Without action, there’s no forward movement.

EXAMPLE TWO – MARGINAL IMPROVEMENT:

You send an email to a colleague in another firm you’re preparing to do business with. You’d like to get together to discuss the details of the engagement. It’s coming up fast and time is of the essence. You write:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

Janet responds:

Great idea. Let’s do it.

You:

Great. When are you available?

Janet:

Name a time.

You:

How about Tuesday at 3PM?

Janet:

Sorry. That’s the only day I can’t do. I’m out of the office all day, Tuesday.

You:

Ok. Monday then? How about Monday at noon?

Janet:

Yeah. That’s great. See you then.

You:

Terrific. See you then. But I just realized, we didn’t set a location. Where would you like to meet?

Janet:

Name a spot.

Uncle! Ok, that’s enough. I’m ready to shoot myself in the head. We’re ten emails in, and we still don’t have enough information to actually get together.

Obviously, this is an extreme case, maybe even cartoonish. But dollars to donuts, you’ve almost certainly got threads in your email or chat history that bear some resemblance.

Let’s see what happens if you take ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD as far as you can… Even if Janet doesn’t do likewise.

EXAMPLE 3 – BETTER:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday, 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Sorry. Can’t do Tuesday. All booked up.

You:

Ok. Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30? Either way, at Mulligan’s?

Janet:

Either one.

You:

I’ll see you at Mulligan’s on Monday at noon. Please confirm.

Janet:

Yes.

 

That’s a lot better. Six emails, and it’s set and confirmed. Even without Janet’s help.

But what if both correspondents employ ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD?

EXAMPLE 4 – EFFECTIVE:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday at 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Mulligan’s is great, but I can’t do Tuesday.

How about Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30?

You:

Mulligan’s on Monday at noon! Done. See you there.

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that still works for you. No need to confirm.

Three emails, and done!

This principle, this tool, ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, applies to any collaborative project. Scheduling is just one arena.

ANOTHER ILLUSTRATION:

You:

Let’s turn this project over to Cathy. She’s a wiz at simplifying this kind of complexity.

OPTION 1: Janet could respond:

No, not Cathy. She’s good with complexity. You’re right about that. But she lacks the diplomacy to handle the client’s personality, and it’ll be a disaster.

OPTION 2: Or Janet could respond:

Cathy is good with complexity, and she’s likely to clash with the client. Barry’s almost as good with complexity, and he’ll keep his cool with a difficult client.

Which message would you rather receive from Janet? Which one moves you closer to your objective of staffing the project?

Collaboration Wrap:

This principle –ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD — implies that the following do not suffice for effective collaboration. Alone, they don’t move the action forward.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe
  • I like it.
  • Great.
  • Terrible.

This sort of response isn’t enough information for effective collaboration. If you’re committed to moving things forward, if you want to contribute to progress, take the next step. Add to the momentum.

And don’t worry. You don’t need to build the whole thing by yourself. Because…

Collaboration Bonus:

Here’s a freebee. A bonus improv principle:

DON’T BRING A CATHEDRAL. BRING A BRICK.

It can be daunting to try to solve any single problem on your own, in one fell swoop. But one idea, even a piece of an idea is enough to MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, or as the case may be… BUILD THE CATHEDRAL. In other words, you don’t have to solve the problem. Even the smallest idea might be the lynch-pin to the final answer. Even if your idea ends up on the cutting room floor, it might be just the trigger a fellow collaborator needs in order to discover the big idea that solves it all.

As Lao Tzu — world famous improviser — said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And in collaboration, you’re not the only one stepping.

 

_________

As G.I. Joe used to tell me at the end of each episode… “Knowing is half the battle.” If you’d like to build collaboration culture in your company, we’re here to help.

Aaron Schmookler
Aaron Schmookler is Co-Founder and Trainer at The Yes Works, dedicated to helping companies create and maintain a culture of communication, collaboration, and innovation through improv training dynamically correlated to the real work of real teams. Improv: The competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.
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