Culture of Collaboration: What it Is and What it Is Not

From my Principal’s Blog page on our campus web site, this was our Friday Focus for September 7. I’m reposting here to facilitate comments and discussion. :-)
 

Image Credit: Agile101.net

At Timberview Middle School collaboration is an expectation, a norm, and what we would like to think is an integrated part of our campus culture. Anyone can be collaborative. Students can work collaboratively with one another, with teachers/staff, and with their families. Teachers and staff can work collaboratively with one another, with students, and with families. Families can work collaboratively with school staff, with their own children, and with one another. I genuinely believe we work better and we work smarter when we work together.

 
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking kids–or even adults–have the requisite skills to collaborate. We put people in groups, give them a problem, and tell them to solve it. Merely working in a group does not necessarily equate to collaboration. The following are some examples of what collaboration is not:
  • Collaboration is not a group of people allowing one person to dictate how the rest of the group functions. For example, if a group has a problem to solve and I  become dominant, have all the ideas, and everyone else follows, that is not collaboration.
  • Collaboration is not divide and conquer. Sometimes the division of tasks is an appropriate strategy for a larger task, but the divide and conquer method is a group of individuals working in silos to complete a number of tasks. It is not collaboration.
  • Collaboration is not necessarily a meeting. Meetings can serve purposes like communication, checking in, and completion of work, but just the act of meeting does not necessarily constitute collaboration.
  • Collaboration is not a contest. As part of a group I cannot possibly work collaboratively when I am constantly touting how much “better” I am than others in the group. Comparing myself with others polarizes members of a group and destroys any sense of teamwork and common purpose.

Collaboration in its purest sense is sharing and cooperating with common purpose and intent. When people work collaboratively, they share a goal in which each member of the group–and the group collectively–has a stake. There is no “I’m better than you,” or “My way is best.” There is little to no need to work independently in a collaborative culture. We all work together with purpose…and eventually those who choose not to work as part of the team find another place to be. Please consider a few examples of what collaboration is.

  • Collaboration is humble. It is an understanding that while I do have value and add value to the group, I do not have all the answers, and this is not a contest to see who has the “best” or “most” answers. I am humble enough to listen and appreciate the talents of others in my group. I am humble enough to celebrate someone else’s great idea…and perhaps offer him/her the greatest compliment by using the idea.
  • Collaboration involves more listening than it does speaking. Make no mistake, speaking has to happen…otherwise it’s a pretty quiet effort…but we take turns speaking and sharing, and when we are not talking we are actively listening rather than preparing in our minds what we might say next to impress (or suppress) those present.
  • Collaboration demands transparency. If I am keeping all my good ideas to myself I am selfish and insecure. I’m afraid someone else might take “my idea” and get ahead of me. Again, this is not a contest. People who are collaborative share what they know not for the purpose of looking good but for the purpose of helping others, and they do not get offended if their ideas are rejected.
  • Collaboration demands trust and safety in taking risks. Not every idea I throw out is going to be the best idea ever. In fact, some of my ideas may just stink. I have to trust others in my group not to reject me just because my idea was bad. This requires a community of caring within the group that encourages and positively reinforces the risk I took in sharing the idea.
  • Collaboration is based on caring. We work together because we care about one another and the common cause toward which we are working.

At Timberview Middle School, we expect our adults to model collaboration for students on a daily basis. We office together, plan together, study together, share together, and communicate together. This expectation is well in keeping with the Timberview Way, our 2012-2013 theme “Timberview Together,” and our Key Strategic Focus of enhancing student relationships.

As we work together for our students, we will teach our students to work together and be collaborative–a critical skill required of the jobs for which our kids will apply well after they leave us. Collaboration at Timberview is not the exception; it is the rule.

Have a wonderful weekend! – CJ

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