Dig Deeper in the Buzzword-Forest: #collaboration for real

  • Elisa Voggenberger

There are so many buzzwords out there that it is getting really hard to have a real conversation about some topics with anyone, because most just repeat the superficial 20% of the topic that everyone seems to talk about. Does anyone else feel that way too?

Anyhow, before we start trying to dig deeper into the topic of COLLABORATION (don’t stop reading right there please – I know and I’m sorry but it’s getting good further down I promise!) let’s get the 20% out of the way right now:

  • yay its great and everyone should do it – even across teams, silos and companies
  • it produces way better results – building on the ideas of others to skyrocket important stepping-stone to innovation

Alright. I’m being mean – I know. What I honestly would love to discuss with you is the following: I recently talked to a good friend about collaboration and it's limitations and so on and he told me a about a great experience he had with a colleague. The two of them were working together really closely and were feeling that they really hit it off on a personal as well as a professional level. The product they were working on was getting better through the effort of both of them, both had the perception they contributed equally according to their individual strengths and weaknesses and the credits and recognition was given to them somewhat equally. Sounds like a great example of collaboration, right?

What he told me next was what I really found fascinating: They decided to take collaboration to the next level. You ask – what is the next level of that – it already sounds pretty awesome? Read along.


(Stephen Covey)

They first provided feedback to one another in the most honest way possible.

Forget about the sandwich strategy (Thanks Adam Grant) because it usually goes at the expense of authenticity. Tell the other person straight away (positive or negative) and then share your reflection how this behavior made you feel. Example: The other person was more dominant in a meeting and interrupted you several times in front of the client. You then don’t only tell the person what you perceived and observed but also how it made you feel: overruled, less important, in a competition, …. and so on. By being truly vulnerable to the other person, the other could understand the underlying fears and could react with more empathy and was more aware what the other person felt. They talked about how this behavior is hindering collaboration and how they wanted to change it. They made giving feedback a habit… but not the bullshit kind – the real kind.


They had a very honest conversation about their strengths and weaknesses.

The basis for such an openness is certainly a high amount of trust. The other person could easily use your weaknesses to make you look bad and play you. What the two of them realized however was, that they perceived the other person as much stronger and much more confident than before. Many confirm that feeling when it comes to so-called “failure” / “mistakes”/ “weakness”.

„If we want to be genuinely successful in both business and life, we have to be willing to set aside our pride, our fears, and our insecurities, and really come to recognize that to be a true leader that is deserving of their position of authority, we must earn – not demand – the respect of our coworkers. The journey toward earning their respect begins the moment we recognize our mistakes and have the integrity and fortitude to utter the words, “I was wrong, and I am sorry.“


The last thing they did is – and this is the most important step to “de-buzz” a concept or a word – that they really went for the essence of collaboration and also its downsides. They asked themselves:

  • Can we move beyond our egos and always chose the “right person” for the job? When there was an offer of presenting their work to a prestigious committee they decided that the person who lived closest should present – even though the committee had asked the other person.
  • Can I be happy for the other person, even though she gets more credit while you both did the work? One of the two got quoted in an article about their field of work – the other person addressed her jealousy honestly and openly to the other because otherwise – as he said – “it would have stood between us unsaid and would have conflicted our collaboration”.
  • Can you be honest about difficult topics as well? Sharing fears and admitting ego-issues takes a lot of courage and trust but it is required if you want to take collaboration to the next level. 
  • And last but not least: Do you trust the other person 150%? Unfortunately, collaboration is not only nice and productive and provides the best results but it is also hard, difficult and one often has to face own insecurities, jealousy and recognition issues. The basis for this true collaboration relationship between people is trust (yeah – another buzzword…). And this is the big problem – because real trust between people is one of the hardest things to achieve, especially in a business context. What you gain however, and this is according to those two, is a new level of collaboration, a true colleague and intense personal growth. Who doesn’t want that?

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