Why Collaboration Requires Real Trust

If you ever get the privilege to be a part of a growing organization, you know there are some awesome mountaintop experiences and some real challenging valleys.  Even in a growing family, there are many challenges that come our way to navigate.   


Recently our Executive Team has grown.  In fact, it has tripled in twelve months going from two to six.  Part of this reasoning for the change was that we were stuck and needed to go to the next level.  We knew for this to happen, we needed to invite new, capable leaders to carry the weight and responsibility of what is next.  Besides team dynamics, this change has really challenged us to work better together.  Like learning to play the guitar, at times our meetings and dynamics have been awkward at best.  We are all different, with different experiences and preferences.  These differences are a huge benefit and inconvenience. Our real challenge is to learn to collaborate.  


I’ve often confused the word collaborate with cooperation and teamwork.  Perhaps you have also.  There is a huge difference.  Understanding this nuance can change everything.  It is changing us.  There is nothing like a good ole Google search to help me when I’m looking for definitions of words.  Take a look at the meaning of the word cooperation, teamwork, and collaboration: 


Cooperation:  (We Agree to Work Together) 

"an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit 

association of persons for common benefit."


Cooperation is simply agreeing to work together.  It doesn’t require trust and really doesn’t require skill.  Cooperation does require a willing heart to engage with another individual.


Teamwork: (We Each Bring Our Skills to Accomplish a Task or Goal) 

"work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole 
coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause trying their best in any circumstance."


Teamwork is when you and I bring our unique skills and talents to the table to accomplish a task or goal.  We each do our part and contribute to the greater whole.  However, a team can produce good results, in spite of its bad teamwork.


Collaboration: (We Think Critically Together for a Better Outcome) 

"to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 
to achieve together that which cannot be achieved alone." 

Collaboration begins with our thoughts.  Real collaboration requires relationship and trust, while cooperation does not. What is the goal of collaboration?  To achieve better results NOT just to collaborate.  Sharing our thoughts is a vulnerable act.  We risk something when we share what we really think.


Great collaboration has a genuine heart behind it.  There is a belief, attitude and approach that is necessary.  It reminds me of Romans 12.  Paul is exhorting the believers to come together for a greater cause and to recognize that everyone brings value to the table.  Paul reminds us of the attitude necessary to truly collaborate: 


Romans 12:3-21

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. 


6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.


9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 


14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! 


17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 


19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. 

I love the phrase, “Don’t think you are better than you really are.” What a great phrase to describe the human heart when we think we are better than everyone else who comes to the table.  If we truly believe we need others we can collaborate.  If we don’t think we need others, we are in real trouble.  I like the way Solomon states it in Ecclesiastes 4: 


Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. 


We all know the saying, “There is strength in numbers.”  Proverbs tells us that there is even greater strength in many advisors: 


Proverbs 11:14

Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisors. 


All of these passages boil down to one great question.  It’s a gut check question that has huge ramifications for the progress and success of our organizations moving forward.  Do we have the belief that we need others to accomplish our great work?


I’m not sure where your heart is at today.  Maybe you are of the belief that if  you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.  While you may get the exact outcome in your mind, you will be completely worn out.  We are not created to function alone.  Even if we are most comfortable with doing life by ourselves or leading according to our own preferences, it’s not sustainable.  What are some key truths about collaboration?  


Collaboration Starts With Each of Us, Individually

  • Collaboration starts with a willing individual.  How can I help you? 

  • Think of the word collaboration as Co-creation. 

  • Collaboration is relational.  Teammates have to choose to enter into it. 

  • The conditions that are necessary for collaboration to occur – respect for each other, seeking diversity, and shared power. 

  • We have to trust one another, respect the opinions of others and be flexible with one another.  Flexibility is your friend, expectation is your enemy. 

  • Our attitude has to be one that believes we need others and acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers.  


Collaboration Benefits the Entire Team, Not the Individual

  • Collaboration benefits the entire team.  When the ministry or organization is successful, we are all successful. 

  • "Collaborators are clear that the importance of their partners’ successes are as great as their own and that their own success depends on their partners’ successes. Collaborating partners willingly share the risks, responsibilities, resources, and rewards of the work.” - Psychology Today. 

  • Working together is doing the tasks together.  That can be great teamwork.  Collaborating together is not only doing tasks together but also thinking together.  Giving room for everyone to say what they see.   When we think together, we are equals.  There is no leader. 
  • Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities.  Skill duplication leads to power struggles. 

  • When a leader does not possess the skills to set aside her/his power and authority in order to create a shared vision with the group, the process represents “orchestration” not “collaboration”.  In this case, the leader is the last to know that the collaborative process is not being fully practiced or being fully realized. 


Collaboration is Working Together to Create Something New

  • What is needed in collaboration?  1.  Clarity of direction.  2.  Clarity of our “why.”  3.  An understanding of what I am doing today is contributing to that direction. 

  • Collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision. Something new is created. 

  • What is significantly different about collaboration is that something new emerges that would not have been created otherwise. It might be a new idea, a new solution, or a new plan. 

  • There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict.  If your team agrees on everything, working together is pointless.  Harvard Business Review. Jan 2017   

  • Walter Lippmann said, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” 

  • Collaboration is the key that reduces the duplication of our efforts. 

I know for some of us, the outcomes of collaboration may stress us out.  That feeling is normal and very human.  However, the point to see is that in order for us to find a better outcome, there is a need to think critically.  In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Without strain, there is no strength.”   In order for collaboration to be successful, we have to lower ourselves, trust one another, and think critically for a better outcome.  There may be some sparks as iron sharpens iron.  Better outcomes never happen in isolation…they happen in community.  


I believe that our best days are before us…not behind us.  We all need a little encouragement, wisdom, and help from time to time.  We can’t accomplish our goals in isolation or always on our own.  We need each other.  Remember, you are not alone. It’s time to thrive.  Let’s do it together.    Click here to set up a Discovery Coaching call.