What the world needs now:

It’s that time of year when the talent pool is flooded with new graduates optimistically taking their first big step into the professional world. And invariably the business community is ready to offer advice and assess the skills of these potential co-workers and employees. The blogosphere is full of posts advocating this skill or that personality trait as “the most important or most lacking” for new grads.

For better or for worse, I’m adding to the cacophony of opinions on this topic, because there’s one skill that I believe will take you further than most. And it’s almost never mentioned. Undervalued in the work place and largely untaught in higher education, it’s the ability and desire to truly collaborate.

Collaboration is essential to success in the workplace. So why doesn’t it get more attention in training and job readiness? I think it’s assumed that it will come naturally. That it will just happen. So we throw people together in a conference room and tell them to “work together to solve this problem.” And we expect that they will.

For many of us, the aversion to collaboration starts in school, with the dreaded group project. The professor randomly assigns a team of people to collaborate and build out a project or presentation. It’s unlikely that there’s much awareness or acknowledgement about team members’ strengths, or time spent defining roles and delegating tasks. From the jump you can tell who will be doing most of the work—you and maybe one other. One or two people don’t carry their weight, don’t engage and contribute as they should, and frequently get by with it.

In today’s workplace, bad collaboration skills can prove disastrous to a career and detrimental to the bottom line. Businesses need to stop assuming collaboration will happen and start teaching this critical success skill. Here are my top 7 tips for great collaboration at work.


At work, it can sometimes feel like whoever gets the last word wins. But, active and engaged listening without judgment is essential to true collaboration. It builds trust and confidence within the team, making them stronger with each goal that is met.

Suspend your agenda

Many of us spend a lot of our time defending our own ideas versus being open to the ideas of others. This is a key part of active listening.

Participate without being prompted

Be ready to share your ideas and opinions. Because collaboration is an honest to goodness group effort and it can’t happen without the whole group taking part.

Actively seek the opinion of others

To be a great collaborator you need to show that you care about the opinions of others. Bringing others into the conversation about the work makes it easier for them to actively participate.

Be respectful and honest in discussion

Not all ideas are great ideas, but in the spirit of collaboration, all ideas deserve to be heard. Respect and honesty set the stage for true collaboration.

Keep the bigger picture in mind

Collaboration is messy. It can take you on many tangents. Keep your focus on why you are collaborating and the goals of the work you are engaging in. Don’t fret over inefficiencies, but don’t forget about why the team is there and where the group is going.

Believe in the power of the group

Collaboration helps us find ideas and solve problems that we could not find or get to on our own. Done right, it will always lead to better outcomes.

Most of our jobs cannot be done without the participation and input of others. The faster a new hire can jump into the collaboration and roll with it, the better—for themselves, their team and the organization.

Discover more

How to Create a Culture of Collaboration

25 Quotes on Collaboration

The Importance of “Yes, and…” For Collaboration