Sounds intriguing, right? But how do you actually go about doing it? Under the best of circumstances, collaboration can be like herding cats. And if you work in a district favoring centralized, autocratic decision-making, trying to collaborate can feel like paddling upstream. But even when the status quo is against you, there are some sure-fire steps you can take to make your district – or at least your area of responsibility – more collaborative:
Ask more questions – in school cultures, we often value right answers. Whether in the classroom or board room, glory goes to those who “get it right”. However, complex issues rarely have easy answers. Good, open-ended, thought-provoking questions open doors to higher-level thinking, dialogue, and understanding – key ingredients for effective collaboration. Elie Wiesel observed, “answers divide people, questions unite them.” Curb the natural instinct to provide answers and try posing questions – you may be pleasantly surprised at the results!
Equip people for success – don’t expect people to just know how to collaborate. Many people have not seen or used effective models for collaboration. Good professional development – and practice – accelerate the learning process and equip people with the requisite skills for effective collaboration.
Model collaboration – nothing speaks more loudly than example. Seek others’ involvement in problem-solving and decision-making – people will notice. And stay the course – don’t give up when you run into collaboration problems. Increased comfort and skill derive from increased practice.
Be judicious about when and how to collaborate– collaboration isn’t an all or nothing venture. Degrees of collaboration include: asking for specific information, asking for opinions or analysis, involving others in decision-making, or giving others full authority. However, you can retain control of the process and still increase collaboration. Remember, though, that peoples’ interest in collaborating is related to the importance of an issue and how directly it affects them – and also, to the degree to which they believe their input is truly valued. People resent or see through invitations to only collaborate on petty issues. They become frustrated and cynical if they believe their input is continually dismissed, trivialized, or overlooked. Seek meaningful input and involvement from others on substantive issues and you have begun to create a more collaborative culture.
Create an environment that supports collaboration – a work environment either encourages or discourages various behaviors and results. To foster collaboration, you need an environment that supports it. People need to know that collaboration is valued and expected. In addition to needing skills, people need time and opportunity to collaborate. If people are supported and encouraged with feedback and consequences which promote collaboration, you will see more – and more effective – collaboration in your workplace.
What could your school or district accomplish if you were able to harness the best thinking of multiple minds? Better yet, what couldn’t you accomplish? Make a commitment to increase effective collaboration and begin to find out!
For more information about TregoED’s Decision Making and Implementation strategies go to www.tregoed.org