Collaboration skills are put to the test, the first day of school, every year. You go to your classroom. You check it out and see who is there. Perhaps you are the new kid, anxious to fit in and run with the pack. There are clumps of kids who all seem to know each other. They are speaking animatedly in a circle that seems to exclude you. They glance over in your direction and immediately turn back to their circle of friends. It’s not too inviting, so you don’t wander over to speak with them. Not too many collaboration skills being applied on in this scenario.
Then there are the kids sitting or standing by themselves. You wander over to say “Hi” and tell them your name. The conversation is awkward. You both smile at each other. When the teacher comes in, she sits you alphabetically. You find yourself sitting next to the same kid you introduced yourself to. You begin to feel a bit more comfortable. There’s potential for the collaboration skills here. You smile.
Your classes start. You are in the top track in each class. The kids who excluded you from their circle give you sideways glances as you leave homeroom to go to your class with the “others” like you. The kids in the circle sneer. You feel hurt for a second. You feel comfortable once your class starts. The kids look you in the eye and talk with you. Conversation is animated; your teacher asks you all what you think about each topic. You exchange ideas; no one’s criticizing you here. You begin to relax. There are others, just like you, at this school. You’ve found an atmosphere where everyone actively uses their collaboration skills.
You are the corporate newbie at your company. There is a brief onboarding process. Then you are thrown out to sink or swim with your mentor, a sales engineer who’s been at the company for more than 5 years. That’s where collaboration starts. She doesn’t show you what you need to do. She asks you what you think about every scenario she places you in. You learn a lot. You fail a lot too as you continuously cross that interface between sales and engineering. You smile to yourself. You’ve been here, before, in a scenario promoting collaboration skills.
There’s a client crisis and not enough marketing folks to go around. As the newbie, you are asked to attend a meeting your mentor, the assistant brand manager, can’t attend because he is already scheduled for three other conflicting meetings. You walk into the meeting. All eyes are on you. You smile and nod a “hello” back at everyone. Nobody’s talking in exclusive circles. You take your place at that circular business table. You get to work. This process incorporates those collaboration skills that you learned so long ago.
We learn about collaboration skills at an early age. This week, when you go to your place of work, think about what the kids are up against during the first few weeks of school. You were there once upon a time, too. Instead of being exclusive – intentionally or not – ask someone new to sit at your business table. Invite someone from a cross-functional discipline to exchange ideas with your team.
All it takes is your willingness to move 1 millimeter outside of your comfort level. Move 1 millimeter closer to actively using your collaboration skills, in the process.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized Seller-Doer businesses and startups.