The 4 things to know about creating collaborative relationships

I’m often asked what are the “secrets” to creating good teams, managing co-workers, dealing with that difficult boss, and so on. While by no means secrets, there are good rules to follow when thinking about collaborative relationships. Here are four actions you can take that will steer you in the right direction.

  1. Establishing Clear Expectations. Establishing clear expectations is not just telling someone else what you expect. No, it’s the ability to listen and discover what others’ expect. Clarify those expectations if needed, and constantly check-in to make sure your understanding is correct. Your goal here is mutual understanding of what each person is going to provide, when/how such contributions will be judged, and what success looks like.

  2. Communicating Honestly. Communicating about expectations is dependent on communicating honestly. This includes giving honest (yet empathetic) feedback to others and being honest about communicating what you are thinking and feeling. Don’t blame others for violating expectations that you never told them! Don’t avoid conflict either, this only prolongs the “judgment day,” and will keep you (and your collaborator) miserable in the meantime. If you detect a problem or concern, or perhaps a feeling of unease with someone else, deal with it. Have an honest conversation about what is going on.

  3. Share Meaningful Experiences Together. Strong collaborative relationships come from meaningful shared experiences. You need to be able to create positive memories with the other person that will become the backbone of the relationship. Go to lunch, go for a bike ride, volunteer, learn how to do fantasy sports, whatever! Any of these situations are great from moving towards a deeper, more meaningful, relationship. Here’s a quick diagnostic – when you are around the other person, do you only engage in small talk (e.g., weather)? Or can you ask more personal questions about family, pastimes, vacations, etc? If it is only the former you might need to work on this. And no, "team building" exercises rarely facilitate the building of these sorts of relationships, because very little is at stake and the settings are artificial.

  4. Discuss Tasks and Logistics. While you may not think of this as part of a collaborative relationship, it is often the little things that bubble up into larger conflicts. Discuss with your collaborator how work is going to be accomplished, how files will be sent back and forth, what are the accepted / desired forms of communication (e.g., e-mail, text), what are the norms around meetings / time / showing up late, how strict are deadlines, and so on. With the ground rules in place it will make clear expectations much more likely to be shared and conflict less likely to harm the collaboration.


Think through the three people you need to work with the most. Now go through this list. How are you doing at setting up positive collaborative relationships?