The Collaboration Prize in 3 Easy Steps

In the 1994 landmark move Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s Vincent Vega character opens a briefcase. A bright light shines from inside the suitcase upon Vincent’s face. He must be gazing upon a beautiful treasure of great value. Vincent’s partner Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, calls out from across the room.

“We happy?” Jules asks, making sure that the suitcase has the contents they think it has.
Vincent smiles and takes a puff from his cigarette. He nods at Jules. “Yeah…we’re happy.”

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We never find out what is in the briefcase, only that Vincent and Jules are willing to go to great lengths to make sure the briefcase and its contents are delivered safely to their boss.

If Pulp Fiction was set in the corporate world instead of the risky and dangerous world of organized crime (I know…sometimes, not much of a difference), I am convinced the briefcase would be holding collaboration. Vincent would open the lid, and he would see people working together. People would be sharing ideas, questions, inspiration and challenges. Input of colleagues would be welcomed, and feedback would be heard in the positive and constructive spirit it was intended. He would have found the contents of the suitcase only after a lengthy search, a lot of hard work and lots of missteps and setbacks along the way.

Vincent and Jules go through amazing, breathtaking and often unbelievable hurdles to deliver the briefcase. But, if collaboration is truly the treasure we are looking for, it can be found in a few easy steps.

  1. Evaluation: Take a long, hard look at how your organization is working now. Ask your colleagues what collaboration means to them. Do they think they are collaborating? When they say work is being shared, is it being shared only when the project is complete, or when it is in progress when the opportunity for input is most meaningful, and most needed.
  2. Platform: If your team is discussing lengthy projects and sharing files only over email, consider a change to an enterprise social network like Yammer. Keep all the conversations and resources in place. Create a living archive. Store files so they are editable and track-able. Provide a meaningful legacy of information. Work smarter.
  3. Start Small: Too much collaboration too quickly can cause too much suspicion and confusion. Your change efforts may stall. Start small. Try sharing in a new way. Ask new questions. Encourage input from different people. Reflect on what those small changes bring, and build on those victories.

Nothing good, valuable or important comes quickly. Encouraging new collaboration behavior also means introducing change, testing new hypotheses, asking people to learn new skills and to develop new habits, so take your time. Give collaboration time. When that briefcase finally opens, you will find it to be well worth the time and effort.

We good? Yep…we good.

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