THE CollaborationWORD “COLLABORATION” has shown up for me multiple times this week.  It must be a message!

I totally understand the reluctance to put your future in the hands of someone else.  No doubt many of us learned the lesson in school that a “team project” would sometimes turn into all the work being done by the one kid who cared about grades the most.  The others would let things slide a bit, letting the dedicated one pick up the slack.

Instead, let’s look at this from the standpoint of collaborations which work well.

My first example might surprise you:  A great marriage looked at as a collaboration.  There’s a shared goal, which is for the couple to love and support each other, and maybe create a family.  What drives these two together is romantic love and infatuation, but for the marriage to last, they have to recognize that it’s a matter of give and take, forgiveness, and shared values.

A business collaboration is strikingly similar.  You get into it because of some exciting benefit – the infatuation part – but it’s going to have to mature quite a bit in order to become stable.  I was a part of a great discussion about this at the local Small Business Development Center on Friday.

And it’s not just the logical and business-like stuff.  Sure, you need to have goals and measures and a contract.  But the emotional part is what usually torpedoes a shared venture.  Just as in a marriage, the two parties have to like and respect each other, and develop deep trust.

Here’s another simple example:  I work with a financial planner who helps me manage our investments and retirement savings.  It started off eleven years ago because I finally realized I didn’t know what I was doing in this realm, and we were faced with some huge financial decisions.  On the face of it, it’s about me “outsourcing” a key piece of work because I don’t have the inclination to do it myself.  But it’s useful, stable and productive because I deeply trust this adviser to help us meet our life goals.  He also keeps us sane by tracking along with our changing situation and fluctuations in the financial markets.  I can sleep at night because I don’t have to worry so much about that.

Another common collaboration would be between two companies who realize that when they work together, 1+1=3.  I know how to develop products, while you know how to market them.  I have influence over key market leaders, while you are doing something that they need to know about.

You can approach this as a simple business contract, but I’d suggest that it’s even more valuable to think of it as an active collaboration.  When you do that, you’ll focus on laying the groundwork for a long-lasting, productive, creative relationship.  You’ll move from being ordinary to being a leader.

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