Collaboration at Work: How to Do It Better


Collaboration: “The action of working with someone to produce or create something.” 

When Collaboration Works

Collaboration can produce astonishing results! At Pixar, everyone gathers in a room to see the dailies and picks the last day’s or week’s work apart scene by scene, pixel by pixel. Judging from their numbers at the box office and the tug in our hearts, Pixar has shown that through practiced collaboration their products can surprise and amaze us. A second example comes from Apple, Inc. While some employees were reduced to tears under the Jobs’ regime, the company’s success speaks volumes.

Productive Collaboration is Not an Accident

Collaboration is a value and behavior. By design, it is intentional. It takes place in planned meetings as well as informal settings. Companies like Apple, Pixar and Google have meetings with strict rules. Google makes sure that meetings have a clear decision maker and as few people as necessary to achieve results. Apple also uses a defined structure. According to Adam Lahinsky, author of Inside Apple, every meeting agenda item at Apple, Inc. has a person’s name next to it so they are the “Directly Responsible Individual” (DRI) for that element. Anyone attending an Apple meeting has to be prepared to defend their ideas.

At Pixar, collaboration is not limited to planned meetings, but is an activity that is encouraged throughout the workday. By changing the layout of the work areas, employees see each other more frequently, and opportunities to collaborate evolve from increased interaction.

Bad Collaboration Reduces Productivity

On the other hand, some experts argue that too much collaboration can be a problem. It can result in unnecessary interruptions, reduced creativity and added expense. In his 2010 TED talk (with over 3.5 million views to date), Jason Fried author of Rework tells us “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.” He posits that “M & Ms” prevent people from getting work done. The first “M” is for Managers, and Fried uses them to cite interruptions to work, so that no one can carve the continuous thinking time they need to be creative. The second “M” is Meetings where important collaboration should take place but sometimes it doesn’t.

Fried is not suggesting that we eliminate collaboration. Rather, his is a reminder to be mindful about how to work together in an efficient and effective way. For example, does the company use meetings to procrastinate decision-making? Or are meetings a tradition (it’s the way we’ve always done it) or habit that needs to be abandoned? Or are they a cover to make it look like work groups are doing something? Do meetings interfere with the think time necessary to produce more creative outcomes?

Holding Productive Meetings


Here’s how to make sure your meetings work in a way that fosters collaboration and keeps productivity and morale high:

  • Develop and use an agenda.
  • Pass the agenda out ahead of time, so everyone is prepared.
  • Only invite people who need to be there.
  • Have a decision maker who can direct work, assign next steps and obtain closure.
  • Start and end on time.
  • Try holding stand up meetings to keep them shorter.
  • Cancel the meeting when it isn’t necessary.

Collaboration often produces results that a single mind could not have generated. In that sense, it is valuable if it is done correctly, but it can also be a huge time waster and a detriment to productivity if it isn’t. Our advice: learn how to use collaboration to your advantage and watch your business flourish.

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