Collaborative practice is one of the most significant and critical challenges in business. How do you get people to work really well together, participate to the max, share their best ideas, have strong, healthy, functional debate, and make great team decisions?

A diversity of perspectives and talents on your team is useless if people don’t share their views, and if unusual, new, or surprising ideas don’t get any play. Dialogue and debate can be intense but must be fair, respectful, and exploratory (see here).

Build a team in which all questions and comments are welcome. Tough questions, alternative perspectives, and dissenting views are seen as opportunities for us to face our challenges, explore our possibilities, and challenge ourselves to be innovative.

This series of blogs will focus on a critical practice for improving teamwork and collaboration on your team, between teams, and between stakeholder groups.

The first step:

The first step in collaborative practice is to figure out who needs to be at the table. But collaboration, like delegation, is not all or nothing: the “I do it” or “you do it” mentality is far too simplistic. We need many different kinds of people involved in our work, and we need to involve them in different ways.

Here is a great practice for figuring out who to involve and at what level (how to involve them). I use this practice for every major project or task I am involved in. It has to be one of the first issues you address in planning your project.

Three questions:

When planning any major project or task, ask these three questions:

  1. Who needs to be informed, i.e., who do we need to keep in the loop—and about what?
  2. Who needs to be consulted before major decisions are made, i.e., who needs to have input—and on what?
  3. Who should be collaborating with us, i.e., who should be at the table helping us do this work—who should help us with which pieces of the work?

Collaborative Practice 2


Inform: A minimal level of collaboration is to keep those around you in the loop on your objectives, plan, and progress. Keeping others in the loop helps them make informed decisions and align their work with yours. It protects them from surprises. And it shows them trust & respect—which is a great way to earn trust & respect. Being transparent about your agenda and process (plan) is a great leadership practice. General rule: no negative surprises.

Consult: The next level of involvement entails consulting someone—asking for their input—prior to making a decision or crafting your plan of action. It is very valuable to give people a say in decisions that will affect them. This practice is great for morale, building relationships, and ensuring you have the information you need to make better decisions.

Collaborate: The highest or deepest level of involvement is all about doing the work together—working collaboratively with others to make decisions, develop plans, and do the work / get the job done.

The power of participation:

Higher levels of participation & involvement (from inform to consult to collaborate) enhance:

  • Engagement
  • Accountability
  • Learning

The more someone is involved, and the deeper their participation (the higher their level of involvement), the more engaged they are going to be in the project, the more ownership they are going to take for the success of the project, and the greater their potential learning.

Getting employees involved helps them develop their skills and expertise because people learn far more from doing than from observing. Enhancing involvement is also a powerful employee development practice.

Everyone knows the cliché: “Make your employees part of the solution.” Well, this is how you actually do it: keep them informed, consult them on important decisions, and engage them in working on the challenges and opportunities of the business.

Food for thought:

All of your team members need to think about who they should be involving in their work and at what level, i.e., when to inform, consult, and collaborate—and how.

Can you think of real life examples—from your experience—of informing, consulting, and collaborating?

Has anyone ever made you feel like part of the solution? How did that make you feel? What happened? And conversely, have you ever been left out of the loop or excluded from an important meeting or decision? How did that make you feel?

I ask about your feelings here because it will help you connect what I am talking about to your own experience. Moreover, feelings are a crucial business issue. Consider this example:

Being excluded can hurt your feelings, and we all know from experience and research that employees who feel damaged & hurt are less engaged in their work and less loyal to their employer. Put positively: employees who feel trusted & respected work harder, are more productive, and stick around longer. (Absenteeism and turnover are very expensive: see here.)

Not everyone enjoys talking about feelings, and most of us are not very good at it, but it is a fact that how your employees feel about their work, their boss, and their company has a huge impact on their effort, productivity,
and loyalty—all of which directly impact the bottom line and your ability to execute strategy.

Collaborative Practice

This blog is part of a series on collaborative practice:

  1. Basic practice: “Inform, consult, collaborate”
  2. Five levels: “I decide, I decide with your input…”
  3. Where to involve people in the project life cycle
  4. Two compasses for collaboration: project and employee
  5. The power of involvement


Advanture helps organizations align culture with strategy and take leadership practices up to the next level for enhanced business performance. Performance by design!


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Joel Shapiro

Advanture Consulting
Building talent to achieve your vision!
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