and what to do when you’re stuck with someone who isn’t.

Talk of collaboration and partnership is everywhere at the moment: it’s one way of making the recession seem less grim. Setting up several new projects reminds me that some people have far stronger co-working instincts than others.

Here’s how to spot signals for easy collaboration early on – and how to cope with someone who is a resolute soloist.

First Encounters

When first we get together in a team, the way we react with each other will set an unconscious pattern for the rest of the project. So a very formal start, with everyone sat round a table with their own tribe, will make honest and open interaction during the project more difficult.

And the same goes for us as individuals. In the very early stages of collaborating with someone the following signs bode well:

  • Setting up arrangements with them is easy: they don’t go on and on about how busy they are (self-importance syndrome) and they return our messages fairly promptly.
  • They may be assertive but allow for us having a life and a viewpoint too
  • So they find out about us : and are able to say what their aims, areas of specialization and enthusiasms are. In other words, they can describe the boundaries of their role.
  • When conversation with others is not relevant to us, they provide us with context and explanation, rather than cutting us adrift.


Getting Horney

Body language, eye contact, and facial expression, as well as voice signals, can indicate ‘potential collaborator’. Karen Horney – now that’s a great name for a shrink – was a contemporary of Freud, who had a profound but simple idea.

She said in our dealings with each other we have dynamics: to move towards, to move away from or to move against the other. So movers towards are likely to:

  • Look at us plenty and react to what we say
  • Lean towards us , angling body and energy in our direction
  • Be keen to find common ground in conversation and explore common understanding of the project

Where you’ve got all this going on from someone, you can risk looking up at the sky and seeing your completed project up there, surrounded by a rosy halo.


What if we are stuck with collaborators who are movers away and movers against? Who may regard us as a potential poacher, or a cleverer dick than them or who are insecure about team working? Then:

    • Remember your main aim is to reassure: spell out the limits of your knowledge and interest and clarify your territory is not necessarily the same as theirs. Their borders can risk remaining open.
    • Give them good examples of project roles you’ve taken in the past.
    • Offer them your knowledge freely and openly.
    • If not competitive with them, share with them your long-term aims. The more they know about where you come from and where you are going the better.
    • Disarm through open questions of the : ‘Please can you help me with a steer here?’ variety. Inflamed egos love these.

Final Protection

If all else fails with a resolute soloist, then we need to protect ourselves. Get the project carved up into chunks as soon as possible. Organize if you can to work in your own space on deliverable results, which can be measured and specifically attributed to you.

More people want to be good collaborators than don’t. It is increasingly the way of the world. And if you are happily and sufficiently different but similar, you may have decades of co-working ahead. Good collaborators are valuable assets: good luck to you in finding and keeping them.

By szcz

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