Good Collaboration: Do you want me to follow directions, or are you open to exploring new ideas?

Good collaboration how one question can improve all types of collaboration. Four hands holding intertwining gears

Choosing between giving direction or sharing ideas might not always be as binary as it seems, and that’s precisely where the magic of collaboration comes into play. A 2021, Tweet from Dr. Paige Harden @kpd3k, shared how observing her children asking two questions could vastly improve collaborations.

Tweet from @kph3k on questions to ask about collaboration

Collaboration is more than just working together. Good collaboration is about harnessing the collective power of diverse minds and perspectives to achieve something greater. I strongly believe everyone needs an editor, but I also strongly believe everyone needs a supportive collaborator. I’m lucky to have found such a person in Liz who is one of the best people to think through ideas with because she often uses, “yes, and.” There’s magic in those words.

Defining Collaboration

Collaboration is the art of teamwork and shared effort. It’s the process of combining individual strengths, ideas, and resources to achieve a common goal or solve a problem. Good collaboration isn’t just about coming together; it’s about truly working together toward a common goal or objective. It’s about those moments when the whole becomes greater than the sum of the ideas, contributions, tactics and initiatives.

Collaboration thrives on communication, openness, and the willingness to listen, not ego or ownership. Environments where hierarchy and turf wars reign are not conducive to collaboration. Ultimately, collaboration needs an environment where everyone’s ideas and input are valued and starts with really meaning it when someone says at this point there are no bad ideas. Diverse perspectives can bring about innovation and creativity that might not have been possible otherwise.


Why Collaboration Matters

Collaboration matters, not only because it leads to better outcomes, but because it enhances our work and if done well, leaves everyone feeling valued. Each person brings a unique perspective to the table. When we collaborate, we tap into this diversity, which can lead to more comprehensive problem-solving and innovative ideas. Collaboration provides an opportunity to learn from others. It’s a chance to expand your knowledge and skill set by working with people who possess different expertise and experiences. We are not suggesting the work should be done by committee, or that the end product is up for a vote, this is more about working together with the end goal in mind.

Improved Decision-Making

Collaborative decision-making often results in more robust, well-informed choices. It allows for a thorough exploration of options and potential consequences. To reiterate, collaboration could be coming up with a theme or phrasing between two people. It could be a small group brainstorming ideas for attaining a specific goal or working together for a specific project. You’ll know when you’ve gathered enough input for the best results. You’ll also know who to include in the future and who to bring in for other times. Everyone on your team has a strength.

Strengthened Relationships

Working closely with others fosters a sense of connection and camaraderie. Good collaboration can improve teamwork, trust, and overall workplace satisfaction. In many cases, dividing tasks and responsibilities among a group of people can expedite the overall processes. When you leverage each other’s strengths, tasks are completed more efficiently, and each person is vested in the outcomes.

The Collaborative Spectrum

Collaboration isn’t one-size-fits-all. It spans a spectrum of approaches, from structured and directive to open and organic. Some of the most common forms are:

  1. Directed Collaboration: This approach is guided by a clear leader or organizer who sets the direction and assigns tasks. It’s effective in situations where a specific goal needs to be achieved efficiently.
  2. Participative Collaboration: Here, team members actively contribute their ideas and opinions. It’s a democratic process where everyone has a say, leading to more inclusive decision-making.
  3. Co-Creative Collaboration: This is the most open and organic form of collaboration. It involves creative brainstorming and innovation where the entire group contributes to shaping the final outcome. It’s often used in design thinking and innovation projects.

The choice of which mode to adopt depends on the nature of the task, the group’s dynamics, and the desired outcome. Sometimes, a combination of these approaches may yield the best results. The goal is not to water down the project by working as a committee, the goal is to let the best ideas surface.

Collaboration in Practice

In the workplace, collaboration is often encouraged because of its potential to drive success. Teams can pool their strengths and expertise, whether it’s for a creative project, problem-solving, or achieving a shared goal. Effective collaboration requires many of the skills necessary for good relationships in general such as active listening, open communication, and a willingness to embrace and respect diverse perspectives. Technology has transformed collaboration, making it possible to work together across distances and time zones. Virtual collaboration tools, project management software, and video conferencing have broken down geographical barriers, allowing people to collaborate seamlessly regardless of location.

Overcoming Collaboration Challenges

While collaboration is a powerful force, it’s not without its challenges. One common issue is the clash of personalities and ideas. Disagreements can be healthy, but they need to be managed constructively and a good leader should be able to diffuse situations before they become detrimental to the intended outcome or the overall working relationship. Collaboration should bring people and teams together, not make them frustrated or tear them apart. Another challenge is ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. In larger groups, some individuals may feel overshadowed, leading to a lack of engagement. It’s the responsibility of team leaders and members to ensure inclusivity and active participation. Just because someone is the loudest voice, doesn’t mean their ideas are better.

Collaboration is a fundamental concept that has the potential to transform the way teams and departments and organizations work and interact. Good collaboration blends individual strengths and perspectives.

How to Answer the Are You Interviewing Elsewhere Interview Question

graphic of two people interviewing over a table with a resume and the word interview.

A friend recently shared his perspective on a recent interview experience. He was particularly unsure of how to correctly answer the question of, “are you interviewing with others and do you have any offers?”

Used to gauge interest

This question is theoretically trying to gauge your interest in the job, your competitiveness as a candidate and your level of commitment to the company.  As both an interviewer and interviewee, I hate this question. By asking this question, this way, the interview quickly becomes awkward and uncomfortable.

Specifically, as an interviewer, I know I’m not getting the answer to the question I really want to ask, which is, “if we think you’re the best person for the job are we possibly going to lose you to another organization.”

Since I seem to be in the minority in this space and interviewers almost add this on as an afterthought to all interviews, my traditional answers are below. Now, obviously, this is career field dependent and there may be other factors involved, so take that into consideration when reviewing my usual answers.

Suggested Answers

If I am interviewing with other companies, I usually say something like, “My skills and experience are sought after and I am engaged in the interview process with a few other organizations. Ultimately, I’m looking for the best fit for my career goals in a supportive organization that has room for me to continue to grow as a leader and advance my skills.” You may want to bring it back to this particular position by customizing the bolded words if the interviewer asks this question to gauge how quickly they need to move in an offer to you. Use the other clues from the interview and any timeline they discussed.

On one hand, this response lets you indicate you are competitive and may make you more desirable to the interviewer and organization but it could also backfire, which is why I also advise to never lie.

If I am not interviewing with other companies, my typical answer is,  “I am actively seeking an opportunity that aligns with my career goals in a supportive organization that has room for me to continue to grow as a leader and advance my skills.” Again, customize the bolded words as you can to bring it back to the position and organization.

I hope this helps!

Bonus advice

When asking questions of the interview, find a way to ask a question along the lines of how important it is to you that this role be taken by someone with [skill you have such as eye for details, ability to manage multiple projects, etc.], ideally before the interview asks about other interviews.

Why Candidates Should Bill Organizations for Work Completed Before Hiring

Image of a Red flag on a rocky beach indicating danger ahead and the words Red Flag Warning If the company doesn't value your time as a candidate, they are not going to value your time as an employee. by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

As friends and colleagues transition into new careers or into new positions, I have started to see more organizations asking for original work samples during the interview process. This is disturbing on multiple levels.

To be very clear, not only would I, as a hiring manager or an interviewer, never ask for this, but I also don’t believe it is an accurate way to evaluate a candidate beyond a style test or an editing test IF and only if that is applicable to the position.

More than 10 years ago, requesting work prior to a second interview was common practice for graphic designers and often included a request to show how the designer would redesign the newspaper, magazine, annual publication, etc. This was almost always a red flag and revealed more about the organization than the hiring manager likely intended.

Usually, the end result was the organization would choose the design but ultimately hire someone with little to no experience to “recreate it.”

This practice infuriated me then and it still does now particularly since it has expanded to other communication roles. As a hiring manager, I know in a first conversation if the person is a good fit for the team and organization and as long as the person meets the minimum qualifications I can provide them with the tools to do the job.

That said, I have advised anyone in this situation to respond to the request with a customized version of the following:
“Are you looking for original content specifically around this topic? If so, the timeline and scope are in line with my freelance package X [if you don’t have one make it up based on similar offerings] and will be billed at Y rate [again, check industry standards]. As your requested turnaround time adds what I would typically bill as a rush rate, that adds an additional fee of Z. I am willing to waive these fees if I am the final candidate and am offered a position however if I am rejected I will be sending an invoice for my time and the produced work due on receipt. If you are not looking for original content and would prefer to review my current portfolio it is available at [website]. Please let me know how you would like to proceed.”

Most organizations assume you won’t actually bill them, but you absolutely should.

Bottom line, consider this a red flag, if the company doesn’t value your time as a candidate, they are not going to value your time as an employee and the number of hours you’ll be expected to put in will only continue to increase. 

I’m a Hiring Manager, and I Always Read Cover Letters — 3 Reasons Why You Should Include Them (Guest Post on Fairy God Boss)

Typeriter on pink background with the words Dear Hiring Manager,

As a hiring manager, if your resume and cover letter make it past the algorithm, I want to see that you can write. I want to learn more about why my organization over anywhere else is where you want to work. I want to see if your skills are a good fit beyond what your resume indicates.

That means I actually read your cover letter.

A supervisor once explained it to me this way: “I can teach a candidate how to use the tools to do the job, but I can’t teach the candidate how to write, get along with people or be curious.”

In a successful cover letter — that starts with why this job and this organization specifically — you are telling me you are not only looking for the title associated with the position but at my organization, which makes me curious and inclined to look closer at what you would bring to the role.

Here’s Why You Should Always Include a Cover Letter

1. You can show your potential employer what kind of employee you are.

Writing well is a skill that takes time, practice and a dedicated process. Often this tells me quickly what kind of employee the applicant may be. If the cover letter is full of run-on sentences, rife with typos and other mistakes, it will give me pause and make me look closer at other performance indicators.

A rushed cover letter isn’t an outright dealbreaker, but it does tell me the candidate didn’t take the time to proofread.

2. It’s a chance to brag about yourself.

A cover letter is an opportunity to showcase big wins and provide additional details about how and why you are the best person to do the job you are applying to do. If you can quantify this information, do so. Being able to share numbers even in a generalized way indicates you are able to quantify your work.

Use the space to highlight objectives achieved and goals accomplished with specifics. Providing details on the results of your work, even if you only had a small part in an overall project tells me you care about what happens after your work leaves your hands.

Better yet, tell me how you impacted your current employer and your designated goals and objectives. Did a process change because you observed an issue? Did you catch a small error before it turned into a bigger error? Did your work help your organization achieve a goal on time and on budget?

3. You get to prove that you’re the right person to join this team.

With your cover letter, you also have the opportunity to indicate you would be a good team and culture fit. My favorite cover letters tell me how the candidate made their current organization, team or process better. Maybe you revamped the script you use when answering the phone to be more conducive for routing the calls to the right person more quickly. Maybe you initiated a task tracking system for yourself or your team to better keep track of who is working on what, when. You have likely done more than your job description and a cover letter is a great time to expound on those job duties.

How to Write a Cover Letter Every Hiring Manager Wants to Read

At a loss for how to start crafting a cover letter hiring managers want to read? Find your current job description or rewrite your current job description.

Want to read the rest? You can view the full post on Fairy God Boss.

Emphasize Your Why in Cover Letters + template

Cover Letter Advice by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

There are more than 6,560,000,000 search results for “cover letter template.” Nearly all of the results recommend starting with the standard, “I am [adjective] excited to submit my application for [job title] at [company].”

Starting a cover letter this way practically ensures the recipient will skim the opening and the rest of your letter.

In the positions I’ve hired for, I prefer to read cover letters that start with why. Why this position? Why this company?

Specifically, tell me a story and prove you’re a writer.  For example:

I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], a strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company]. I’m specifically interested in [company] because [related to the company mission statement, reputation, a specific project, is in one of your areas of interest, etc.].

This tells me you are not only looking for the position title but at my organization, which makes me inclined to look closer at what you would bring to the role. Which is exactly what you should spell out next.

As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:

  • An [adjective] [descriptor that reflects transferable skill outline in the job description]: In my role at [current or previous job], I [action or accomplishment with outcome emphasized]. I was also able to [verb] my [skill desired in job description] abilities as a [role or responsibilities outlined in job description] in [project name] by [what you did].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: I have always displayed my [soft skill outlined in job description] to [job responsibility outlined in job description] by [action]. At [current or previous company], I [time such as always or frequently] [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my [noun such as commitment or dedication] to [aspect of your field noted in the job description].
  • A [adjective] [descriptor that reflects another transferable skill outline in the job description]: Every step in my career is driven by my [noun such as interest, appreciation, recognition] in [aspect of your career field noted in the job description]. [explain how you keep up with industry trends and tie this sentence back to the specific company, for example, While actively managing more than 10 social channels, building and supporting the online community, I still regularly dedicated part of my week to stay current on marketing and social data trends. Given [company’s] [recent award or recognition] I strongly believe this established routine would make me a valuable part of the team.]  

Looking for even more hints? Find your current job description or rewrite your current job description and compare it against the job description you are writing the cover letter for.

As a hiring manager, if your cover letter makes it past the algorithm, I want to see you can write, learn more about why you think the company is where you want to work and if your skills are a good fit beyond what your resume tells me.