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The Power of Collaboration or How to Get Traction in 3 Easy Steps
By Gail Severini

Have you ever found yourself struggling with a big idea, an analysis or a report?

As in: parts of it are clear in your mind but there are gaps and gray areas?

Sometimes I can get traction (make progress) by doing a “brain dump”, i.e. just get the ideas on paper or a white board then re-arrange them by editing. Sometimes I need a “jump start”.

Sometimes, when there are a lot of ideas which are not particularly well defined or prioritized that is more challenging (especially when I am under pressure to produce quickly).

My first “go to” approach, if I am working alone, is to find a thought partner, i.e. someone who thinks similarly (not the “same” but can flex between leading and following) and is always prepared to debate, extend and build together.

Once you have a team consider some of the following tips, tricks and techniques. Do you have others? Please share in the comments section.

Recently, I was asked to collaborate on creating a plan to develop an organizational capability. We had some good data, some internal and some external, and we were sharing opinions and developing pieces of analysis really well BUT we were all over the place. One of us wanted to discuss topic A, another wanted to develop a list, and some of the time I just wanted to review a piece of our research. It was like we were throwing spaghetti at a wall and nothing was sticking.

Here is what we did to get traction faster:

  1. We set up a collaborative on-line workspace where we could upload all of our relevant reference files. This ensured that we all had the same documents (and same versions of documents).
  2. We agreed on an output and very high level data architecture, aka a PowerPoint and some key slides. We agreed on couple of similar presentations to use as a starting point.

  3. One of us volunteered to set up the Webex, one of us agreed to scribe the changes live on the call. (I have also done this live in Google docs where everyone could edit the document at the same time – now that is fun).

  4. We immediately began our joint “brain dump”:

    • Switching between the thumbnail view (so we could see all the slides in the template) and slide view (where we could see the content) we flew through and deleted irrelevant slides
    • We zoomed in on key slides and modified the content and structure to suit our ideas

    • We added place-holder slides for information (some we pulled from previous slide decks) we thought we would want to add or modify later

An hour later we had a reasonable first draft. We loaded that into the on-line workspace and invited a few other colleagues to join us there and to review the first draft. Now that’s a “mind meld”.

Another approach I have seen work (but everyone must be in the same “room”):

  1. Give everyone a set of large Post-it notes (say 3″’ x 5″) and have them write each idea on a separate Post-it. Let the ideas fly – capture every one (good, bad and ugly).
  2. Then agree on some main topic headings (everyone is a bit warmer now, having both thought it through and captured their key thoughts) and post these on the walls of the room.

  3. Ask everyone to add their own Post-its (ideas) under the more relevant heading.

  4. Walk the “gallery” of ideas just absorbing and understanding the ideas.

  5. On the second walk thru, invite people to group similar ideas (Post-its) together (still under the main heading). You might even be able to identify new sub-headings at this point.

  6. Solicit volunteers to take photos, scribe the content and compile a first version of the deliverable.

This works great for really big groups.

Of course these are the mechanics of collaboration. It really does start with knowing and respecting each other. And we have to develop the habits of (and comfort level with) speaking aloud, flexing to both contribute and to leave room for other people’s ideas, asking questions to “unpack” ideas, listening to understand, and a ton of other “soft” skills.

What works for you?

For more than 20 years, Gail Severini has partnered with business leaders executing strategic initiatives. In roles as internal business lead and external change agent, she has developed a deep respect for the organizational challenges that leaders and project teams must navigate.

Gail is a senior consultant with Conner Partners (, writes about Strategy Execution and Change Management regularly on the Change Whisperer blog ( and speaks at industry and association events. An avid networker, you can connect with Gail on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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