7 Ways To Inspire Collaboration


I am a fan of Stephen Covey. His books – 7 Habits of highly Successful People and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness – offer the kind of practical, principle centered wisdom that gives you confidence you can succeed at whatever you try. Every time I reread Stephen’s books I learn something new about myself.

Stephen authored an article for USA WEEKEND entitled “7 Ways To Come Together”. After reading it, I was struck by how the advice could be reapplied to the challenge of getting a team of private and public sector community leaders to agree on a strategic plan for successful economic development. If you are challenged with leading such a task, or participate in a strategic planning exercise, Stephen’s wisdom may be helpful to you.


  1. Open your “inbox”. Often we approach strategic planning with a strong preconceived idea of what we want the final outcome to look like. Then the exercise becomes a game of convincing, cajoling and influence peddling to have the strategic plan be as close to that idea as possible. Real success starts with everybody having an open mind and really listening to the points made by others on the team with the intention of hearing and understanding them. When people are heard in the strategic planning process, they become invested in the final outcome. When we filter their input out up front, then we automatically create an unnecessary barrier to successful execution.
  2. Find a third solution. Persuading somebody to see the world your way is a daunting task when they are diametrically opposed. It creates a win:lose situation that does not encourage enrollment. Working to find a third solution that is superior to either proposal helps both people feel good about and “own” the result because they can see a piece of what they want in it. The challenge is that finding a third solution does not mean driving to the lowest common denominator. It is hard work, because you need to find a better solution than either proposed. Working shoulder to shoulder to discover that superior solution is what builds buy-in and increases the probability of successful execution.
  3. Model yourself after others. Become a student of people that have taken on difficult challenges in your community and made a positive difference. Every community has success examples. Make a point of really understanding why these people were successful in their approach and try to model your behavior after them. You may be surprised at what you find the secrets to local success are. While some things may be universal, every community will also have its own unique keys to success.
  4. Avoid identity theft. Do not compromise your integrity or values in the process. Don’t focus on your personal gain. Stay focused on the end result and be willing to subjugate your personal need to win for the greater good. When leading strategic planning exercises, if you make it all about you or your Organization, you need to be prepared to walk alone. It is all about what works for the community.
  5. Try something new. The unique challenges of this interdependent global economy will not be solved with historical approaches. It is going to take innovative new approaches to create sustainable economic growth. At a minimum, be willing to entertain and test new concepts. This is the only way to create discontinuous change. It is also important you try new things and push the boundaries of your personal experience. This will help you be more receptive to exploring ideas outside your comfort zone.
  6. Know your audience. Your desire to move your community forward economically is not sufficient to succeed. To paraphrase a well-known saying – It takes a village to raise a village. You need to understand the benefits of moving forward for each of the key constituencies in your community and make certain the proposed plan has a win:win potential for the majority. Get to know the key decision makers as individuals. It will help you better appreciate how their ideas are informed and help you better value their differences.
  7. Laugh at least once a day. Sometimes we can take the job of economic development too seriously. It is important to keep things in perspective. While creating jobs and economic prosperity is certainly important work, our individual roles in the process should not be unduly aggrandized. Find something humorous each day of you life and have a deep belly laugh about it. This is good to keep your ego in check and it is actually good for your health.

Stephen initially identified 7 key habits for success and then added an 8th. In that spirit, take a moment to leave a comment that shares your 8th way to inspire collaboration. We can all benefit by inspiring each other, so your willingness to share will make a difference and is greatly appreciated.

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13 Comments so far

  1. Evan Crawford

    January 22, 2010

    Hi –

    I also like the Covey approach as it’s general enough to be “timeless” and choose from various traditions, yet specific enough to actually have something to do! I’ve been a certified Covey instructor for many years (not a sales pitch).

    The above is useful and I would add “Be mindful of your influence.” Especially if you are facilitating the group, but also if you are a member, it is important to be conscious of addressing each member with equal respect, interest, and openness to their ideas. The way one member acts toward another group member influences, or gives a clue, to other members of the group regarding how to treat the other members. Even if you don’t agree, if you are open, respectful, genuinely listen and refer back to ideas presented by all members, other people will notice and many will begin to do it themselves.

  2. Kimberly Ratcliff

    January 25, 2010


    Strong post. All of these elements cross-complement and help to drive collaboration, but the one that is often (surprisingly) most challenging to do is trying something new. I do agree that discontinuous change is driven by new ways of thinking and doing.

    This is a propos for the U.S. right now — in key matters like education, energy and international relations. Innovation is going to take us into the future, not repeating our same ways of thinking.

    As David Byrne and the Talking Heads said (roughly) “letting the days go by” won’t get us anywhere except the “same as it ever was.” Different is good.

  3. Joe Hensler

    January 26, 2010

    If I had the opportunity to add an 8th point, I’d suggest: “Start by identifying areas of agreement.” Groups tend to focus on their disagreements — and yes, it’s important NOT to “paper over” genuine areas of mis-alignment — but I think it can help groups come together when they affirm shared values, objectives, and perspectives first.

    Great post, Ed.

  4. Randy Schmid

    January 29, 2010

    Maybe it’s an extension of one or more of the items listed, and maybe it’s so obvious it isn’t listed … “ASK!” People love to be INVITED to help. Rarely do they turn down the opportunity to share their views. A simple question like “How can you help me to make this even better?” provides a great deal of inertia to get the collaborative ball rolling.

  5. Jim Matorin

    February 17, 2010


    After our conversation yesterday, I sat in on a webinar titled Beyond Products which discussed the recent strategic movement by progressive companies establishing a service arm to further differentiate their businesses. Besides some of the detailed learning, the one big idea that resonated for me, especially for Brand America, and now reading your post re: Collaboration – Culture Trumps Strategy Every Time. Yes, you can have all the great strategies in the world, but if the culture, starting with senior management does not set the tone for trying something new,a collaborative environment, new directions will fail. So we need to start developing the Brand America Culture, a culture that embraces collaboration that will facilitate all the great work you are initiating.


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  7. Chris Thompson

    January 2, 2013

    I’d merge two earlier responses and suggest that we ask others to identify a common agenda…that will go a long way toward building trust and identifying initial areas of focus. I also think there is a need to “free yourself” — that is to find a way to have someone involved in leading the process whose only job it is to help the process move forward. This is more than a consultant. FSG refers to this as a “backbone” entity. The reality is coordinating such a strategy is complex and demands someone’s full attention and it needs to be someone who is free from the baggage associated with being a stakeholder in the process. Regional strategies benefit if a trusted individual is working not for one of the stakeholders, but the strategy itself.

  8. Linda DiMario

    January 2, 2013

    Ed, these are very useful and practical tools. I so appreciate that you brought them altogether.

    And to this list, I will add my #8: the old but very potent adage- It is amazing how much one can accompllish when it makes NO difference who gets the credit. Clearly, there is little of this on display in our Congress today. And we are worse for it. Among the tests of true leadership is the ability to park your ego in the garage and walk to the party in work clothes.

    Without a doubt, for most of us, it is certainly a challenge to watch others take the credit for something we birthed or nurtured…but if getting the issue resolved or the “thing” done is the objective, we submit to something greater than ourselves…and that’s the ultimate in collaboration.

  9. Kimberly Kline

    January 3, 2013

    I love these suggestions Ed! I really like the one to come up with that “third solution”! Everyone feeling that sense of ownership is what really creates a team atmosphere!

  10. Alvaro Gallart

    January 3, 2013

    Good advise, this note is worth reading. Thanks Ed. Regards.

  11. Hilton Barbour

    January 4, 2013

    Ed – a wonderfully “ever green” piece.

    Although not explicitly stated, I’d add “Check your ego” which runs slightly counter to the identity theft comment.

    I wonder what might’ve happened on Capitol Hill in the past few weeks if your advice had been broadly distributed to those groups??

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