People talk about collaboration all the time. It’s not that easy. People come to the table with differing agendas, value different opportunities differently, they bring different skills…do I even need to mention “opinions” or…(gulp) “feelings”? In any relationship, there’s a balance and it’s precarious. There are inner dialog questions: Why should I do for you? What will you do for me? Am I giving more than I am getting and is that OK? What about “doing the right thing”? What is the right thing for me, for you, for our company (professionally speaking because you know I’m not talking about my dating life here? Opinions, personalities, agendas…they can all work against you. It’s a lot to get over to collaborate effectively. And yet the benefit of collaboration, when done well, exceeds the sum of it’s inputs.
Being in a centralized function, collaboration is expected. My role is mostly externally focused but there are other teams at Microsoft with slightly overlapping charters. We could get territorial about who owns what or we can chill out and get this stuff done. My ability to handle that chill out part has come with some personal growth (stop me if I am sharing too much hre…oops, too late).
I remember being a newbie. What I had to offer was enthusiasm and mental horsepower (mileage varies), but not a lot of industry knowledge or expertise. My co-workers were in the same position. Defining professional territory was like a money grab. How much can I get my hands on? How can I prove my worth and move ahead? And in the times when I felt like I was drawing the short straw I was ticked. Now, I know that I didn’t have particularly mature perspective on it back them. My need to define myself by the work I did was incredibly personal at that time because in examining all of the pieces that make up Heather (which you do when you are in your early twenties), there was basically a big void where I wanted there to be professional accomplishment. I still needed to find what I was good at and work was an opportunity to do that. And some people were better than I was at starting from go.I try to keep this in mind when I speak with folks early in their careers; emphasizing the value of internships, of trying to figure out your “thing” before you are turned loose with very little direction.
Anyway, the path from there to here has been interesting; seeing examples of effective collaboration, finding out that sometimes it’s OK for the other person to get more than you do, getting *real* (and up-front) about your personal style and how that impacts the dynamics of relationship building, getting OK with being behind-the-scenes. You dabble in it a little here and there, see places where someone else might be touching the same customer, might be contributing to the same value proposition, where someone might be able to use your work to make their job easier. The dabbling builds relationships, the relationships lead to trust and the trust leads to collaboration. It might sound trite but if you can get to a place where you can put the competitiveness aside (which is easier for some than it is for me….but you have to do it), awesomeness can result.
The reason why I’ve been thinking about this is that this year, I’ve been able to participate in some real collaboration, much of it happening very recently. Today, I have a meeting with one of the MBA Staffing Consultants, Cathy (thanks Cathy!), and the Director of Corporate Relations at Wharton. In years past, the domains of MBA recruiting and industry recruiting here have been mutually exclusive. It was tidy, but it wasn’t based on the market reality. MBA candidates become industry candidates, industry candidates sometimes become MBA candidates. Both sides have an interest in building our employment brand inside MBA programs, both sides have an interest in engaging with career services (which usually serves both students and alumni). “Me” and “you” eventually became “us” and “how do we reach out to this space together?” and “how can we help each other?” and “what is the best thing to do for the candidate?”. And that is where we are today. Dabbling, relationships, trust and collaboration. Bingo.
I’m experiencing something somewhat similar with our Staffing Marketing team. These are the folks responsible for overall Microsoft employment brand framework. They are the “marketing” to my “evangelism”. They are the “Let’s put some documentation together” to my “Let’s try this right now!” (OK, over-simplified, but you get my point). Each side brings something to the table that the other side values. I can help them accomplish some of their objectives and vice versa. We are in the process of figuring out what that looks like and we’ll all end up doing better for having made the effort (and our clients will do better too). I don’t take credit for initiating this collaboration. If anything, Warren, their leader has more to do with this than I do…and it’s appreciated!
So my outlook on collaboration has evolved from “OK, it’s hard but if you tell me I have to do it…” to “Let’s rock this, y’all”. Part of that is that Microsoft values collaboration so it’s seen as a “win” for the company versus a “time suck” (and something you just have to get good at). This is the year where I really feel like I can mark down collaboration as a high point and look for more opportunities to do it and refine it further. Some people are good at it naturally, some of us have to work harder. Don’t hate me because I’m honest ; )