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Your New Relationship Superpower: All About Collaborative Commitments

Collaboration 1
By Dr. Teresa Peterson

What helps me feel good and perform at my best is likely different than what helps you do those things. We’re humans, after all. We’re varied and complex, which is part of the beauty and opportunity of working together.

It’s also part of the challenge.

That’s why we’re here, to answer a big question: Why is collaboration so important, and how can we get better at it?

According to Harvard Business Review, 85 percent of work requires collaboration. That’s across all industries, across all locations. The research showed that highly effective collaborators shared some common traits: they identified and challenged their own beliefs about collaboration, took an active role in making productive work structures to boost collaboration, and altered or adapted their behavior to collaborate more efficiently.

That sounds wonderful, right? Let’s look at how to get there. First, our work around collaboration is grounded firmly in communication and conversation. As Judith E. Glaser, organizational anthropologist and renowned expert in the Conversational Intelligence space, said, “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations.”

In that vein, having a conversation about collaboration that honors not only our preferences but also the preferences of others is crucial. This is what we call Collaborative Commitments, and it’s one of my favorite tools because it reduces the tug-of-war feeling that sometimes happens when conflict comes up for teams. It also touches on all those traits Harvard pointed out: it encourages us to look inward and examine our preferences, to be outwardly proactive in developing a plan for collective work, and to adapt.

In short, Collaborative Commitments help improve relationships, which can help improve not only work culture but also our experience of work itself. Win-win.

Collaborative Commitments are a series of questions or sentence starters to guide your team as you get more clear about how you’ll work together. You can use them anytime you’re getting ready to start something new—a new fiscal year, a new project, a new team member coming on board, you get the picture. Think of it like a proactive level-setting that will set you up for success, which is so much better than being in reactive/repair mode. 

Here are the basic Collaborative Commitments, although there’s a lot of nuance and room for customization (more on that later this month):

  • I’m at my best when:
  • I struggle to give my best when:
  • To make this a powerful partnership for all of us, we’ll:
  • When we don’t show up at our best, we’ll:

I especially appreciate that last question because entering into a collaborative partnership expecting everything to be roses and sunshine rarely works. Friction is normal in relationships. Effective conversations around Collaborative Commitments can prevent a whole lot of unnecessary friction, but having a plan for that friction when it arises helps keep the heat down and the momentum moving forward.

Want more? Stay tuned for later this month when our very own Gilmara Vila Nova-Mitchell—a strong leader with whom I’m proud to collaborate (see what I did there)—will share more about this collaboration strategy and how it plays out in practice. 

See you then.


Dr. Teresa Peterson
Director of Learning and Development | Website

Dr. Teresa Peterson is the Director of Learning and Development for Sarah Noll Wilson, Inc. In her daily work, she serves as Sarah’s key content collaborator. Teresa enjoys facilitating, researching, and is passionate about applying best practices for learning to make our experiences meaningful, engaging, and accessible for all types of learners. Teresa holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Northern Iowa and brings over twenty years of experience teaching, facilitating, and leading to our team. Our clients love Teresa’s grounded energy, depth of thought, and ability to listen deeply.

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