Seven personal skills for effective collaboration

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —September 3, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

It’s easy to talk about what collaboration is or is not or the types of collaboration. What’s difficult is to change your practices (read behaviours) to improve your chances of an effective collaboration. Here are seven personal skills that we all need to master to give collaboration a chance.

  1. How to apologise
  2. How to advocate your point of view without harming your collaborator’s feelings
  3. How to spot when a conversation gets emotional and then make it safe again to continue meaningful dialogue
  4. How to listen and get into the shoes of your collaborator
  5. How to define a mutual intent that will inspire action
  6. How to tell and elicit stories
  7. How to get things done so you have something to show for your collaboration

What are some of the fundamental characteristics of a great collaboration? And how does my list of seven stack up against your experience?

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Cory Banks says:

    A number of these relate to Emotional Intelligence.

  2. Samuel says:

    Great list and this relates well to the way I try to work. I’d summarize this list as: ‘Be humble’. Maybe we should also add: Don’t think you know everything.
    Actually this list reminded me of books on ‘servant leadership’ (Greenleaf) and ‘level 5 leadership’ (Collins).

  3. Thanks for the references gents. As I was writing this post I was also reminded of Bob Sutton’s aphorism: Have strong opinions weakly held.

  4. Shawn, I just blogged about this post, and can see now I read these comments I’m thinking along the same lines as your other readers.
    The fact is the our increasing ability to connect and communicate, leaves us in more and more situations where our personal people skills are put to the test. In a sense our humanness is becoming the rate-limiting factor to getting more things – and better things – done (my very plain english attempt at defining “greater collaboration”).

  5. Sally Jansen van Vuuren says:

    Collaboration is something I choose to do – it conjures up the idea of free-will, shared goals, enthusiasm and willingness. I co-operate when needed – but it may be with reservation and may not be wholly my decision.

  6. I think you hit the nail on the head Sally. You can’t force collaboration, you can only provide the conditions that foster the likelihood for collaboration to occur.

  7. WWPYCBW: Strategy and People (September 10, 2008)

    7 Skills for Effective Collaboration Shawn lists seven personal skills for effective collaboration: “How to apologise; How to advocate your point of view without harming your collaborator’s feelings; How to spot when a conversation gets emotional and t…

  8. Good starting point. According to Morten Hansen, collaboration starts with having a mutual goal. #5 and #7 on this list should be the starting point with your collaborator. Yes, there will be disputes, but keeping your eye on the prize will make you nimble, flexible, and creative.

  9. Viv McWaters says:

    Nice list. Following some recent successful collaborations – both near and far – I’d add that it’s important to be friends. The very fact of being friends, or becoming friends, seems to me to indicate something we share that provides a solid platform for a successful collaboration. I also like to use the improv principle ‘make your partner look good’

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