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  • Writer's pictureJanice Otremba

The Four Steps to True Collaboration

In 2007, a close friend of mine, Lianna, owned an event company and wanted to create meaningful events in Kamloops, my hometown. At the time, Kamloops was a small city of 90,000 in the middle of British Columbia, and it was challenging to find a big enough audience for the type of event she wanted to create. So, a small group of friends (myself included) began to work with her on achieving her vision.

This venture wasn’t based on market research; it was a gut feeling in who we were and the vision Lianna had. We wanted to make it happen. We believed in her.

We brought in international business leader Jack Canfield and then holistic guru Deepak Chopra – two internationally renowned names, both of whom, had never even heard of Kamloops! Led by Lianna’s vision, we started brainstorming; when one of us said “what if …” the rest of us said “why not …” which turned into “YES!”

The events took place in April and November 2008 respectively and were sold out events with thousands of people in attendance for each. We nailed it! The myriad of partners, infrastructure, and champions it took to bring these events to life, aligning with one woman’s passions and vision to make it happen, put Kamloops on the map. Even within the last couple of years, people still approach Lianna to share how attending one of these events had changed their life.

The energy of the conversations, one idea bridging to another, brainstorming, planning, executing, sharing expertise, contributing to the vision – these events were living proof of true collaboration.

Collaboration is not consensus or advocating or leading from within. It is not a group of people with diverse agendas. It is not a team defaulting to the unnamed leader. It is not a board, a committee or a project team. Collaboration is not about liking each other – you can work really well with people you don’t like, and even with people you don’t respect. (I hear the gasp!)

Collaboration is a process, and in the process, we learn how to lead ourselves, and to be seen and heard. We learn how we show up for ourselves and how we stand in relationship to others.

There are four elements to true collaboration: listen, decide, commit, and support. These are the four ingredients to a recipe for successful collaboration.


Perspective is Potent.

Before we could move forward, we had to listen. Listen to what the vision was, listen to the different ideas which were presented and understand each others point of view and ultimately determine what our individual roles would be in the process.

Over the many years of my own journey, and after working with hundreds of people, I have learned that humans are wired to avoid pain. How we do that is unique to each of us, but the struggle, challenge, problem, issue or resistance we face IS the catalyst for clarity.

It’s easy to collaborate when everyone is in agreement, but it’s by pushing through our discomfort, overcoming obstacles and considering a different point of view by listening that we discover new insights and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the situation we are in.

Some of what you learn will be retrospective. Be patient and don’t panic. Collaborating with our intuition, listening and noticing what’s being shown to us through situations, experiences and the people around us is a form of collaboration with our highest self. Be curious, not judgmental.

In his book, “The Soul of Leadership,” Deepak Chopra writes on what makes a good listener:

“1. Not interrupting.

2. Showing that you empathize: not criticizing, arguing, or patronizing.

3. Establishing a physical sense of closeness without invading personal space.

4. Observing body language and letting yours show you are not distracted but attentive.

5. Offering your own self-disclosures, but not too many, or too soon.

6. Understanding the context of the other person’s life.

7. Listening from all four levels: body, mind, heart, and soul.”

So, I call on you to try this: Pause and reflect on your internal signs and prompts during your work experience. What’s happening within the group? What’s happening outside of the group – in the department or organization? What’s the political climate? It all matters. Focusing only on the destination changes the experience, and it can mean you lose sight of what you’re learning and the strengths you’re developing. We need to take stock more often and build it into our work environments and collaborative processes. If we are going to truly collaborate, we need to be our own observers – willing to be real, to say we don’t know the answer, to ask questions, and to listen.


Once you have had time to digest the myriad of different perspectives and ways you can go about the task at hand, your idea can grow legs! *Shameless plug for award-winning children’s book “What do you do with an Idea[1]?”, footnoted for your reference below (you’re welcome).

Decide how you are going to BE – show up and be real, present, vulnerable, and willing to learn and contribute. Decide what you are going to DO. The only wrong decision is to keep crossing your own boundaries, losing sight of who you are until you are all but invisible.

Just make a decision, any decision, and it will give you some clarity; then take action, no matter how small.

And once the decision is made, it’s time to commit.


Personal growth and learning deepens when we make a commitment to see a collaboration through to completion.

With my amazing friend Lianna’s event, our team had to think: How do we create a safe work environment, meet the needs of all the parties involved (the logistics were mind boggling - at first) and deliver a stellar event? Everyone was committed to making it happen.

At risk was a full year of organizing, relationships, sponsorships, thousands of attendees and thousands of dollars in fundraising – we had to make it work. Everyone sacrificed.

Commitment also means the ability to change gears when needed. We had to learn from our experiences, change what didn’t work and grow in our understanding of what role each of us played in the process.

“When a person is 100% committed, they are unwavering. They aren’t going to let anything get in between them and their commitment.

“But a person who is only 99% committed leaves open a window — however small — for their convictions to falter. And, given enough time, the convictions of someone who isn’t 100% committed almost always DO falter.

“That’s why I always say 99% is a bitch, but 100% is a breeze. Because it’s so much easier to aim for a 100% track record than it is to aim for 99% and manage to hit your goal.”

Committing to the process is only one part that is necessary to making it through a challenging collaboration; the other important factor is making sure you have the support you need.


And finally, and perhaps most crucially, lean on your support.

The people you surround yourself with have incredible power in your life. They affect your mood, motivation and even your health. Success comes from your community outside of work and commitments, so it’s important to find your pod – your people that know who you are and where you want to be.

While it might be tempting to surround yourself with only like-minded people who lift you up and you’re never in conflict with (cue angelic music), that’s not reality when it comes to your work-life where your pod is picked for you. So, how do we avoid creating opposing alliances, leading a coup or living out a scene from “Survivor”? You show up, use your voice, leave the work and discussions at the office and – this is a must – you find great friends who let you vent and help you keep it in perspective.

Your inner circle has a powerful effect on you. If your work circle is focused on negativity, it will suck you in like a big black hole. It’s never too late to walk away – or run, as fast as possible – from people who bring you down and re-set with your support network. The work isn’t going anywhere, it will be there for you when you return with a clear mind.

An integral part of collaborative success is our ability to consistently show up with a clean, fresh and open approach. We need to be “tuned in” to the progress we are making, leave whatever UGH happened previously, in the past…and not worry about the UGH that is yet to come.

Lead With Curiosity

True collaboration occurs when we swallow our pride and we show up nake

d – real, raw, and vulnerable – and lead with curiosity, not judgment. When we commit to fully participating and learning as we go, while being open to new possibilities.

Most collaboration doesn’t meet the true definition of the word, and that’s completely OK. What matters is that the sum of the parts – the connection, the energy, and the experience that arise from the process – creates something bigger. Sometimes this is the win, not whatever the original intention was, so let go of presuppositions. If things go wrong, ask what you can learn; about yourself, others, and the process.

Our willingness to observe our own resistance and acceptance of what happens is how we grow and evolve, moving from one part of our story to the next, because life is our teacher, whatever our experience.


[1] Kobi, Yamada “What do you do with an Idea?” APG Sales & Distribution (02/01/2014)

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