5 Questions for Better Collaboration

Our region’s business community is collaborative to its core.  That collaborative spirit seems innate, but it’s actually a skill that must be learned and practiced to get to the next level.  Effective collaboration often ends with finding innovative solutions as a team, but it always starts with the self.

Here are five questions to prepare you for more meaningful collaboration.

Self-awareness: Do you understand your own biases, perspectives and filters?

These are often seen as dirty words when it comes to collaboration.  Whether they are helpful or harmful to the collaboration process is up to you; it all depends on your own awareness of them. Spend some time in honest self-reflection to identify those biases and filters and better understand your own perspectives before diving into the collaborative process. It’s not necessary to remove them; simply be prepared to own them.

Transparency: Are you willing to let people know what you’re thinking and feeling?

When we hide what’s actually going on for us internally, it’s harder for people to know how to respond and interact with us. Being vulnerable is not always easy, but without that emotional and intellectual honesty, collaboration will be stunted.

Focus: Is your focus on creating new pathways to meet challenges or confirming what’s wrong?

Strong leaders focus on where they want to be, not on what isn’t working.  Don’t spend all your time and energy fixated on the issue.  After you’ve identified the problem, move on and use collaboration as a tool to imagine and evaluate solutions.

Presence: What is needed for you to be present to what’s happening?

Put away your phone. Take several deep breaths. Intentionally focus your mind, your heart and ears on your team. Consciously commit to being present to what might be emerging. Learn what it takes for you to be fully focused and present and do it!

Fun: Are you willing to be easy and playful about the challenge?

Lighten up a little! Laughter and fun helps our heads and hearts find more options and manages the creative tension that leads to great collaboration. Go outside, watch a cat video or eat a cupcake to kick off a good collaborative conversation.

GG Johnston is president of Downstream Partners, a principal of Be Intentional and serves of the board of directors of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

[Photo by Travis Sanders]



  1. Kate Stabrawa
    July 1, 2015

    Thank you GG for sharing these questions. One of the great ways we can all grow, personally and as a city is through collaboration. I appreciate that these questions are hard and if we asked them of ourselves, our partners and co-workers, we would all be better for it. Kudos to you for bringing them to light.

  2. Lisa Cutter
    July 1, 2015

    I LOVE these insightful questions. You’ve really unlocked some important stuff — we take ourselves and our “busyness” so seriously (e.g. not putting away the phone and being present). And we fixate on what’s wrong! I love your suggestions to let it go, focus on the solution and lighten up. We could transform business (and maybe even society) with these simple steps.

  3. July 6, 2015

    Great advice GG. These are all great questions for us to ask ourselves and the one about being present really resonated with me. I think we all struggle with the many distractions that keep us from focusing on the here and now. Making a conscious decision to turn off you phone (or other device) and devote 100% of your attention to the task at hand is a challenge, but can be very rewarding.

  4. July 7, 2015

    Great questions — truly illustrating the intellectual and cultural spirit of Denver’s business community. Thank you for stimulating such an important conversation.

  5. Cara Crifasi
    July 7, 2015

    Great things to keep top of mind to be a better collaborator. The one that really resonates with me is being present. So often we get, I know I do, consumed with what is next, what is on my phone that I am missing, that we aren’t truly there. So, I agree that putting away phones and other distractions can only make collaboration stronger and more effective/focused.

  6. Dana Stone
    July 7, 2015

    I recently started a new job and I inherited two employees in the process. My last experience managing people was a tough one, but I learned a lot during that time thanks to GG. She taught me that being authentic and present with employees can go a long way. I so look forward to building my team and teaching them the great things GG has taught me!

  7. June 13, 2016

    Smart, GG. Thanks for compiling this.


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