Handbook for Effective Collaboration – Introduction

Handbook For Effective Collaboration

Greg Abell

In Partnership with the Collaboration Lab


Balancing “Task” and “Maintenance” is essential to supporting effective collaboration and teaming.   Task refers to the work or purpose of a group.  What has the group set out to accomplish?  Maintenance refers to the creation of shared expectations and structures that a group implements in support of accomplishing the work.

Too often teams form or committees meet and very quickly begin engaging the work that they believe is before them.  They assume agreement as to shared purpose and objectives.  This can be problematic.  In addition very little thought or energy is allocated to clarifying structures that will support successful achievement of the objectives and/or completion of the tasks. 

Maintenance conversations focus less on what we are here to accomplish and more on how we are going to accomplish it.  As productive teams form and/or focus on effectively sustaining their performance they will clarify and re-clarify, as necessary, expectations around some key issues. These include:

  •  Clarity of Purpose.  Why are we a team? Why have we chosen to work together? What is the work before us?
  • Understanding and articulation of Roles and Responsibilities.  Why am I a member of this group?  Why are you?
  • Shared Expectations regarding Group Behavioral Norms.  How will we treat each other as a group?  How will we safely and effectively engage the diversity of opinion that is bound to show up?
  • Clarification of Internal Structures.  How will we organize to get the work done?  Communicate? Share information?  Set and prioritize agendas?
  • Identification of External Connections.  How will we connect with and communicate to clients, stakeholders, funders, the community, and related groups?


In addition, depending on the nature of the collaboration and the partners involved, there may be value in engaging the following two additional conversations:


  • What are the core Values that drive our work? How do we operationalize these values?  How do we align or actions with these values?
  • What common Language will we use to talk about our work?  What language is acceptable?  What language may be unacceptable or problematic for those involved or those we serve?

This resource is designed to support the implementation of these conversations so as to leverage the effectiveness of the group or team. Each section provides a rationale for addressing an issue along with strategies for effectively structuring the conversation.

However, before we start there is an important distinction we would like to make and framework to introduce. This framework has become key to our work building capacity for collaboration in individuals and teams.  Let me explain.

When faced with a challenge, the first question asked typically is,  “what do I/we need to do to fix the situation?”  We are reinforced for solutions and actions and look quickly to what action will solve the problem currently facing us.  This orientation is typified by many of the questions people bring to the classes and seminars we teach.  For example, when asked about their personal learning objectives regarding a class on teaming or the engagement of conflict participants will often refer to adding to or increasing their toolbox.  They are looking to increase their repertoire of “doing” related to the challenge.  This is all well and good and we are committed to supporting people to develop more effective skills and strategies.  However we have come to believe that the question, “what do I/we need to do to fix the situation?” should be the second question asked.

The first question asked is actually a combination of two basic questions.  The first question is, “who is this situation calling me/us to be in relationship to the challenge?”  In other words, what about the context will inform who we need to be in relationship to the challenge.  The second question is related to the first, “who am I committed to being in relation to this challenge?”  What are my personal commitments related to the context? The challenge? The people?  The honest integration of the answers to these two questions is critical to our effectiveness as a team both individually and collectively. 

A number of years ago I was introduced to the notion of being “in- integrity” or “out-of-integrity”.  You are said to be “in-integrity” when your actions and speaking are in alignment with your commitments and values.  You are said to be “out-of-integrity” when your actions and speaking are out of alignment with your commitments and values.

In the context of the two questions identified above, “is our doing in alignment with who we are committed to being?”  This will be a critical question that will frame and orient our engagement of these critical conversations.

As we consider our “being” in collaboration we have identified a core set of commitments or principles key to effectiveness.  We will identify and briefly clarify each.

Comments are closed.