Handbook for Effective Collaboration – Creating Shared Expectations – CLARIFICATION OF INTERNAL STRUCTURES

Clarification of Internal Structures

  • How will we organize to get the work done?
  • Communicate?
  • Share information?
  • Set and prioritize agendas?

In effective teams participation is high, investment in the outcome is high and information flow is dynamic and appropriate.  In less effective teams participation is low or conflicted, energy to implement is low, and information flow is blocked.  Specifically, characteristics of effective teams includes:


  1. Information flows effectively and appropriately between participants.  This refers to both face-to-face and less direct communication.  Assess your group on the following characteristics using a 1(poor) to 5(excellent) rating scale.


  • People have the information necessary to participate effectively in the work of the team.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • Information is provided in a timely fashion so that people can prepare effectively.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • Conversations between team members respect diversity of opinion and facilitate shared learning.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  1. Collaborative communication is used to identify individual and shared interests.  Assess your group on the following characteristics using a 1(poor) to 5(excellent) rating scale.


  • There is a shared understanding and commitment to seeking mutual benefit around a mutual purpose.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • Conversational structure is intentionally supportive of both advocacy and inquiry.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent




  • There is a share commitment to addressing both shared and individual interests.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • Participants are open to pursuing innovative and creative options.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  1. People are committed to shared-learning and mutual purpose.  Assess your group on the following characteristics using a 1(poor) to 5(excellent) rating scale.


  • We routinely evaluate our work as a group to assess our on-going commitment to shared learning and mutual purpose.

Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • We are able to simultaneously hold and explore diverse opinions and perspectives.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • Our conversations are characterized by safety and respect so that engagement is high.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent


  • We have strategies for pulling ourselves back in alignment with our shared expectations when we find ourselves out of integrity in our conversations.


Poor 1     2     3     4     5 Excellent



  • Where will you focus improvement?


  • Where might you need to clarify expectations?


  • Where might you need to support integration of new members to your team?


In addition to having in place structures that support the sharing of information, Teams adopt models for effectively engaging shared problem solving, shared decision-making and shared action.  Over the years we have adopted a model of problem solving, often described as an Interest-Based process first introduced in the book by Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In, first introduced in 1981.  What follows is a description of our adaptation of this model.


Phases of an Effective Collaboration Process


The following are critical elements of a collaborative decision-making process along with a brief elaboration on each stage.

  • Preparation
  • Identifying the Issues
  • Exploring for Interests
  • Options for Mutual Gain
  • Solutions and Follow-Through


Preparation:  Negotiations theorists posit that any effective negotiation is built on 70% of your time spent in preparation.  We identify three areas in which to focus this prep work.


Substantive Preparation:

  • What are the issues?
  • What are the required or expected outcomes?
  • What information is needed to engage effectively in this conversation?
  • What are your interests related to the issue(s)? Theirs?  Interests shared in common?
  • What are possible outcomes based on hunched interests and focused on mutual gains?


Procedural Preparation:

  • Identify commitment to mutual purpose and mutual benefit.
  • Identify commitment to mutual respect.
  • Establish guideline for the group:
  • Timelines
  • Meeting Schedule
  • Plan for structuring effective meetings
  • Facilitator? Recorder?


Emotional Preparation:

  • Commit to self-management and personal responsibility.
  • Commit to sharing responsibility for success of the group.
  • Come prepared to balance Advocacy and Inquiry.


Identifying the Issues:  Given all the time spent in preparation it is essential that teams take time at their initial meeting to clarify their purpose and the issue(s) to be addressed.  This includes:

  • Introducing the issue(s) from each participant’s perspective.
  • Beginning to unpack and acknowledge the potential complexity of the issue(s).
  • Exchange pertinent information.
  • Turn the focus to the future.
  • Develop and Agenda:  What do we need to explore and understand more fully?


Explore for Interests:  Just because you can name the issue does not mean that you understand it.  During this phase you address:

  • What really is/are the issue(s) anyway?
  • Deepen understanding of Individual Interests
  • Search for Shared Interests
  • Identify Common Ground
  • Approach exploration with a balance of Advocacy and inquiry
  • Engage in Dialogue that supports shared learning.


Options for Mutual Gain:  Brainstorm ideas for with the potential of meeting as many common and individual interests as possible.

  • Create without committing.  Agree that and idea can be shared about which the person sharing it may have some reservations.
  • Develop multiple options
  • Evaluate options against interests and standards.
  • Select option(s) base on evaluation against criteria agreed upon


Solutions and Follow-Through:  Bring specificity to your plan.

  • Continue to clarify the option(s) selected
  • Develop a durable plan of action for next steps with specificity.  For example clarify the who, what, when, how, what if . . .
  • Identify a process for evaluation of your action.



This basic model is appropriate when engaging a challenge, navigating a conflict, or determining the best course of action.  Some key values of this model include:

  • Taking time to clarify the issue(s) to be addressed.  We too often generate solutions to problems that we have not taken time to fully understand.
  • Jointly identifying criteria that will be used to evaluation potential courses of action.
  • Taking time to bring sufficient specificity to a plan in support of successful implementation.
  • Evaluation of implementation to determine the success of our action.

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