What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree

This month we are doing a series on Collaboration, the calibrated process of building as a team. It occurs when multiple minds work together to generate ideas, and then take action to realize a shared goal. We’ll be publishing a few posts from several members of our team who have chosen an aspect of Collaboration to elaborate on. This is part two in that series; read the first installment here.

What Comes Next? The First Rule of Collaboration is to Agree. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

It’s not the first idea that matters, but the second.


Five years ago I took my first course in improvisational theatre at Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, Alberta Canada. My fascination with improvisation went beyond my interest in Drama – the major of my first degree. It was because I heard of the application of this brand of theatre to organizational leadership. Apparently, the principles of great leadership and Improv are the same and encouraging better leadership in organizations is a passion of mine.

It is nothing short of amazing to watch a group of actors create a theatre piece that is both funny and emotionally engaging right before your eyes with absolutely no preparation. It seemed impossible. I soon learned that it is possible for everyone to learn how to do this. All it takes is adhering to some very simple and very powerful principles of collaboration and teamwork.

The first principle I learned is ‘Accept all Offers’. This seems crazy but imagine an empty stage and two actors. Neither they nor we know who they are or where they are. There are no sets, no costumes and no script. One says to the other. “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? I heard that there is a lake over there behind the trees where you can use a canoe at no cost. Would you like to go and try one out?” It’s a great offer. As an audience we are wondering what comes next? We want the second actor to say “Yes – And add something interesting like “I think there is an island not too far that we could explore. A canoe would be fun.” The actors are off to an adventure and as an audience we are excited about what is going to happen. We want to know more about who these people are. Are they skillful or bumbling? Will they make it to the island and what will happen if they do? What will happen if they don’t? Will this be a mystery or comedy? A witty satire that is a commentary on a current issue or are we going to be entertained with crazy slapstick?

If instead of accepting the initial offer, the second actor says, “No, I can’t swim and am really afraid of tippy canoes” the scene grinds to quick and boring halt. If this pattern of ‘No I don’t think so’, or even if we hear the all too common ‘yes but….’ the scene either stops or inches forward at a slow and increasingly frustrating pace. We very soon stop listening and welcome any distraction as we wait for the torture to be over.

The only edge you have in the marketplace today is the ideas of your people. Sparking innovation in the workplace to create solutions faster and better than your competitors. The days of a few smart people simply doesn’t cut it with the complexity and speed of change that we have now. It takes my ideas giving you other and better ideas that spark someone else’s. The first idea is unlikely to be the best. Give it to someone else who accepts the offer and says ‘yes and…’. Adding to it and changing it up in a way that takes some part of the idea and builds on it making it even better. When we put two or three other people into this dynamic, we create an unlimited potential for creativity and innovation.

What is wonderful about collaborating using “Accept all Offers” and “Yes And” is that it is not the first idea that has to be stunning. It is really what comes next that matters. Just like in our little scenario about the canoe. It is the second idea that matters. It’s what you do with my ideas that makes the difference to both of us. I don’t have to be a creative genius, if I have you as a partner. We can keep moving forward with the best of each of our ideas. If we can manage to do this we will reach the island. And maybe, just maybe it is an enchanted island!

From Emojis to Emotional Connection: How Millennials Are Shaping Office Collaboration

From Emojis to Emotional Connection: How Millennials Are Shaping Office Collaboration

Millennials in Collaboration. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat


This month we are doing a series on Collaboration, the calibrated process of building as a team. It occurs when multiple minds work together to generate ideas, and then take action to realize a shared goal. We’ll be publishing a few posts from several members of our team who have chosen an aspect of Collaboration to elaborate on. This is part one in that series.


As more and more millennials are entering the workforce, the office dynamics are quickly changing to accommodate everyone. The shift in corporate culture is predictable, but we as engaged as we could be?

I was hired to work at an obscure internet startup company a few years ago. Not surprisingly, most of my coworkers were at least 20 years my senior and almost all of them were married and had kids. For a long time, I was the only woman working there. It was my first full time job since leaving college, and I was going into a field that was completely outside of my area of study (anthropology & women’s studies). I was nervous– here I was suddenly part of a team of seasoned programmers, quality assurance specialists, and tech entrepreneurs, and I was not really any of those things yet. The anxiety and doubt I internalized came from that universal insecurity of feeling “unqualified”. Looking back, I find it funny how close I came to quitting (more times than I’ll admit), before my first year. I had gone from feeling “unqualified” to “unappreciated” in just a matter of months.

I think this kind of trajectory is a common one; you might even be experiencing this now, in your own corporate culture. Even though I worked in an office that could very easily have been collaborative, I felt flustered and directionless. It surprised me, how difficult it became to ask simple, clarifying questions or just get feedback on a task. Ad despite our proximity to each other–there was a mere 10 feet between my desk and my boss’s glass-panel office–I would rarely get a chance to engage a conversation, both in person and online. Our communication was so often 1-way, I never knew if I was doing a good job, or if I was handling the problems that came through efficiently. I would even come in to work on holidays, only to find the doors locked, because I never knew which ones we had off. Is this normal? I’d wonder.

Maybe it is. Collaboration, after all, has come to take on a very specific definition for the millennial worker. According to PWC’s global generational study in 2013, millennials place a greater value on being supported and appreciated in their work environment than almost any other factor. Of course we do! We want to be part of a flexible and team-oriented culture. We crave opportunities for interesting work. We are hyper self aware (or we want you to think we are) and we want to be independent. We are constantly consuming, creating, & critiquing online content. We want to be seen as authentic and culturally relevant. And we’re obsessed with that new show on HBO! How would you know this, though? I’m not saying that all of these quirks are exclusive to 20-something year olds, either. Interestingly, millennials attitudes are actually not that much different from everyone else’s. Non-Millennials want to have interesting careers too. And research shows that (all) workers are happier and more satisfied when they have greater flexibility in their work space. What we are really seeing is that the biggest differences lie in what importance each generation has placed on various aspects of their daily workplace happiness. For our younger, less experienced coworkers, that happiness is greatly influenced by being part of a team-oriented culture. And I think there’s a lot of value in taking a closer look at that one tendency that so often presents itself in our millennial mentees: an aptitude for collaboration.

When I say collaboration, I’m talking about both formal and informal collaboration. From the obligatory weekly conference room meeting or call, to the early morning pep talk with your fellow coworker, to the quick ping on Google chat to a supervisor–the seeds of cooperation are probably already a part of every office dynamic. The generations preceding millennials are often described as being individualists and tend to have an ‘inward looking perspective’. These were the generations of the early cell phone, but before the internet was as accessible as it is today (x). Millennials, on the other hand, are natural collaborators because they aren’t used to constraints. They have grown up with technology and constant access to information; not only are they tech savvy, they are natural multitaskers. The best ways to collaborate, according to a millennial: chat, text, online meeting applications (Skype, Slack, Facebook’s Workplace etc.), & cloud-based document management (like Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). And don’t forget, these methods need to be easy to use.

So, there’s definitely a learning curve–and keeping up with all of the new technology is half the battle. Fortunately, these methods are just tools, and the tools are supposed to become more powerful and more intuitive. But the method of communication is not as important as the communication itself. These are just vehicles for reaching out to each other, sharing information, building on each other’s ideas, following up, checking in. Forging a cohesive, cooperative, passionate team requires this kind of thoroughness. But does implementing this level of engagement have value for the company as a whole, or are we just indulging our millennial coworkers and employees?

Let us consider the bigger picture. Employee turnover rate is a problem for a lot of companies. You may have heard that millennials play a big part of that. A recent Gallup report suggested that millennials are the “least engaged generation in the workplace”. But, wait! That’s not even the whole story. It turns out, employee turnover is actually a phenomena that takes place in every generation. Historically, younger workers have always changed jobs more frequently than older workers. So, a better, simpler question to ask would be, how do we engage our younger employees? It’s not so hard to see why a young person would be craving that emotional link when they’re first assimilating into the workplace. You might, perhaps, remember feeling this way yourself. When you were an entry level employee, what helped you feel more part of a team?

I want to be clear, I think we millennials have a long way to go before we’re ready to be the leaders, mentors, and coaches that are very much needed in the current corporate structure. That said, our contribution to the corporate culture goes beyond knowing how to work the printer, or figure out the new operating system update. We are looking to be part of a team that is ready to collaborate to build an efficient, effective, (and maybe even fun) environment.