The Four Keys of Collaboration

Jul 11, 2013

It’s amazing what happens when the right people come together.

Except when it’s not.

On the one hand, you experience unparalleled synergy, brainstorm killer ideas, and leave the gathering able to leap tall buildings with a single bound! Up, up and away!

Or, on the other hand, the group you thought was “just what I was looking for!” ends up a soul-sucking, eyeball-scratching, mud-wrestling match for attention. Instead of collaboration, it turns into a struggle for leverage, connection, or an opportunity that might be “The Opportunity.”

King of the Mountain for big people.

So very exhausting.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s experienced a group-gone-bad. Or maybe, perhaps, been that person. From time to time. Maybe. Perhaps.)

Today I’m thinking what a lucky girl I am to live and work with great people. Every morning I wake up knowing I can’t do what I do alone, would never make it a day without others. I need a team. Cheerleaders. Collaborators.

Over the last month or two, I’ve been a part of at least three collaborative teams: (1) a gathering of high-level speakers and trainers, (2) a brainstorming team for a huge new product launch, and (3) an informal retreat with three other women who write/blog/speak like I do.

In every case, the amount of talent gathered was quite impressive. Intimidating, in fact. (I’m not sure why I was invited other than for my chocolate-chip-cookie making expertise.)

One of those gatherings took place in June, when I spent four days with three sharp and talented women. We came from different states and gathered in North Carolina to collaborate on our respective careers. You should know, we’d only met five months before. Months, not years. Which is totally weird considering we shared a hotel room and FOUR DAYS. Risky, but we went for it.

It couldn’t have been better. We talked about book ideas, platform buildling, speaking topics, marketing plans, and business strategies. It was mastermind-esque, with good food, Starbucks, and girl-talk thrown in.


I’ve been doing this speaking/writing/career thing for long enough to know it could’ve been a disaster. Is it possible for creatives to gather without insecurity turning it into a circus?

Yes, it is. Our North Carolina gathering (as well as the other two) proved it. In each case, the time together was rich, productive and mutually rewarding. Besides, we had a blast.

I’m guessing your struggle isn’t knowing you need a team. You’re already overwhelmed, weary, and searching for mentors and collaborators to help.

The struggle is finding the right team. So what’s the difference between a dynamic collaboration a dangerous one? What makes a group synergistic rather than individualistic, rewarding rather than exhausting? Here’s the secret:

Finding the right team begins with being the right team member. Collaboration isn’t stalking talented, smart, influential people and attaching yourself like a leach so you can grab all you can. It’s bringing your best gifts to the table and giving yourself away.

  1. A Commitment to Confidentiality: Within minutes of coming together, we established “The Cone of Silence.” We could talk about contracts, numbers, goals, achievements, failures, frustrations, and partnerships without fear it would escape into the public forum.
  2. An Absence of Ego: There was no positioning, no leveraging, no need to prop self or brag about accomplishments. On the contrary, humility blanketed the conversation. For a team to thrive, ego must go. 
  3. A Desire to Serve: From the planning to the process, I watched as each member of the group sought to out-give the others. Servanthood—not self-driven expectations—set the tone, making the time together less about getting ahead and more about giving away.
  4. An Acknowledgement of Individual Value: Surrounding yourself with smart, talented individuals can be intimidating. But I believe each individual brings a unique offering to the table, regardless of age, success, or experience. At our retreat, this recognition of individual value created fertile soil for our collaboration to thrive.

If you want to sum up the above in one easy-to-remember sentence, it is this:

Collaboration isn’t about climbing to the top; it’s discovering how sweet it is to get there together.

P.S. This works in a family, too.

What’s the best part of YOUR team? What quality do you bring to the table? 


  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Michelle,
    I was just thinking about you so my brain must have known this was coming. *smile* This is my biggest struggle at the moment. I live in a small town and have not yet found any “like-minded” folks. I tried to pull in my daughter to help me with marketing (she wants to but is WAY too busy to learn all the stuff I need her to learn) and my husband for videotaping (he’s trying to learn it right now). That takes a little of the load off and leaves me to be more creative, but those are the team members I don’t have…the creative ones who can help fuel the juices while I help them in any way I can. I did join a small band of women I met at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference and we critique each other’s work via email. That is nice. One day I would like to find a small mastermind group too.

    • Michele

      Finding and building the right team takes time. It’s like a slow-cooker, rather than a frying pan. 🙂 Attending conferences, joining critique groups, being connected online … all of these efforts are part of the process. You’re on the right track, Linda!

  2. Dave Bratcher

    It seems with our culture continuing to shift toward a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) approach and one of the common topics I speak on, collaboration has been pushed to the back burner. In my experience, I have never had more joy than when challenges were faced by a team, and we all were able to stand on the mountain top together. Thanks for sharing Michele!

    • Michele

      I agree, Dave. The teams I get to work with are a HIGHLIGHT of my job. Honestly, the brainstorming and planning is often even more fun than the product or launch.

  3. Grant

    Thanks for your post Michele – it’s sweet when you achieve a truly collaborative environment. One refinement perhaps to your thoughts – you might better express your first point as a commitment to open communication rather than confidentiality. I agree that you need others to respect confidentiality so that you can collaborate, but to me the important key is committing to open and honest communication.

    • Michele

      Great point, Grant. Although, I think they’re two separate points. Open communication is vital to a team relationship. But knowing that sensitive information isn’t going to be divulged is also important. Thanks for the excellent addition.



  1. Frontline Festival: July- Teams and Teamwork Edition - Let's Grow Leaders - [...] Michelle Cushatt shares 4 vital characteristics of collaborative teams in her compelling post, The Four Requirements of Collaboration.  She offers…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Download a Preview of Michele's New Book,
A Faith that Will Not Fail

A Faith that Will Not Fail is available to order. Get a free preview of the book by filling out the form below.

Thank you! I am excited to have you on board.

Get the Video Series in Your Inbox

You'll receive one video in your inbox for 7 days.  

Done! Check your email to confirm.

Get the 7-Day Video Series Delivered to YourEmail

You will receive one video per day for seven consecutive days.

Great! Check your email to confirm.

Let's Stick Together

 By subscribing you are agreeing to receive Michele's occasional blog posts, videos and newsletters in your email. Subscribers get exclusive access to her free premium resources.

Yay! Thank you! I am excited to have you on board.

Skip to content