A collaboration framework allows each person to perform at their best so we can go further together.
June, 2022 Natalie Balthrop

A Framework for Collaboration

When we were little it was called playing nice, or sharing, or bringing enough for the whole class, or playdates. So, it's something we all know how to do, right? In theory, yes. In practice, not always. Just like when we were kids on the playground, collaboration rarely looks the same person to person, group to group. Collaboration takes practice, trial and error, and talking things out. And it happens everywhere - across the workplace and in our lives outside of work. Figuring out how to coexist with others is a fundamental part of being. 

We take collaboration seriously at Northbound. It's how we drive success with our clients, and how we build the culture that we want internally. Our collaboration centers around three main goals: 

  1. To foster divergent thinking, where our team is encouraged to generate original ideas and many possible solutions to a problem.  
  2. To strive for alignment where the team is clear, committed, and connected on the goals, path, and what success looks like. Alignment is not agreement or going along to get along. Alignment is about action and clarity of purpose.  
  3. To be empowered individuals who take full responsibility and accountability for ideas and push themselves and the work forward. This helps each of us engage and contribute at our best. 

While no two collaborations will look the same, there is a general approach that works. Per our strategist nature, we've put that thinking into a general framework designed to help us start the collaboration conversation right every time, and bring it to every aspect of our work. 

Our collaboration framework is simple. Unlike many frameworks, it's not exactly linear, and it's meant to be used repeatedly within any given project. There are three steps:  

FRAMING

This step happens together with your team at the beginning of a project, phase, task. It’s important to always start here and revisit as often as necessary after building and reflecting. 

Why does the idea, step, or project matter?​ 

What is the challenge, and why is it a worthy opportunity?​ 

What does success ​look like? 

BUILDING 

This step happens after ​framing when individuals and teams go off to think and work. 

How can we improve, strengthen, or redirect the working hypothesis?​ 

How can we evaluate the viable solutions and paths forward? 

 
REFLECTING​ 

This step happens after the teams having been building and helps us make sure we’re aligned, and if not, we start back at framing and adjust for future collaborations.  

Are we aligned with success? 

Did we solve the challenge/meet the opportunity?​ 

What did we learn for ​next time? 

We've found that putting emphasis on the FRAMING step is critical. As a team of do-ers, we are keen to get to the doing part of any project. But without framing, we run the risk of misalignment, teams feeling disempowered, and the end result not being what we want or what the client needs.  

Here’s why it works:  
It's scalable - it works great for 1/1 conversations or for 10+ person Teams project kickoffs.  

It's flexible - it's broad and specific enough that you can modify it to most needs, and supports divergent thinking where we see multiple paths forward and possible solutions 

It's intuitive - these are the questions we might already be asking internally, but now we have a shared language to work from.  

We take culture really seriously at Northbound. We're looking to strike the balance around our goals of high empowerment, high alignment, and divergent thinking where each person is accountable in a culture of growth and learning. With this framework, we’ve found it’s possible to have achieve all three of our goals at once.   

Even if your team and organizational culture goals aren’t exactly the same, this framework provides a good foundation for starting the conversation around collaboration and defining how your team works best together. In any collaboration, every person has a role to play. Knowing when and how to utilize each other is crucial to letting each person perform at their best so we can go further together.  

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