The 3 Habits of Great Collaborative Ensembles

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We're big fans of superhero teams, such as The Avengers or the Justice League. When we were kids, a lot of us probably thought, "why does Superman need to be part of a superpowers team?" He's the most powerful superhero around after all. Sure, he's more powerful than a locomotive and has heat vision, but he also needs someone to balance out his tendency to trust everyone no matter what. That's where Batman comes in. And Batman needs Superman as well.

It's the same with teams. Individually we can do amazing things. But combine forces with someone who can see things differently, then we can truly achieve greatness. That's something Keith Yamashita, of SYPartners, has spent a lot of time thinking about.

Keith knows a thing or two about collaboration, having worked with dozens of companies, such as Apple, and helping them further solidify their teams. Watch the talk below and take note of the three habits that Keith says allow a collaborative ensemble to soar.

What really spoke to us was when Keith started talking about the inherent contradiction between being a soloist and part of a larger team. As he puts it:

We tend to think of creativity as the work of a soloist ... interestingly, virtually all acts of greatness are the work of an ensemble.

Often, we're taught to think of the solitary artist — the writer, the painter or the designer — as a force to be reckoned with, the one who creates the next great thing. The Steve Jobs, so to speak. But even Steve Jobs had a partner in Steve Wozniak.

We all need someone to bounce our ideas off of, which can spark ideas that we might not have considered had we been working in solitary confinement. After all, chance favors the connected mind.

Yet, how do we reconcile the soloist and the ensemble? Let's take a closer look at the three habits of great creative teams as Keith outlines them.

See, Don't Look

At the top of the list is focus. Keith says that we often look but don't really see what's in front of us. More importantly, what lens we're using can also shape how we actually see a problem. Is it an obstacle? Or is it an opportunity? If we're not seeing properly, opportunities can fall through the cracks.

But what Keith is talking about is Focus with a capital "F", which is the type of concentration needed to help businesses and teams grow, which has been pointed out before by our own Chief Instigator. It's so easy for us to get our noses to the grindstone that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Strong teams, as Keith puts it, need to see the entire landscape. Focus (big "F") helps us because it allows us to balance the short-term gains with long-term goals.

Know Your Superpower

One way to help galvanize a group of soloists is for everyone to know their superpower, or the strength they bring to the team. Keith mentions it in human psychology terms, such as an energetic person complimenting a person who is a systems thinker. But we'd take it another step further.

Another way to think about superpowers is skill sets. What is the particular skill set that a person brings to the team and can they work across other disciplines in a business, or what Tim Brown calls the T-Shaped individual.

For Keith, it's crucial that teammates bring their superpowers to any collaborative interaction so they can feel that they individually make a contribution. Being T-Shaped allows for that. That's because each person is contributing their strong skill set and expertise, allowing their unique talents to drive decision making. At the same time, this helps reconcile the contradiction between the soloist and the ensemble.

Form a Dynamic Duo

The smallest unit of trust and collaboration is the duo, says Keith. You don't know yet when you bring two individuals together what spark can be ignited. Occasionally, that can cause friction. One way to resolve that, as Keith puts it, is to start by extending trust rather than apprehension (or love rather than fear).

One benefit of a small dynamic duo is that it also helps move projects along faster. That's why a lot of our projects only have a designer and a lead. It allows for both collaboration and for individuals to make decisions that get projects done without a middle manager running interference.

Cultivate These Habits

Collaboration is essential to creativity and greatness. Without partnership, without someone to trust, it's hard to achieve both. You can't see the movie of what you're working on when you're in it. We all need someone to look at it from the outside, providing the feedback and insights we need. Cultivating these three habits allows you and your team to become a victorious collaborative ensemble.

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