Ever work with someone who asks you to do things that don’t really make sense or seem like a priority for you?
Ever ask people for help with something, only to ask yourself why they haven’t helped you the way you’d hoped?
If you answered yes to either of the above, you might be missing a pretty key ingredient to effective collaboration: CONTEXT.
It can happen so easily. Someone’s got a deadline and they need something that only you can provide, but they don’t tell you exactly why they need it, so you perhaps don’t really prioritize it or innocently neglect to provide them with what they are looking for. On the flip side, you might be asking that really smart analyst to provide you with a report for a project your boss assigned you, only to be frustrated when the analysis they provide ends up being completely off base and nowhere near what you were expecting them to provide — conveniently, 2 hours before it’s due.
I used to hear people on my teams complaining about how “so and so JUST. DOESN’T. GET IT!” and I’d stop and ask them: “what don’t they get?” The reply would often be something like: “they just don’t seem to understand that I need X,Y, and Z.” I’d say, “well, did you a) tell them explicitly that you needed X, Y, and Z? And if so, did you tell them why?” “Uh… no not really, but they should know!”
Right. “They should know.” Because people are mind readers and don’t have a million other things on their plate…
That is the key issue that I find to be the root cause of many inter-office squabbles: 2 parties supposedly collaborating on something but completely misaligned on what or why they are working together. Without context, it’s so easy for colleagues to pass like ships in the night. With context, however, they sail together and accomplish goals in a timely manner.
So next time you’re frustrated because you don’t know why someone is asking you for something; or because someone doesn’t seem to be providing you with what you’re looking for, ask yourself: “do we need to get on the same page as to WHY this is important in order to be successful here?”
9 times out of 10, I’ve found that the answer is yes and a simple explanation gets teams humming along collaboratively really quickly.
Oh, and it helps to have that “why” conversation in person because let’s face it, email & chat is a pain in the ass that results in more things being lost in confusion anyways…