The Values Tree of Collaboration

Most employees, managers, and executives value collaboration as a good thing to do. This begs the question of why isn’t collaboration a regular practice in organizations. I think it is because collaboration is tricky stuff. You bring together individuals each with their own emotional baggage. This baggage can manifest itself into dysfunctional group behavior, thwarting efforts to create something of value together. Finally, you need to follow-up on the group collaboration to produce results. There are too many ways for collaboration to go wrong which can make the efforts seem not worth the benefits.

The underlying principles of collaboration are quite simple. In addition, there are practical resources and tools to make collaboration easy. I like to think of collaboration as a values tree.

The values of the individuals involved in the collaboration are the roots of the tree. These personal values are typically unarticulated. Unarticulated values between individuals can lead to misunderstandings and disruptive conflict. Unresolved misunderstandings and conflict can detract from the experience of individuals in the collaboration resulting in an ineffective climate for collaboration. Therefore, the unarticulated values or roots of the tree need to be cared for and managed. It is important to remember that managing the roots is different from trying to change the roots. The key is for individuals to respect the roots, each other’s unarticulated personal values.

The experiences of the collaborators are the branches of the tree. A rewarding and results-producing experience is the goal for effective collaboration. One piece is respecting the roots as discussed previously. In addition, there are core behaviors that support effective collaboration. Each participant in the collaboration needs to be responsible for and held accountable for their role in creating an effective climate for collaboration.

Finally, the fruits of the tree are authentic value for the organization. Authentic value can not be identified without collaboration. Moreover, authentic value can not be delivered without the right organizational climate.

Let’s first examine individual values found in the roots of the tree. I recently participated in a values activity with Thrive, a group coaching experience by Deviate ( Each participant was asked to do a “Personal Values Card Sort” created by W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, and P.L. Wilbourne of the University of New Mexico (2001). The card deck includes 83 values and 3 blanks for write-ins. We were asked to first sort into three stacks of “Very Important to Me,” “Important to Me,” and “Not Important to Me.” We were then asked to pick the top 10 values from the “Very Important to Me” stack and prioritize these. I discovered that my prioritized top 10 values were both very personal and unique to me. Because these top values are very personal, then they are likely to be unarticulated except to those closest to me in my life. In the group coaching session, we could see the different perspective we had from processing information through the lens of our core values. Different perspectives are key ingredients to collaboration. Different perspectives can also be the downfall to collaboration if not managed effectively.

Next let’s examine the experiences of the collaborators found in the branches of the tree. The tree branches are the key elements to produce both a rewarding and results-focused experience. Looking first at producing a rewarding experience, I went back to the card deck of 83 values and 3 blanks and selected the ones that are “must have” or key to effective collaboration. I discovered that this subset of 17 values fell under the following three categories: engaging authentically with others, seeking contribution that makes a meaningful difference, and being open to change and opportunity. Looking now at producing a results-focused collaboration experience, there are two more branches needed; outcome-driven group process and supporting focused content. The outcome-driven group process needs to make it easy for the group to achieve the desired outcomes from the collaboration. The supporting focused content, in turn, needs to support the group process. In summary, the values tree of collaboration has the following five branches: engaging authentically with others, seeking contribution that makes a meaningful difference, being open to change and opportunity, outcome-driven group process, and supporting focused content.

A useful developmental framework for the three branches of the values tree having to do with creating a rewarding collaboration experience (cultivate your ability to engage authentically with others, seek contribution that makes a meaningful difference, and be open to change and opportunity) is presented in Stephen M.R. Covey’s book “Speed of Trust” ( Practicing Covey’s Core 1 of integrity, Core 2 of intent and five behaviors for strong character (talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty) will enable you to develop your ability to engage authentically with others. Practicing Covey’s Core 3 of capabilities, Core 4 of results, and five behaviors for high competency ( deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability) will demonstrate that you seek to contribute in ways that make a meaningful difference. Finally, exhibiting Covey’s Behavior 11 to listen first and Behavior 13 to extend trust will develop your ability to be open to change and opportunity.

The best way to address the two branches of the values tree having to do with creating a results-focused collaboration experience is to be trained as or work with a professional facilitator. Certified Professional Facilitators ( are proficient at demonstrating the following competencies for these two branches:

  • Create appropriate designs to achieve intended outcomes
  • Develop event plan
  • Deliver event successfully
  • Select clear methods and processes that achieve a high quality product/outcome that meets the client’s needs
  • Prepare time and space to support groups processes
  • Apply a variety of participatory processes
  • Drive the group to consensus and desired outcomes
  • Facilitate group self-awareness about its task
  • Establish clear context for the session
  • Manage small and large group process

In addition, Certified Professional Facilitators are proficient at demonstrating the following competencies to respect the roots and support the branches of engaging authentically with others, being open to change and opportunity, and seeking contribution that makes a meaningful difference:

  • Foster open participation with respect for client culture, norms, and participant diversity
  • Engage the participation of those with varied learning and thinking styles
  • Provide effective atmosphere and drama for sessions
  • Demonstrate collaborative values and processes
  • Cultivate cultural awareness and sensitivities
  • Create opportunities for participants to benefit from the diversity of the group
  • Actively listen, question, and summarize to elicit the sense of the group
  • Recognize tangents and redirect to the task
  • Encourage trust in the capacity and experience of others
  • Manage group conflict
  • Evoke group creativity

Finally, let’s examine the relationship between collaboration and the fruits of the tree, authentic value for the organization. The Department of Facilities Management at University of Iowa changed the way they market their services internally ( In doing this, they learned that delivering authentic value really cannot happen without collaboration. Whether it is a single-person service provider or a group delivering services; collaboration with the customer is a must. With a group delivering services, collaboration across the group is also inevitable. At the root of this principle is understanding that value to a customer is not a static concept: it changes as the needs of the customer change in response to the world we live in constantly changing because everything is “living.” We live in a complex array of complex adaptive systems. A lesson from the article about their project managers is as follows: “The more successful projects are led by project managers who effectively utilize and coordinate the collaboration of all the resources and talents within and external to our facilities organizations with the design professionals to produce high project investment decisions.” The University of Iowa Department of Facilities Management summed up their journey as follows: “Unlike earlier times, when communication, let alone collaboration, with others outside a particular service unit used to be the all too rare occurrence, we now recognize that we want partners at our side, in every aspect of our business, working through the critical issues and decisions that provide value to our institution.”

Finally, in order to harvest the fruits of collaboration and avoid the fruits of collaboration going to waste, you need to insure you have the right climate in the team or organization where the fruits of collaboration need to be implemented. To help with this, Qualified SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Practitioners use a proven, statistically-sound process to assess organizational climate and recommend specific actions to build the organization’s capacity for collaboration.

The recipe for effective collaboration is the values tree. First respect and care for the roots, the unarticulated values of the collaborators. Second, create a rewarding and results-focused experience with the five branches of engaging authentically with others, seeking contribution that makes a meaningful difference, being open to change and opportunity, outcome-driven group process, and supporting focused content. Finally, grow and harvest the fruits of authentic value for the organization. Contact Contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or to learn more.