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One is a Lonely Number

Back in 1969, the band Three Dog Night hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts with a song called “One.” The first line of the tune says, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do”—and while the singer is referring to personal relationships, I believe this statement is just as applicable for professional and business interactions.

The song lyric raises an important question: Is it more effective to be independent or interdependent when it comes to producing results at work?

When I was a young girl, I would tell anyone who tried to help me to put on my clothes, tie my shoes, or fix my hair that “I could do it my byself.” I convinced myself and others I did not need any assistance whatsoever. But afterward, when my shirt was crookedly buttoned, my shoelaces immediately came untied, or my hair was a hot mess, it was clear I could have benefited from their offer.

So it is in business: With so many pressing demands at work and the appearance of so little time, it is tempting to fly solo to get things done quickly and “right” the first time. And true, there are some things that you can accomplish more effectively on your own, like responding to e-mails, creating first drafts of ideas and plans, and scheduling important meetings. At some point, however, we must take advice from the Beatles and “come together” instead of being the “lonely one.”

Collaboration is about coming together to create ideas and best practices, and I believe that nothing new of any substance gets built without it. But I must admit, to this day I struggle with seeking help and input from others because my inner child still desires to do things “my byself.”

I was taught a precious lesson about the need for collaboration while publishing my first book, People Leadership: 30 Strategies to Ensure Your Team’s Success. While writing may seem like an individualized experience, I learned during this process that what appeared to be my original and independent thoughts came from many years of learning from and collaborating with people in my personal and professional life. Once I got an initial draft done, I needed a writing coach and editor to provide their ideas and expertise to enhance the text’s quality and readability; then there was an intense collaboration with my publisher regarding the cover and layout design, proofread, and printing.

The point is, even though writing seems like one person can do it—the author—the finished product is much better when created with a team of people, each of whom has ideas and skill sets that the author doesn’t possess.

In this regard, business projects and activities are no different than publishing a book—but collaboration gets a bad rap in the business world because it doesn’t always accomplish the desired results. The trouble is not with collaboration itself; however—it’s in the execution. With the right approach, collaboration can produce outstanding results. Here are four keys to get you there:

#1. Be open to working with others.

If your attitude is, “I can do it my byself,” collaboration will never work. The very essence of collaboration is an open mind. You have to believe that you need others and that your final results will be better if you allow yourself to rely upon your team members and peers.

#2. Have a goal in mind.

Collaboration is only as effective as the initial goal created. Setting personal goals is one of those times when you will want to go it alone. Create a detailed description of what it is you want to achieve, including any important parameters or boundaries for consideration. (Remember that effective goals focus on the specifics of the “what,” not the “how”; once you venture into the how you are doing it your “byself” again.) Once you have your goal laid out, you’ll be ready to work with others to see it through.

#3. Seek input from others.

Now that you have a well thought out and specific goal, it’s time to seek others out. Share your thoughts with team members, peers, and stakeholders who may be impacted by the new idea, as well as executives (who, of course, have their expectations). Don’t judge input based on the job title or position of the from whom it originates. People at all levels have valuable input, and everyone’s ideas are important to consider.

#4. Choose the option for the greater good.

Collaboration fails when it is done as lip service rather than from a genuine desire to seek others’ input. If you ask for help knowing all the while that you are going to do it your way no matter what, you are functioning in the spirit of “One” versus “Come Together.” So once you get input from all involved parties, evaluate the ideas and options on the table, and choose the option that will result in the greater good of the company or organization—don’t just ignore everything you’ve learned and plow ahead with your agenda.

Don’t let your desire for independence make you lonely. Collaboration may not always feel like the easiest road to take, but ultimately, being interdependent and collaborating with others produces far more powerful and long-term results.

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