What is Breakthrough Collaboration?

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Mike Straw

Written by Mike Straw

What is Breakthrough Collaboration?

In our fast changing world, business leaders need to look beyond the conventional. Today we’re kicking off a series of articles on the subject of Breakthrough Collaboration and business partnerships, to explore how we can respond with innovation and speed in this new world.

 

Collaboration is happening across countless organisations all the time, surely? The systems are set in place, the software, the contracts… We’ve got inter-departmental projects and those long-standing relationships with clients and business partners. And doesn’t almost every business claim to have a collaborative approach these days?

 

The trouble is: businesses aren’t machines. They’re made up of people who all bring their own mindsets to the table. The kind of collaboration that leads to breakthrough rarely happens just because the parts are in the right place or because people appear to be working together. Breakthrough Collaboration requires much more intentionality. 

 

Our misconceptions of collaboration

When did a collaborative project last bring out the best version of who you are? Trusted to give it your all, you were open to learn, you were determined not to let the side down and it was no chore for you to completely immerse yourself in the whole project with all of your being. Do you ever wish you could find your way back to that feeling? Well, it’s no wonder. You were tasting a little of true collaboration. 

 

The reality is that, while we could argue over definitions, usually what we call collaboration is more like cooperation. Or possibly coordination. 

 

Often the balance of power sits with one of the parties. This is cooperation, when most of the ideas, innovations and insights stem from one side of the relationship, even if this is never defined or spoken about. And it probably won’t be. Because in this situation, people don’t usually feel free to speak their minds. 

 

When we feel there’s a possibility of losing a business opportunity, or a promotion or the approval of another leader, we channel our words through a filtration system labelled, ‘Is it safe to say?’ Even when we’re invited to shape the conversation, we are more likely to decorate the discussion than mould its direction.

 

Occasionally businesses achieve coordination, which is an improvement. Parties knock the power between them like players in a tennis match, taking it in turns to show their expertise and have their say. 

 

But with coordination - if we can stretch the tennis metaphor a little further - everything is played in spotless whites. There’s still an air of polite civility to the whole affair and, whether we intend to or not, we’re standing on opposite sides of the court, guided by different strategic agendas. We hit ideas this way and that, finding it hard to build momentum, still a little afraid of losing to the other side.

 

Collaboration with a capital C

In Breakthrough Collaboration, the sense of possibility eclipses our sense of preservation. Instead of tiptoeing politely around one another, all parties enter the fray together to find where the magic might be. 

 

Because they’re not wasting their energy worrying about what the other side is doing, or getting hung up on their own reputation, everyone can innovate, speak straight and take action fast. They’re incubating breakthroughs.

 

In this kind of collaboration there is no balance of power. Parties aren’t working at a ratio of 30:70 or 60:40. They’re not even taking it in turns to defer to one another. Instead they’re bringing their full capabilities to bear. It’s been said that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. And when we tap into Breakthrough Collaboration, this becomes exponentially true. 

 

Committing to breakthrough

Leaders and businesses are always working together. But when the size of the relationship is greater than the size of our hangups and reservations, our egos and the little voice in our head, then we are working as one.

 

That doesn’t mean we agree on everything, which is more than likely a sign that true collaboration isn’t happening. Agreement isn’t really the point. The greater concern is the alignment of agendas.

 

But not just any objective will do. The target needs to be breakthrough. One where many great minds can join together and figure out possibilities that they wouldn’t have thought of before. 

 

Because if you’re not committed to breakthrough then what will motivate you to get uncomfortable? What will inspire you to challenge assumptions? To step beyond what you know and have done in the past? Collaboration is too difficult to maintain unless the desire for breakthrough is driving it.

 

What Breakthrough Collaboration feels like

How do you recognise Breakthrough Collaboration when it’s in effect? Well, the results will begin to show after a while. But you can recognise it at an earlier stage.

 

Pause for a second and remember the last time you worked with a leader who wholeheartedly trusted you. Someone who totally empowered you with a project or a team or a role. 

 

Do you have that experience in your mind? Right, now remember how that made you feel.

 

If you’re anything like the hundreds of leaders we have worked with, you likely felt inspired to bring your A game, the best version of yourself, to the project. Knowing people trust you will have made you want to be worthy of that trust, so you engaged with the project with everything you had. And no doubt greater results followed.

 

This is what Breakthrough Collaboration feels like. It’s far more than a process. It’s living and breathing. It’s tempered by a mindset of breakthrough - and driven by an unwavering commitment to it. The results are innovation, speed and an outcome that exceeds your predictions. And you can make it happen, if you’re willing to get uncomfortable.


Breakthrough Collaboration doesn’t happen by default. You can’t create it with a perfect system but you can hone the breakthrough mindset that fuels it. Check out our partnership and collaboration services or get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your ambitions.

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