February 11, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

The Art of Collaboration

Lessons of the Pigskin


On a recent trip to Colorado I visited with an old business partner. Somehow we found ourselves in a conversation about the idea of collaboration. During that conversation it occurred to me that if people in a group, who are all willing to collaborate, do not share the same definition of collaboration, it can lead to misunderstanding, disappointment and even failure.

With the Superbowl last week, sports have been on my mind a bit. And football itself is a great example of how I personally perceive collaboration.

In my early teens I was well versed in the NFL, I was filled with information about individual players and teams. I had a small book on NFL history that I had read several times. In my own immature way, I was a student of the game. And when I was in the ninth grade, I decided to play on the school football team. I didn’t have any particular talent or skill for the game; actually, I was terrible, but I loved the game (and I figured it was a good way to get girls to notice me). 

The type of collaboration that takes place on a football team is more similar to life and business than perhaps any other sport. In other team sports like basketball, hockey or even baseball there are certain skills that everyone on the team needs to universally practice and master.

• Everyone on a basketball team practices dribbling, passing, shooting. It wouldn’t take much for a forward to swap positions with a guard or center.

• Although not everyone on a baseball team is a pitcher or catcher, everyone on the team has the basic skills to do either job. Indeed most people on a baseball team have probably tried both roles at some point, because the basic skills are so similar.

• Even in hockey, the goalie generally has the skills to carry out the role of a power forward, maybe not as well, but the goalie could probably pull it off. The goalie might have even played in that position in high school.

But football is different. You would never consider switching out the punter with a defensive tackle. The point guard couldn’t kick a field goal, and has probably never even tried. If the kicker gets injured you could pull a random person from the crowd and have just as much luck hitting the field goal as you would with your linebacker. A football team is filled with specialists in a wide range of skills that have almost nothing in common. In my opinion, that is true collaboration.

Members of a team find the role they can excel in, and then work to perfect the applicable skills. If everyone on a football team practiced each skill, the team would be terrible. If the center practiced kicking the football, not only would it not add value to the team, it might even damage the team by distracting players from their primary role.

Of course sometimes the punter has to tackle someone or maybe even run the football. But those scenarios are incredibly rare. And if those scenarios become common, the coach will start making changes to the team. It would be a clear sign that people on the team aren't filling their roles.

In my opinion this is what makes successful collaboration. As much as possible, your team should be filled with people who are different than you and each other. A collaborative team should have people who have different qualities, skills and mindsets. As long as you are all wearing the same uniform and heading the same direction down the field, the collaboration can make a strong team. And it can work as long as people are willing to fill their role.

And that is the key; people being willing to fulfill their role. Becuase when a linebacker starts getting involved in the punter's job, cracks will appear in the framework.

It is laughable to think of a kicker giving advice to a running back, or a safety telling a quarterback how to improve his passing. Even someone with a rudimentary understanding of football would consider those interactions strange. But all of us have seen things like this in life and business where people try to give input and get involved in things outside of their role. I Imagine most of us have been guilty of this ourselves; I know I have. It’s especially frustrating when you are certain you know more than the people in the other role. But even if you are a master at interpersonal communication, you risk damaging relationships by stepping on the feet of others, not to mention losing sight of your own role. The trade off isn't worth it.

A good kicker isn’t watching the game and counselling the men on the field how to do their jobs, and he isn’t stressing out over their mistakes. He is on the sidelines warming up and staying focused on fulfilling his role when the time comes. It's a harsh reality, but if the kicker can't stay focused on this role, he will be replaced.

Collaboration is not about getting involved in everyone else’s role; It’s about filling your own role effectively and working on overall progress together. When team members get too involved in each other’s roles, the team can actually slow down. Collaboration is about filling your own role in a way that complements the roles of others. It’s about playing your part in a way that helps the team move down the field.

So what does this have to do with our cassette to digital business?

We see ourselves as your collaborating partner. We have skills and expertise to do a very specific job; a job that you shouldn’t have to learn how to do. We have equipment, people and processes that all come together to collaborate with you. You can continue to focus on your role as the quarterback and we will do our part to help you get down the field.

If you have a digitizing project we would love to visit with you and explain how we can be that collaborating partner.

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