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Inspire Exponential Collaboration

Let’s make beautiful music together.

At Freeman, collaboration is codified into our culture because it is foundational to the kind of work we do. No one can execute a massive event without a variety of teams working like clockwork to bring it off. And of course, collaboration entails a work ethic that every leader encourages, because businesses run better when everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

Unfortunately, collaboration is also a virtue that is easier to endorse than to embrace. As adults, it sometimes feels more expedient to do things ourselves than to invite help. And sometimes we default to “boss mode.” That happens when, as leaders, we are so confident in our own vision and how we think work should proceed that we simply tell our “collaborators” what to do and how to do it.

That’s a shame. The world is changing every day and even the smartest and most well-read among us can’t have all the knowledge and skills needed to optimize a given project or initiative. We need to invest in the collaborative process with the same enthusiasm we would give to any other critical enterprise system.

Collaboration works best when people have a clear sense of what they’re meant to achieve and are given generous latitude and the right tools to do what they do best. In my imperfect experience, the Holy Grail of collaboration is revealed in that moment when our intentional effort to work as a team on a meaningful project inspires others to take it to the next level. The ideal is to spur action that self-perpetuates far beyond the initial scope.

Here’s an awesome example of how one intentional act of collaboration expanded exponentially. During the pandemic, the band OK Go wrote and released the song “All Together Now.” It was a virtual collaboration recorded by band members who each worked from their home studios. Their express purpose was to show appreciation for frontline workers by raising money for Partners in Health. That was pretty cool in and of itself. Then, thanks to OK Go Sandbox (a collaboration between OK Go and the University of St. Thomas’ Playful Learning Lab), the song was released as the Art Together Now initiative, which challenged the world to collaborate on a piece of art or media using “All Together Now” as its theme. This generated six new pieces involving more than 15,000 people from 35 states and 21 countries. They did it for the joy of collaboration and as an act of gratitude. (You can read more about it here.)

The song “All Together Now” is something of an anthem for Freeman leaders. One of our colleagues suggested we watch it at an internal meeting — the first time we could all be together after the worst days of the pandemic. We were awed and inspired by the liberating power of selfless collaboration.

The lessons we took away are pretty simple. Be generous with your art and skills. Provide a vision, tools, and support — not assembly instructions. Involve people from a diverse set of experiences to create something new and different. Enjoy the process and, when things take off, get out of the way.

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