In a recent podcast with Dr. Heidi K. Gardner, an expert on collaboration, we explored a terrain often overlooked by the modern organization – the power and necessity of “smart collaboration.” Throughout our conversation, Dr. Gardner highlighted several key aspects that contribute to effective collaboration within a business or non-profit, from the importance of leveraging diverse perspectives to the need for strategic thinking in forming teams.


Dr. Heidi K. Gardner, co-founder of Gardener & Co., a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School, and co-author of Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work

The Era of Smart Collaboration
“It’s no longer about having a collection of experts. It’s about how we weave together the expertise and perspectives from a diverse group of people,” said Dr. Gardner, encapsulating the essence of smart collaboration. It’s the strategic process of bringing together individuals with complementary skillsets to tackle complex problems. More than just a sharing of knowledge, it’s about drawing from an array of experiences and viewpoints to create innovative solutions. Smart collaboration requires individuals to set their egos aside, acknowledge their limitations, and strategically engage those who possess the necessary expertise.

Collaboration: Conflict and Trust
Contrary to popular belief, collaboration isn’t about maintaining harmonious relations. When a variety of perspectives are involved, disagreements are inevitable and even beneficial. “…that willingness to mix it up, to challenge each other, to debate, and sometimes to have that task conflict, that’s really productive as long as we know how to handle it well, and we trust each other,” shared Dr. Gardner. Constructive conflict fosters creativity and innovation; however, it must be handled well and built on a foundation of trust.

Competency Trust and Collaboration Overload
Heidi highlighted the concept of competency trust – belief in another’s ability to deliver high-quality work efficiently and effectively. This form of trust can enhance receptivity to challenges and debates from colleagues. However, collaboration can sometimes lead to overload, stretching individuals thin and preventing them from contributing effectively to their teams. “Is our collaboration partner really acting in an untrustworthy way, or is it just hard for me? And if it’s just the latter, that’s a me thing,” explained Dr. Gardner.

The Power of Strategy
Another critical facet of collaboration is the clarity of an organization’s strategy. “Strategy matters because it allows people to understand what the priorities are and how their work fits into making those priorities come alive,” said Heidi. A clear strategy helps individuals see the relevance of their contributions and prioritize tasks accordingly.

My conversation with Dr. Gardner was a deep dive into the complexity of collaboration, emphasizing the need for strategic engagement, conflict management, trust-building, and a clear organizational strategy. Whether in business or non-profit organizations, we must embrace smart collaboration and leverage the diversity of experiences, perspectives, and expertise within our teams to tackle the challenges we face. After all, as Dr. Gardner wisely expressed, it’s not just about pooling together experts, but how we interweave their expertise that makes all the difference.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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