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Tips for Improving Collaboration

If you want 12 board members or your production team to work better together, some prep work might be in order. We all collaborate best when we feel connected to, trust and understand those we collaborate with.

Jessie Shternshus helps teams be more collaborative. Over the past decade, she’s tested her ideas with Macy’s, GE, Crayola, the Mayo Clinic, Netflix, Capital One and other well-known corporations. Shternshus is also co-author of “CTRLShift: 50 Games for 50 ****ing Days Like Today” and co-creator of a workshop called To find out more about Jessie Shternshus and her company, The Improv Effect, visit

Here are her tips for fostering collaboration.

Create User’s Manuals

If you want to know how your coffeemaker works, you turn to the user’s manual. The same goes for members of a team. Before a team starts to work together, Shternshus has each person answer questions, usually about a half dozen, about themselves. Answers are shared with teammates one-to-one, as a group or virtually. The questions should give insight into someone’s personality and work style, such as “What are your pet peeves?” or “How do you best communicate?” According to Shternshus, these user’s manuals “break down barriers and help prevent people from making assumptions about how people are acting or communicating.” For example, if a teammate says she’s an introvert, everyone will realize her silence doesn’t mean she is aloof or standoffish but that she needs to recharge.

Tell Distinctive Stories

The best collaborations incorporate diverse perspectives. “A good collaborative team promotes diverse perspectives,” said Shternshus. One way to discover what connects us and what makes us unique, she says, is to ask people to share something they have seen, done or heard that no one else has. For example, someone might share that they were born in the back of a cab. Such revelations can lead to lively discussions and laughter. They also can be deeply personal and serious, depending on the group and its purpose. As people share stories, they understand not only what makes each person unique but that they all share common human experiences. “The stronger the connections, the more you can accomplish,” Shternshus said.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Shternshus is co-creator of Walkshop, a workshop that uses the outdoors, preferably a place where cellphone reception is bad or even nonexistent, as a collaborative space. “There is a real need to get people outside their everyday environment to connect in a deeper way,” said Shternshus. Familiar environments often reinforce habits that actually hold us back. “It might be something that worked in the past but doesn’t work now,” she said. “Walkshop lets us unlearn by breaking out of the actual place where we go every day.” By breaking the routine, people see themselves and others in a different way.

Share a Bonding Experience

Sharing an experience that’s outside the norm, whether it’s participating in Walkshop or going zip lining, pulls people together. “The neurons are firing; we’re paying attention to the present and connecting to people in a much different way,” said Shternshus. “Everything is new and we are creating those stories and moments together. It’s a deep way to collaborate.” These days, people are being pulled in so many directions that they crave the deeper connections shared experiences can create, Shternshus said. “I think people are starting to wake up and say, ‘I need this for my heart.’”

Help Everyone Be Heard

Having collaborators tell stories in different ways can help everyone be heard. “Sitting in the board room around a table, often only the loudest voices are heard,” Shternshus said. “Change the way people contribute to the conversation.” By switching up the format and having people tell their story in different ways — verbally, written or through visual art or music — it is more likely everyone will be “heard,” Shternshus said. “People are paying attention to the quiet voices,” she said.

This year during Walkshop, Shternshus will try a new storytelling method called Story Stones. On walks or hikes, participants will pick up stones and draw an image on each. Everyone will put their stones in a pile, and each person will choose several. Using the illustrations as inspiration, they’ll create and tell a personal story. “They are creating a story based on other people’s contributions, and they are not getting to control the outcomes,” Shternshus said. It’s another way, through storytelling, to create those emotional bonds and help people be more collaborative.