People & Human Resources

How to collaborate with people less skilled than you

Eve Ash /

There’s a word for collaborating with people less skilled than you: it’s called “mentoring”.

While it’s true that you up your own game by practising with those who are more skilled and experienced, working and sharing ideas with people who have less “skin” in the game is valuable for a host of reasons. In an era where people’s job tenure is so much shorter, old behaviours are being shaken up. Now everyone is increasingly expected to cope with whoever and whatever is thrown their way, and to like it if they want to keep making an income. 

Instead of complaining about those less skilled people you must now work with, turn it around!

Apply yourself with verve

Stifle any mental groans when you’re assigned a group or individual who hasn’t developed the skill set you possess (yet). And definitely never allow any hint of condescension in your tone of voice. Don’t be someone who makes known to new colleagues that you are the one professional in the team … of amateurs. You won’t last long as a manager with that attitude.

Spice your experience and knowledge with gusto, and you help develop people’s powers of engagement. They then become receptive to what you’re doing and the high bar you set for professional conduct and KPIs. Let the momentum and enthusiasm build and before you know it, you’ve got an energetic, capable team.

Be open to ideas and questions

Sometimes this can be a challenge, especially when a know-it-all kid tries to get a rise out of you by hinting that your approach might be “legacy”.

Instead of putting her/him back in their box, ask them nicely to demonstrate what they’re talking about for the benefit of the team. They could well be right, which makes what they’re offering valuable. If the idea/approach has serious merit, consider how it can be integrated into the company context.

Show patience and receptiveness

This scene from Skyfall is an excellent, economical depiction of how different ages and skill sets can learn to respect each other. From an unpromising beginning, the gentle trading of insults while retaining their worldview, Q and Bond veer towards some semblance of civility and mutual understanding.

Of course, in life, this takes longer and requires forbearance and a willingness to hear how the other communicates before rushing to judgement. We all can choose to listen and learn.

Be a compass

A project manager was recently thrown into a work environment where the entire team spoke a form of shorthand and were too busy to orientate him. Their meetings resembled careening Luna Park dodgem cars, swerving to avoid each other. When he sought coherence from his manager, the guy never paused long enough to explain anything.

In people’s haste to be connected, mobile and data-driven, many forget the importance of being the workplace equivalent of a compass. These were invented and constructed centuries ago with the greatest of ingenuity and care. Don’t throw it away for a GPS just because you can. Good navigators use both in their quest to help make sense of the world.

Remember that a rising tide “lifts all boats”

It really is true that when you collaborate and help others, everyone benefits. There will be times when the task has been completed but someone grabs the credit, or dismisses your contribution. In an unpredictable workplace, it pays to be tactical on occasion and quietly anticipate where the pitfalls might be. 

In many respects, the beauty of collaborating with a wide variety of ages, skills and knowledge is that humanity — wired to recognise threats — begins to finesse its understanding and therefore chances of longer survival. 

More than that, collaboration at its best is an ecosystem — all the healthier for its co-existing complexities.

NOW READ: Five ways to become a better listener

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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