Peer Leader X 2: Four Tips for Successful Collaboration

When I accepted Volunteer Maryland’s offer to become a Peer Leader, I was keenly aware of the fact that I would be one of two people working to support the next class of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators. Chelsea had already signed on for VM 28, and I had briefly emailed with her, but I still had no sense of how we would work together. I remember the trepidation I felt my first day. It was a new office with a new staff and a very new learning curve, all things most people are anxious about on their first days, but I was also going to meet Chelsea, and we were going to have to figure out how we would be working together for the next 11 months.

Chelsea and Amelia
Chelsea (left) and I giving conflicting messages at the Governor’s Service Awards.

It turns out, we work well together. See, Chelsea is an incredibly powerful, passionate, and knowledgeable person. She is committed to making the AmeriCorps experience as great as it can possibly be for VM. She has a constantly expanding library of thoughtful ideas (often indispensable when we’re problem solving at VM HQ or with VMCs). She is constantly exuding an immense amount of positive energy that she puts towards helping others. Chelsea exemplifies the greatness of Volunteer Maryland, AmeriCorps, and humanity in general, and she inspires me to be great all the time.

The collaborative relationship that I have with Chelsea has been something that I have been grateful for everyday I come into the office. We work together closely on many things whether it’s planning a statewide networking event for AmeriCorps members or drawing up a little graphic for our newsletter. In working with Chelsea, I have learned some important lessons about collaboration and teamwork that I want to share.

Keep an open mind and really listen

Open mind gif“Keep an open mind” is a phrase that crops up in every “how to teamwork” manual that has ever existed, but I think it’s important to reiterate, because it’s something that doesn’t come easily to everyone. I also added “really listen,” because collaboration is not just about sharing ideas, but also about working hard to understand another person’s ideas. In brainstorming sessions, Chelsea and I will often come together with preconceived notions of how we want a project to go. I will insist on fajitas and Chelsea will insist on sushi platters.  I’ll be thinking panel presentation and she’ll be thinking hands-on workshop. When we work together, we don’t just announce our ideas and then butt heads until the winner comes out on top (mostly because Chelsea’s scrappy, and I don’t think I’d win). Rather, Chelsea and I go into conversations looking for a couple of things: (1) to learn from one another about each other’s ideas and (2) to work with one another to create a dynamic, creative, thoughtful thing. To do this, we are always ready to keep an open mind and to really listen to what we each have to say.

Challenge is productive

Gollum conflicted gifThis can probably be intuited from the above, but Chelsea and I often challenge each other with different ideas. Although it can be frustrating for both of us in the moment, I find that the project we’re working on can grow more from our differing ideas. It’s also a good way for Chelsea and I to grow as a team and as individuals. In working collaboratively, I’ve learned how to effectively take in feedback, how to explain my ideas in concise ways, and how to compromise. Getting into challenging conversations with another person can be nerve-wracking in the moment, but, ultimately, it’s good to have your ideas challenged, because challenges can sometimes create opportunities for growth.

Balance and accountability are crucial

Hercules balance gifAnother rather obvious part of collaboration is the idea of balance or mutuality. Chelsea and I share many responsibilities and projects. Because of this, we often have to delegate tasks to each other in a balanced manner. When we’re planning out the cohort meetings, for example, one of us will create the handouts and materials, and the other will do the actual presenting. One of us will reserve the space, and the other will work on informing the VM 28 cohort. We divvy up these tasks as we see fit, and most of the time it goes well. But sometimes we each have a lapse in productivity and more work can shift to another person. Hey, it happens. What’s important in these moments, is that we hold each other accountable and ensure that we work to either restore balance or make sure we’re each okay.

Fun is nurturing, fun is productive

Steven Universe go have fun gifOne of the biggest benefits of working with VM is the amount of fun you have, and Chelsea and I have really embraced that. I’m often guffawing embarrassingly at my desk because of the funny stories Chelsea is retelling. One time soup came out of my nose (the sign of a TRULY fun atmosphere). Although fun can seem like a distraction from your work, it doesn’t have to be. Fun rejuvenates us and gets us energized for the next thing on the to-do list. Fun makes coming into work easier and… well… fun. Working on a team can get tense, working in an office can get dull, but when you have fun–the state cafeteria food tastes a little better and the sun shines into your office cubicle a little brighter.

Collaboration is Hard. Capital “H,” Hard. It involves a lot of trusting, a lot of flexibility, and a lot of communication, and it looks different for everyone. But once you’re able to get it going, collaboration is a beautiful thing that helps us learn and create better. Thanks for being in this collaborative relationship with me, Chelsea!

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