In for the Long Haul: Understanding collaboration style helps accelerate team productivity and effectiveness in a hybrid work world.

We’re in for the long haul to restore all-round health, folks. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t a sprint anymore but a marathon. Can a sprinter become a marathon runner? Can a marathoner excel at bouts of sprinting?

In the total realm of possibility – sure. In an adrenaline-fuelled environment, no doubt sprinters can run a long way, and marathoners can burst out of the gates. But to make a sustained change, short muscles need to become long. Breathing, training, movements, and motion need to change. Running experts tell us that changing training habits, race tactics, and running style takes a range of effort. Changing a training schedule might feel doable; changing something like muscle mass and firing speed (from slow to fast “twitching”) would take a herculean effort – applied over time.

I am, temperamentally, a sprinter. The current landscape feels like we’re all in the Iditarod – no normal marathon but a month-long race across frozen tundra, with destinations changing en route as threats emerge. I know I need to go far now; I need to work with persistence and patience and I’m determining how I am going to do it.

With the sprinter to marathoner example, I am perhaps overstating what we already know about focusing on strengths (try to find a sprinter who became a marathon runner and vice versa; they’re very hard to find). We decided a number of years ago in popular business culture to focus on strengths because some of our traits and tendencies are really hard to change. Better to make peace with them, know what they are, tame and apply the ones that give us, and hopefully those around us, an advantage. I’d say the popular wisdom is also to find a small number of development areas that you can move and move them.

All good stuff, but what’s the fix for times like these when you are in a series of rapid pivots, and you need both the long and the short muscles? When you need things you don’t have and you’re not going to have? Of course you can adapt some. But along with your self-awareness, you need a team. Today that means a virtual team. And you need to be functional together now.

Understanding collaboration style helps us bridge gaps in how people see the world for virtual team effectiveness

Collaboration style is an interesting mixture of the underlying motivations that drive us and various perspectives, perceptions and actions we take relative to sharing and using information. Like most systems for identifying meaningful patterns, understanding collaboration style helps us bridge awkward gaps in how people see the world and thus, work our way through it.

Accommodating different collaboration styles is easier than some things – like maybe going from a 1500-meter run to a 5K – because collaboration rests on multiple dimensions. When one may not be an easy fit, we may be able to shift the focus of our collaboration to another lens and get unstuck.

Pollinate’s Knowledge Transfer Index (KTI) was created in 2008 to provide a window to collaboration style through an assessment for virtual learning communities, teams working on emerging issues, and mentoring pairs. From the beginning, the KTI was constructed to support virtual groups and pairs, as many of our mentoring programs are across regions, nations, or the globe.

The KTI’s seven elements provide insights to weave teams together around what matters most right now. This virtual collaboration-style assessment has supported thousands of mentoring pairs, teams and cohorts of learners to make the most of precious time together, shortening the path to productivity and increasing engagement and effectiveness.

Here are some things we’ve learned about collaboration style differences to help you accelerate virtual team effectiveness:

  1. Motivation comes from a desire to have things fit into a world view. It’s a feeling that galvanizes us to take action in a certain way that makes sense to us, based on what gives that feeling. Rather than feeling vexed and perplexed by the fact that some people seem to need very different things than you do, try to read their worldview. For example, reframe “all of these questions are driving me crazy” to “what picture are we trying to build here?”
  2. Pay attention to some people’s need to go away and process on their own, versus others who need to process with other people. Being virtual means being deliberate about work time. Balancing the team’s needs for both togetherness and aloneness is important. Schedule tasks and sprints with this in mind.
  3. Depending on how you like to bring issues to resolution, you may find that your pace for making decisions or bringing a topic to a close may vary greatly from those around you. You might like more time to decide or less. How can you sync up and ensure things are moving at the right pace? Sometimes when someone says, “I’ll get that done right away,” what they mean by “right away” isn’t the same as your expectations. It’s time to be clear on the pace that’s required.
  4. Does someone on your team continuously point out things that they think others don’t see? Are there folks who like to play the devil’s advocate? Sometimes we need to tolerate the fact that the brains of a segment of the population are wired to pull in the information that’s different about a new situation, while most of us would see what’s similar to other situations we’ve encountered. How can your, “hey, what about…?” person be an asset right now?
  5. Teams work best with a balance of similarities and differences across collaboration styles. Differences can challenge and refine work, while similarities amongst us enable us to go fast. Noticing what these are, and having a healthy respect for them is a key success factor for a virtual team.


Whether you favour the sprint or the marathon, or even if you’re a middle-distance runner, you need people around you who complement your strengths and style, now more than ever. Find that virtual team and get functional. The race we’re in right now is not for the solo runner.

Interested in learning about your or your staff’s collaboration style? Contact us to learn more about Pollinate’s Knowledge Transfer Index (KTI) today.


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