A popular African proverb states:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Embedded in the proverb is a sense of community and collaboration. While my goal is to collaborate first and always, there are times when it fails. Instead, we may need to go mostly alone to gain momentum and progress. Collaboration and community jump in when ready, taking an active seat on the moving bandwagon.

Why Collaboration Fails

Collaboration fails for many reasons. In my experience, several practical factors come into play.

False Intentions

A key one is intention. While a facilitator may have the truest of intentions to gain collaboration, the participants may not. Some team members show up because it is an organizational necessity. At times, a CEO says to do something, and other times a board chair may do the same. The consequence is the appropriate members show up, but their intention is not to collaborate. It is to be present with the intent to appear to collaborate – nothing more, nothing less.

Questions to Disrupt

We need to do the work to gain the right collaborators for the right reasons at the right time.

Another mischievous reason is to disrupt. Some pretend to collaborate with the mindset to keep the status quo at all costs. They may begin by asking a lot of questions. Questions are good if they open conversations to find solutions. When collaborative disruption is the objective, the questions serve to overwhelm any discussion of possible solutions. Questioning to overwhelm and wear down is the strategy of preserving the status quo. After all, with so many questions, how things stand now must be the right answer for the future.

Eeyore Effect: “We Tried”

Some participate in collaboration so they can tell others, and themselves, “well, we tried.” It is an Eeyore effect. When asked if it is a good day, Eeyore says, “Wish I could say yes, but I can’t.” In larger meetings, certain individuals can say how they tried to find a better solution, implement a new idea, or introduce a new product by working with others. However, in the end, too many roadblocks appeared or reasons to stay put appeared. Some are just comfortable with the way things are rather than collaborating toward betterment.

Certainly, there are times when a truly collaborative effort is not possible, but everyone involved feels like not only did they give it their all but everyone else did too. Without this complete feeling of collaborative engagement, someone is not “all in” on working together toward betterment.

Momentum in Parts, Leading to Collaborative Progress

Sometimes quotes and proverbs inspire and set aspirations. Other times, they sidetrack progress. We need to discern the difference, and it is a challenge to do. I know I don’t have all the right parts, but I know when to go mostly alone to gain momentum, knowing collaborative progress will come later.

Head Nodding Vision

One way to know if going it alone makes sense is when many heads nod in agreement of the need for change. The vision of a new direction, strategy, and plan makes sense to people, yet they may not have the wherewithal to commit or jump in at that moment. An attraction to the idea is evident. Another way to discern this point is if the information supports how the current gap or existing solution is unsustainable in the future. A defined vision may be better than what exists today. It needs the attention and aspiration of an individual to get the momentum going.

Collaborative Intentions

A new proverb is:

“If you want collaboration, start alone.”

Gaining equal collaborative effort and engagement by all takes time. Time is essential. Timing may not be ripe for collaboration. When someone has the vision or aspiring direction, they need to work with others individually and show progress before others are ready to jump in with the right intentions and questions. We cannot be afraid to go alone if it is just a start, and we intend to get to collaboration. Indeed, any individual can be a spark for real change or a better way; we need to take on this responsibility with the mission of gaining momentum to involve others when ready.

Betterment of Others

Another new proverb is:

“If you want to go far, focus on the betterment of others.”

A tight balance can unfold. Two key questions. First, are we pursuing this idea or strategy for self-centered reasons? Second, who benefits if successful? If our reasons are self-centered, then collaboration is just a false intention, too. The plans and ideas are selfish, not for the betterment of others and our communities. However, if the benefits of progress are centered in betterment, then our individual pursuit is worth it, and others will eventually join in. Along the way, we also gain self-betterment – learning what works, what doesn’t, and how we can grow for good. Betterment is a deciding factor in going it alone… for a while, at least.

Momentum: With or Without Others

Collaborative efforts always gain greater momentum than going it alone. When collaboration takes a negative turn, it may be time to ditch it temporarily to build momentum toward betterment. We need to understand why others are participating and then determine if collaboration can happen. To safeguard against being self-absorbed, we need to discern our intentions and aspirations, confirming betterment is embedded in our work.

While going it alone carries risks, the danger of status quo may be greater. We cannot afford to be sidelined by false collaboration. Instead, we need to do the work to gain the right collaborators for the right reasons at the right time.


Photo by Smart on Unsplash
We need to skip collaboration to gain momentum. To go alone may be viewed as non-collaborative. Truth is to go alone can lead to good collaboration.