Ingredients of healthy collaboration

To play your part in an effective team, you need to:

  • communicate and help when needed
  • respect one another and the group’s rules
  • where necessary, suggest improvements
  • maintain constructive relationships
  • work toward shared objectives


Goldilocks zone

The components of a successful team are like bathtubs (Figure 1) that can fill up or empty out. A bathtub analogy can be used to explain other complex processes, such as the oxygenation of the atmosphere.

A new collaboration begins life with each team member having five empty metaphorical bathtubs. There is no team: just individuals with different needs and expectations.

Over time, the team come together and begin to collaborate effectively.  The tap is on, and there’s water in the tubs … some more than others.  In a successful collaboration, the water level continues to rise in all tubs for all members.

When each team member feels each of their five tubs is full, the collaboration feels healthy.


Figure 1: Components fill up and empty like bathtubs

Unhealthy Zone

If the level becomes too high, water sloshes over the sides. Participation is over-enthusiastic and judgement is affected. Too much water will cause damage.

Damage can also be caused when the water level drops too low. Enthusiasm and dedication wane if team members feel that the water in their metaphorical bathtubs is too low. With the collaboration not functioning well, members feel isolated from one another.

Damage is also caused when the water level drops into negative. Destructive attitudes cause harm. Over time, a collaboration can lose its focus. In that case, our metaphorical bathtub might be filled with sand: the original objective is forgotten or ignored. Or conflict within the collaboration can manifest as argument, insult, and anger: the metaphorical tub is filled with mud that makes you dirty rather than clean.

The correct recipe

Healthy collaboration:

  • High component levels: Collaboration is healthy and members are enjoying participating.

Unhealthy collaboration:

  • Low component levels: Collaboration is performing poorly and members feel isolated (typical of early stages after group has been formed).
  • Excessive component levels: Members of the collaboration are over-engaged and have lost perspective on their own involvement.
  • Negative component levels: Members of the collaboration are disengaged and don’t care what occurs (if not actively sabotaging).

Scoring collaboration health

The table below can be used to score the health of your collaboration:

  1. For each component, consider what best describes you and your colleagues’ attitudes and behaviours.
  2. That description can be scored as follows.
    • Healthy = 1
    • Poor = 0
    • Disengaged= -1
    • Over-engaged = 2
  3. Collaboration health is calculated by averaging component scores.
  4. The closer the score is to one, the healthier your collaboration.


Healthy collaboration
Poor collaboration
Over-engaged collaboration
Disengaged collaboration

Feasible plans, goals being achieved
Good plans, goals lagging a little
Deluded plans, overwork
No plan, nothing happening

Cooperates often with other members
Predominately acts alone
Interferes with and micro-manages others
Sullen, misbehaving, arguing

Able to speak their mind when necessary
Nervous, unsure when to speak
Has an opinion on everything
Not contributing any ideas

Good relations with other members
Distant from other members
Romantic attraction, idolisation towards others
Dislikes others, feels alienated, persecuted

Knows colleagues well and follows the spirit of rules
Unsure of colleagues’ expertise and of the rules
Indecisive, over-consults, follows rules to the letter
Paranoid, arrogant, dismissive of rules