Our projects may be complex, uncertainty may be high and the thought of collaborating may be quite daunting, yet we can take comfort in three simple steps for working with others on our most challenging problems. These steps don’t make collaboration easy but they do provide us clear guidance on our journey together.

Step 1: Share the problem

You are collaborating on something, so what is that thing? What is the problem to be tackled, the dilemma to be resolved, the project that needs delivering? This step is about getting everyone in the room (actually or metaphorically) to share how each sees the problem from their own perspective. Resist the urge to leap to solutions and resist the feeling that you know what the problem is. Encourage sharing, listening, learning and building a collective sense of the situation in all its juicy complexity. Sit with the dilemmas, without trying to fix them.

Step 2: Share the direction

You’ve built a picture of the problem. Step two is to look ahead and co-create a shared idea of what ‘solved, resolved or delivered’ would look like. Paint a picture together of what success looks like. Importantly, the aim here is not to solve the problem. Rather the aim is to agree a distant ‘light on the hill’ or destination to which you can all aspire. Keep your brush strokes broad and detail to a minimum while setting a clear direction. Not ‘we need to close the street and ban cars’ but rather ‘we seek a town centre that is attractive, where people want to spend time and relax’. That’s your shared direction, your light on the hill. You may never get there, or achieve a perfect outcome, but you know where you are heading together. Now on to step three.

Step 3: Share the actions

You’ve agreed a shared sense of the complex problem you face together. You’ve agreed a direction you want to head. Now it’s time to begin to move towards that light on the hill. Because your problem is complex and uncertainty high, it’s important to reframe your normal problem solving approach. There may well be no ‘solution’ to your problem so your task now is to work together to identify steps you can take that are likely to move the situation in the direction you’d like to head. What small actions can you think of to try? What small changes or tweaks can you readily make? What ideas can you test together? How many can you do in parallel to ensure you are moving quickly? Resist the urge to land on ‘the answer’. Rather, focus on learning the way forward together, seeking constantly to move towards your agreed light on the hill.

A key part of what you are doing through these steps is ensuring that all stakeholders have their fingerprints on the problem to be solved, the aspiration that generates energy for working together, and the actions, learning and problem solving required.

So, though our problems might be complex, the three-step framework for collaborating on those problems is relatively straightforward. Good luck!.