Something marvelous happens for your career when you become the person who’s top-of-mind when a project calls for collaboration… and don’t they all these days?

In my experience, there’s a specific quality that makes you a great collaboration partner. You might think that special quality is being smart, strategic, technically skilled, or having the best network of connections.

While all of these are helpful, there’s another quality that stands out above the rest. It’s something I learned from my father, who also happens to be a celebrated scientist and one of the founders of the field of biomedical engineering.

The 60/40 principle of collaboration

One of my father’s philosophies is the 60/40 principle. Instead of insisting that collaboration be a strictly 50/50 endeavor, my father is always willing to give a little more and expect a little less in return. Because, even if you “lose” a little now, you win big in the long run.

That’s why he’s willing to take on 60% of the work and allow others to take 60% of the credit if that’s what it takes to get the project done.

While most of us want things to be fair and equal in every situation, he looks at it from a broader perspective and longer-term horizon. Since it’s often difficult to decide exactly what 50% of the work or 50% of the credit is, he’s willing to give, rather than take, that 10% when there are gray zones. 

As a result, he has become known as a great person to collaborate with.

In fact, others seek him out and propose opportunities that he otherwise might not have had access to. This means he has accomplished far more in his career than if he had focused on 50/50 each time and argued about that 10% swing factor.

But won’t people take advantage of you?

As my father reminded me, there’s a big difference between 60/40 and giving away all the credit. Remember, it’s not the 70/30 or 80/20 principle! You still want to get credit for your work, but without getting picky about things on the margin.

I’m reminded of those team projects at school where the group gets an “A” but the brainy student does all the work. None of us want to be taken advantage of like that. And if you are, then you definitely want to stop that from happening in the future.

Just don’t make the mistake of leaving your manager out of the loop

When it comes to getting the appropriate amount of credit without getting too nitpicky, the key is to make sure your manager knows the reality. And it’s up to you to do that.

For example, in one of my favorite roles, I was charged with getting people in different business unit silos to collaborate to produce better results for our clients. Each unit had their own client relationship team and they often bumped into each other in the reception area of the client because they weren’t coordinating with each other.

One measure of my team’s success was the revenue the firm was able to generate by collaborating. But if we took credit for the increased revenue, the client teams would stop wanting to work with us and our effort would fail. The credit needed to go to them, not to us. This meant not taking credit for the wins the sales teams brought in.

But with my manager, I explained what we were doing and why the moment we took credit for the revenue increases, we would fail in our effort. So while we wouldn’t take credit publicly, we counted on his knowing our impact and advocating for us.

Being a great collaboration partner increases the size of the pie

When you adopt my father’s 60/40 principle, instead of arguing about how to split the pie, you end up expanding the set of opportunities open to you.

So, how good a collaboration partner are you? And how could the 60/40 principle help you become a more sought-after partner for collaboration at work?

Leave me a comment and let me know.