Embracing The Mess:
Collaboration Is Really A Verb

By: Joshua Nellist, MS Ed.

A TCOM Contributor

Collaborative.  It’s a great adjective.  Four syllables.  Easy to say. Makes me feel good saying it. But, what does it mean to be collaborative?  How do I make it real?  Well, it starts by turning it into a verb.  To collaborate.  To purposefully and thoughtfully work with others in order to produce something. 

In my case, I’ve been incredibly lucky that for several years I had a chance to collaborate with all sorts of smart and talented people at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Innovation in Population Health (IPH).  We arrived there with all sorts of different back stories, skillsets and passions, but with a shared ambition: helping others!   

The truth about collaboration is that it’s messy.  It requires the melding of different perspectives, different opinions, attitudes, ideas and ways of doing things.  Collaboration is hard. It needs you to bring incredible passion and confidence but also a willingness to completely change and adapt. In my time at IPH I had the opportunity to work with so many colleagues on all sorts of projects.  We’d disagreed on perspectives around TCOM concepts; we’d parlay on the best ways to communicate messages to the world; and we’d passionately defended our points of view.   

We would also listen.  And learn.  And compromise.  And shift our own perspectives.  We’d pieced together new points of view.  Collaboration is messy because that’s how we arrive at something awesome.  An art studio gets messy when we paint. A kitchen gets messy on the way to an amazing meal.  Similarly, a collaborative process must be messy. It’s how we get to the best ideas, the best decisions, and the best plans. 

A Picture of group of professionals Collaborating
A Team of Professionals Collaborating

During my time at IPH, I was honored with the opportunity to help grow our messaging to the TCOM community.  One of my favorite collaborative projects was developing the TCOM Heuristics videos. Their creation was such a cool process. Dr. Lyons would craft an idea in the way that only he can. Then I would have a chance to work with him on reconfiguring that into a script.  From there, we’d bring in a number of colleagues from across the IPH team to weigh in and provide feedback from their unique perspectives. We’d puzzle through TCOM concepts, think about the best ways to represent ideas and make efforts to respect and reflect the cultural experiences of our audience. We’d even come up with jokes! It was an awesome experience.   

There were so many other projects like that. The creation of the training and certification vignettes was a really thoughtful and collaborative process.  The development of training and delivery; organization of the annual TCOM Conference; designing videos and podcasts, management of contracts; organization of support processes; even the creation of these blog posts.  Everything was done by folks who kept their egos in check and grew together with a focus on doing the best work possible and helping others.  I’m proud to be associated with that group of people. 

In the TCOM world there is a saying that human serving systems are complex and that the best way to manage complex systems is through collaboration. The IPH team really lives that reality.  Collaboration is bringing it all together.  Is it perfect?  Of course, not… we’re human after all!  Is it rewarding?  Absolutely.   Is it messy?  You bet.  Does it work?  Yeah, I think so. Collaboration is more than a person, a place, or a thing; the process of collaborating actually is more synonymous with the idea of taking and showing action. Don’t allow the messy nature of collaboration to deter you from doing so, instead keep in mind that the mess can lead to something great. I’ll close by asking… What has collaboration looked like for you in your role/work? Has it shaped your approach to helping others? Was it messy? 

Profile picture of Joshua Nellist, MS Ed.
Joshua Nellist, MS Ed.

Joshua Nellist, MS Ed. is an educator and instructional designer whose work specializes in the development of mathematical computing software. Mr. Nellist has formal training in special education in the K-12 school setting and spent several years teaching at a school for children with behavioral health needs. For nearly a decade Mr. Nellist worked at a voluntary foster care agency in western New York. While there, he supported 39 counties in implementing the CANS-NY within the scope of New York’s Health Homes Serving Children (HHSC) program. Mr. Nellist served as the region lead for the CANS-NY Institute, which is a statewide technical assistance collaborative supported by the state Department of Health. His careered evolved once more; Mr. Nellist served as a Senior Policy Analyst with a focus on Instructional Design at the Center for Innovation in Population Health at the University of Kentucky. He spent four years working with the workforce development (WFD) team, distance learning team amongst many other sub-teams and projects. In this role he helped support the TCOM implementations around the world. Mr. Nellist has since moved on from the University of Kentucky but he continues to be an advocate for and contributor to the TCOM work and community at large. 

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