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Lessons from #GoogleEI #SWE19: Collaboration

by Lynne Herr

Collaboration is foundational to everything Google does, and the Innovator Academy is no exception.

In order to keep their competitive edge, [Google] didn’t need to just have the best analytic tools or the top talent in the world. They needed to be the world’s best collaborators. And it paid off.” – (source) Paul Berkovic, former Googler and Co-founder and CMO at ScribblePost

Collaboration in the Innovator Program

  After many years of experience pursuing grant applications, scholarships and awards, I know that most educators who choose to pursue highly competitive programs are much more likely to treat the application process as a secret mission rather than a collaborative effort.  When we know that only a small fraction of applicants will be chosen as “winners”, it’s scary to let people know you decided to go for it. We might not be chosen!

But even the Google Innovator application process challenges you to rethink collaboration and failure.  

Before submitting your application, you are encouraged to share your ideas and draft with fellow Innovators and applicants.  My application was reviewed by six different Innovators, multiple colleagues who have no experience with the Innovator program and my intended audience.  I was so invested in my first draft, but feedback showed my message wasn’t clear and I needed to let go of words and ideas that meant a lot to me to get to the core of the problem. The application process is about identifying, refining and clearly articulating your core problem, NOT about solving it or even hinting at solutions.  That comes much later – well into your work as an Innovator.

After selection, Innovators are grouped into teams of 6, each with a formal coach who is a current Innovator.  Each newly selected Innovator is paired with another new Innovator from their team so serve as an Affinity Buddy and the first task to to work with your Affinity Buddy on pre-academy collaborative tasks.  At the conclusion of the 3-day Academy, each new Innovator begins a formal “Mentor Match” process to be paired with a volunteer who has expertise and interest in your project and has been through the Innovator program.

In addition to the larger program collaborations, Google’s inclusive meeting guidelines were shared on each team table during the Academy.  

  • Give Credit –  Acknowledge contributions and highlight contributors
  • Be Googlely – Treat colleagues the way you want to be treated  
  • Follow UP –  Approach colleagues if they are disrespectful
  • GVC – (Google Video Conference) Matters:  Listen for and acknowledge contributions from virtual attendees 
  • Don’t Interrupt – Discourage interruptions.  Everyone has a say.
  • Location is Important –  Be respectful of scheduling meetings across locations


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