Coaching & Development Solutions

What an Uber Driver in Cairo Taught Me About Collaboration

A collaborative drive

After delivering a presentations skills workshop I expected a straightforward drive to Cairo airport. I couldn't have been more wrong. My Uber driver seemed friendly, and the car was very clean, but he didn't know the directions. While the route was in his phone there was no holder to put the phone where he could see it while driving. So he gave it to me the phone to direct him. The problem was he spoke no English, and I only knew how to say thank you in Arabic.

So I held the phone in the back seat while waving my hands in the direction to go and saying the direction which he repeated in Arabic. Unlike many of the other drivers on the Cairo streets he was careful and not too fast. Somehow we made it to the airport with lots of time to spare.

This wasn't the way I had planned to travel, but it had quite a few upsides. I paid attention to the route and scenery instead of just being glued to my phone. My driver learnt how to say "Straight ahead", and I learnt the Arabic for left (shemal) and right (yemeen). It was actually fun, and reminded me of a phrase taught to me by one of the participants on my workshop "In Egypt we find a way".

It also made me think about collaboration. Many companies have collaboration projects or initiatives, and I've often heard executives complain about people being stuck in silos. It sometimes feels like a corporate holy grail which is never to be truly found.

Why is collaboration so hard?


1. There needs to be a benefit to both parties instead of just one. Sometimes when someone says they'd like more collaboration they mean they want people in other departments to do a better job helping them. The driver was only paid if we reached the airport, and I couldn't get my flight without his help.


2. Each person or group should be willing to adapt their behaviour. If one team is rigid and stubbornly insists on keeping the same approach as they've always used then why should the other team change? When the driver trusted me with his phone and listened to my directions I started to really focus on following the route properly.


3. Small steps to work more collaboratively should be encouraged and not overly critiqued. It is normally tough to break old habits and start something new, and if the first small steps are met with a lot of complaints then it will discourage anything further. When I started to try and say shemal and yemeen I'm sure my pronunciation was horrendous, but the driver smiled and responded well to my poor Arabic.

Collaboration doesn't need to be overly complex multi-faceted programmes. It can be more powerful when you make a human connection with someone, and just work together on something you both want. As my flight was leaving Egypt the drive gave me something warm to reflect on, although I did wonder how the driver found his way back from the airport. Perhaps his next passenger helped?

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