How often have you heard that the team has to collaborate to find a solution? The team has to reach consensus to make a decision. What usually happens? The strong, dominant members of the team, sometimes those with power, drive the rest of the team members to agree and happily call it collaboration. What if the players on the team are from competitive groups? What if team members were “voluntold” to participate on a team to do work that they:
- don’t believe in
- have no interest in or
- want to see fail
If a team member comes to the game with one of those mindsets, collaboration becomes more than problematic, it can be not only impossible, the result could be worse than no collaboration at all.
However, hard it is, the fact is, collaboration is the key to successful projects. No one succeeds alone and the process of multiple minds working together to find creative solutions is critical. As leaders in the mist, it’s up to us to help facilitate and build what I call a collaborative structure; where collaboration is the way to get work done. In the book, Radical Collaboration, James Tamm and Ronald Luyet describe five essential skills for collaboration. I’ll paraphrase them here:
- Collaborative Intention – Maintaining an authentic, nondefensive presence – with a commitment to mutual success
- Truthfulness – Commit to telling and listening to the truth
- Self-accountability – Take responsibiloity for the choices made either through action or failing to act.
- Self awareness and awareness of others – Commit to understanding one’s own and others’ concerns, intentions and motivations
- Problem solving and negotiation – Commit to cooperation and avoid competitiveness.
Great ideas aren’t they? Pretty obvious as well. But how do you help others on the team to practice these skills? You won’t be able to say in a meeting, “Hey, I don’t think you’re practicing a collaborative intention!” and expect the person to say, “Hey, you’re right! Thanks for telling me.”
The answer lies in becoming the change you would like to see. (Thanks, Gandhi!)
- Collaborative Intention: Demonstrate collaborative intention by releasing your ideas. Never defend an idea – be willing to change it. Here’s a technique that I call, “Change Accommodation,” and have used very effectively. You present an idea or approach. Someone says, “That won’t work.” Your natural reaction is to defend the idea, explain why it will work and why it is the right idea right now. Resist the urge. Try this: “How can I change this to make it work for you?” One of two things will happen. You’ll get some input that will make the idea more powerful and you’ve modeled your collaborative intention. The second thing that may happen is your team mate will not be able to offer something and you’ve still modeled your collaborative intention. It does something else as well. It changes the interchange from competitive to collaborative with a single question and takes the pressure off you and puts it on the person requiring the change.
- Truthfulness: It’s not a simple blurting out of what you believe to be true. It is the calm, articulation of your position. It is indeed a double-edged sword. You must be willing to listen to what others believe to be the truth – using Change Accommodation will temper how you feel. Allow yourself to be changed.
- Self-accountability – always be prepared to apologize. Perceived mistakes are the same as those you recognize. Perception is reality – if someone perceives an error, even if you disagree, apologize and ask again what you can do to make it right.
- Self-awareness and awareness of others: This is about discovery. If feelings or concerns are not addressed, your team mate will use the entire meeting to try to resolve these feelings. S/he may not even be aware that they are doing it. Take the time to ask, to be aware of body language and facial expressions. Understand that collaboration is not our natural behavior and be the person to facilitate it.
- Problem Solving and Negotiation: Always be part of the solution and never part of the problem. It’s a natural result of Change Accommodation. When you always ask how you can change to make an idea, a concept, a method to make it work, you are defaulting to problem solving. Negotiation is about the inclusion of all of the approaches and again is the natural result of Change Accommodation.
The result is excellence and excellence, my friends, equals collaboration.