Collaboration – when to opt out?
True collaboration is difficult, uncomfortable and stresses relationships immensely. If you are not feeling all of those things then you are probably not there yet in terms of true collaboration.
I’m a woman….and data suggests that women are more inherently collaborative. At home and at work, I am often reaching out to people to collaborate, but they are not thinking collaboration – they are thinking I’m just asking them for their opinion. Funny…they usually expect me to take it. They think this is just another ‘hair-brained’ Carmen idea…when in fact I’m reaching out for them to talk me down and get into how this idea can realistically be implemented. I’m even somewhat willing to believe that all my ideas are not great – but I would rather hear it from a group than just one person who thinks he (or she) knows more than me. I would really rather have my idea replaced by a better one – with better outcomes, and more people committed to making it happen.
Collaboration has to be planned – it is not cultural, nor will it occur organically.
I have always believed the best decisions, the greatest leaps forward, and outcomes – that have the greatest benefit to society come from true collaboration. I can think of many collaboration attempts that stalled indefinitely, stressed existing relationships, and wasted resources…but the ones that worked fundamentally changed behaviors – the way people think and act.
I have been connecting communities, industry and government to address collaborative social agendas for more than twenty years – largely guided by these principles….
Balance of Power – Critical to collaboration. If there is an imbalance of power you cannot fully reach a collaborative result. If one body has the right to set the agenda, make decisions autonomously, control the resources required to implement, or has the right to walk away to consider or dismiss recommendations, then the process has not yet advanced into true collaboration.
Collaboration partners need to have ‘skin in the game’. Shared – not equal – risk, resources, and contributions are required of all collaboration partners. No wallflowers or innocent bystanders allowed. This does not mean dollar-for-dollar cost sharing. It means valuating contributions in experience, human and financial resources, data, and fulfillment of commitments agreed to through the process.
Walk away….sometimes the conversations have to stop. Taking a breather allows emotions to calm, perspectives to reset, and allows the real stumbling blocks to emerge.
My husband and I were ‘collaborating’ about major renovations. The conversation broke down over the color of bathtubs. Walking away allowed me to realize that the color of the fixtures was not the issue. The issue was that we were not clear on priorities.
You can never have it all. Collaboration requires a clear and shared understanding of the core values and purpose. And you must identify the things that matter most, in the order they matter. Knowing what matters most will ensure that when difficult debates arise they are tested against the purpose and priorities.
Back to the bathroom…..My husband and I clearly understood and shared the purpose and priorities. Purpose: Live the way we want to live by updating our home, with measured consideration for plans to sell our home within 5 years. We had three priorities:
♦ Effectiveness: Overall satisfaction with look, functionality and updating our 23 year old home
♦ Efficiency: The least amount of disruption, the easiest to execute
♦ Price and return on investment: How much now, how much gained in resale.
This missing piece….we did not discuss or agree on which of these was most important and would prevail when we couldn’t have it all.
Consultation works too! Not everything has to be, or even can be done collaboratively. There are projects whereby the purpose is better served through consultation. Stakeholders can provide a valuable contribution through generative consultation processes. Taking more of a supporting cast role does not diminish the opportunity to contribute to outcomes.
If time is short – consult! Collaboration takes time (and patience) and if you don’t have the luxury of time find another way to ensure that stakeholders are considered and/or engaged.
Collaborating with internal teams. Collaboration is often thought of as an external or partners process. Creating generative conversations, managing change, transformation, and idea generation could be quite different if the principles of collaboration were brought into workplace strategy discussions. In a true collaboration, with a balance of power, the President is just another guy. Not easy…but worth a try.