A proposed book by John Abele – Part 1
Collaboration is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but very few actually do. True, some types of collaboration are natural or easy to learn, but the highest, most valuable kind, where everybody in the group is thinking creatively and sharing openly is extremely rare. Now, in the era of Web 2.0, a wave of new collaboration tools are being unleashed so that even more and bigger collaborations are being announced daily. But most people won’t get much value out of these exciting new tools if they don’t pay attention to the crucial soft ingredients — the behaviors and mindset — needed to make collaboration really work.
From the time we start school and throughout our careers, we are taught and rewarded for the very traits that make it difficult for us to collaborate effectively. This situation is compounded by the way we teach leaders to rigorously assert control as often as possible so their authority is constantly being reinforced. Controlling people is the opposite of collaborating with them. As a result, most leaders of collaborations are doing exactly the wrong things when they bring people together to collaborate, and the other people involved in those projects are essentially programmed to derail or resist collaboration. This is The Collaboration Paradox.
In ”creative” collaborations, it is not just a matter of people pitching in what they know; the goal is to extrapolate beyond the group’s collective knowledge. As mentioned earlier, the skills we are taught to be the most important for success are actually collaboration busters. In school, at work, and everywhere we are shown that success comes through self promotion and devotion to our own “kind,” whether it is a department, professional field, or political viewpoint. Young athletes are taught to win at all costs and to celebrate “crushing” their opponents. There are precious few role models who celebrate victory without also celebrating “defeat of the enemy.” When these same traits are allowed to dominate a collaboration, it becomes a very negative experience. Only a few participants have any real say. The rest feel intimidated or exploited, and as if their time is being wasted. This type of “hollow” collaboration happens so much, that many people are very skeptical about collaborating. In particular, they may have the following fears, which inhibit them from really contributing:
• Their best ideas will be stolen.
• Their weaknesses will be highlighted.
• There will be a hidden agenda.
• The participants will have such different ideas that they’ll never agree on anything.
• Certain individuals or camps will dominate.
Too often, creative collaborations become a pseudo collaborations. They sound good, but are totally hollow. With so many parts, players, and egos involved, simply managing the political aspects of such projects is challenging enough, let alone integrating the results into anything actionable. In the end, the organizers may make glowing reference to the long list of divas they assembled, but often they have little to show for that effort and almost certainly nothing really new has come from it.
Stay tuned – next week we will look at some tips and strategies to maximize the incredible potential of creative collaborations.