Collaboration Across Boundaries

Boundaries like hierarchies, departmental disassociation, difference in expertise and even personal opinion consistently get in the way of collaboration. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to account for it so we can stop it from getting worse. These boundaries exist wherever there is any, shall we say “difference”, between collaborators. This could be a difference in rank, a difference in expertise, a difference in interest, or even a difference in personality, but regardless of the difference, it creates a boundary that must be overcome.

Minor friction between different personalities is to be expected – some people just aren’t great team players. In many cases though, there is a specific reason for this friction, and something to be learned from it. The disagreement you’re having is probably based on something else you actually agree about. Carl Jung would have something to say about this. You both want what is best for the company, and you both think you’re right, and you’re both missing a piece of the puzzle.

Hierarchies too. There are people in every level of an organization who presumably spend some percentage of their time thinking about how to make the company better, and because of their relative positions within the company, we can presume that they would have different opinions on how and what to improve. This conflict between so-called “managers” and “employees” could happen because front-line staff are better informed of a company’s daily activities than the managers and executives. Or just the opposite.

In most cases, the external conflict that arises between collaborators is actually because of a paradoxical internal conflict – collaborators both fundamentally agree and disagree. In this conflict there is opportunity. The subtle agreements underlying the disagreements are the foundation for a good collaborative team, but they have to be developed in lieu of the much more obvious disagreements. Each side has a chance to understand the other side, each has a chance to learn why this conflict exists, and learn from the other side.

Conflict across departments is the same story. Different expertise = different opinion = some fundamental disagreement somewhere. And yet you work in the same place. Some conflict in collaboration is good – it’s going to challenge everyone a little bit – especially when that conflict arises because of a shared desire or interest. Boundaries can be good too, because they point out the most obvious opportunities for development. Boundaries can be barriers to collaboration, but they also present the chance to build bridges.