Ideas, Ego, and Collaboration

I recently received a ‘weekly thought’ from my friend and organizational consultant Rich McLaughlin containing this quote:
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“One of the main risks of seeking acceptance is that it drives intellectual diversity and independent thought underground. Group applause and universal harmony don’t make for the best decisions unless there’s been vigorous debate and differing points of view – which, if done well, is likely to have included some disagreement.” David Marcum/Steven Smith, Egonomics

When you say collaboration the average person thinks it means teams having a nice conversation and everyone agreeing about what needs to be done, which is synonomous with the idea of seeking acceptance above. When collaboration is of course something dramatically different. As Don Tapscott so accurately describes in Wikinomics “Collaboration is the process by which human skill, innovation and intelligence are harnessed efficiently and effectively.” Because this condition inherently requires a range of ideas and candid feedback in order to reach the best possible decision, it rarely occurs without debate.

So the question is “How do we keep our ego separate from our ideas?”

This problem is what stimulated Ury and Fisher to write Getting to Yes. Separate the idea from the individual. Mark Gerzon’s Leading Through Conflict provides another perspective on the same issue. Candor requires the ability to “agree to disagree”. The collaborative leader creates an environment that encourages a diversity of perspectives. Effective whole system thinking needs participants who are really good at asking questions and do not have an ego investment in the answer. The collaborative leader celebrates that critical thinking skill and honours and rewards people who do it well.

The paradox, of course, is that looking at all the alternatives can be viewed as indecisive. How much is enough? At least part of that answer is the extent to which the group believes that the process was effective and fair. The bigger challenge will be to execute the decision effectively and that will occur only when the people in charge trust their team and how the decision was made.

Some questions Rich posed and great questions for all of us to consider when trying to collaborate effectively in the workplace:
“Am I willing to examine, and better yet, be transparent about my thinking and beliefs?
“Can I recognize that my pushback to a colleague is from a past grievance and says more about our relationship than the idea being considered?
“Can I recognize any of the above when it is happening and bring it to the attention of the team in a helpful way?”

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