Business, Connection, Development, Leadership, Organisational Change, Reflecting

The Truth About Collaboration


So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.

6 thoughts on “The Truth About Collaboration”

  1. It’s a shame some find it hard to say, ‘help me, support me, I don’t know’. Often positional power in hierarchical organisations works against cooperation and support as people have to do better than someone else.

    There is jealousy, competition, pure mean spiritedness and it makes collaborative helping tough. Ho-hum – you can see I had a good day!!

    Thanks as always for a great blog

  2. I read this a while ago and it sparked off some memories in me, probably from my earliest uni business/management education days and then ongoing with the various project management roles I have undertaken to this day, of the importance of roles and responsibilities of partners involved in collaboration so there is clarity of objectives and expectations across all parties. I rapidly Google-ed some terms and the best result that came back was “Collaborative Working” by Emily Miles with William Trott (2011) in the (UK) Institute of Government’s “InsideOUT: A series of personal perspectives on government effectiveness” series. I did not comment at the time but was triggered yesterday evening by a tweet on collaboration.

    I read your post as more addressing individual collaboration dynamics and the report above is primarily organisationally-focused. However, and taking liberties with Euan (Semple)’s book title, “organisations don’t collaborate, individuals do”.

    I always enjoy reading your posts – I am trying to be “wild” as I write. My WOL circle goal includes me seeking to significantly up my “create content” output which is woeful in comparison with my “seek” and “share” content input and output respectively. Me being “wild” and writing out my “stream of consciousness” is definitely helping.

    PS discovering the word “gallimaufry” (a confused jumble or medley of things) in the report was a bonus! 🙂

    PPS good to see “immunity to change” as a phrase in the report. The Harvard MOOC “Unlocking the Immunity To Change” is the deepest course psychologically I have ever done ( See taster of the approach:

  3. Thank you, Julie. I think you are touching on something I am wrestling with. You wax long about the difficulties of collaboration but don’t say much about the pay-off. You make clear, I think, why the adversarial seems to be the default position but perhaps understate the fifteenth rate performance that emerges from it. We think we can’t afford the time it takes to build the necessary trust but we somehow fail to see that thinking time doesn’t cost very much, compared with the poor results, inferior quality, failed projects. My particular interest at the moment is, even where collaboration has been pulled off, against the odds, with spectacular results, the outcomes are still fragile and seldom sustained long after the initiating team moves on.

  4. Interesting stuff – I suspect work collaboration is something “of a moment” – that it happens around a core purpose, a thing, a need…. if so, the sustainability of it isn’t necessarily even required – it just needs to happen and be for a bit.
    Beyond “collaboration” might be friendship, camaraderie, goodwill – perhaps this is the stuff of long-term, more solid results?

    But you’ve got me thinking…

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