The Collaboration Paradox: Why So Many Leaders Sabotage Their Own Collaborations—and Some Tactics for Getting Things Right
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accountability. Individuals must feel their participation is not just encouraged but vital to the endeavor, and that they can express any view to further that goal. People should be rewarded for digging deep and creating a group culture for curiosity. The goal is not to hold to a comfortable path but to change the level of discourse.
Why is this so difficult to achieve?
Despite all the inflated talk about the importance of teamwork, anti-collaborative traits are ingrained early and reinforced throughout our education and careers. We learn from the start of school that we won’t be rewarded for collaborating. Rather, the big payoffs come from blowing our own horn. And the more specialized we become in our fields, the more tightly we circle the wagons. To get real collaboration, leaders must work against the system, setting clear incentives to encourage individuals to say what they think and advance their best, or most dangerous, ideas. We must also discourage the type of bullying or patronizing behavior that makes people wary of speaking their minds. That is the paradox.
The best collaborators have learned that they gain more by sharing ideas than on their own—no matter how brilliant they are. Such individuals become the “impresarios” of collaboration. They work their magic on the participants, the agenda, and the environment to ensure a successful outcome.
Here are some tactics that can help bring a group into the “collaborative state”: First, recognize that if you exclude those with opposing views, you will have armed them with arguments to criticize the collaboration. You may hear: “They didn’t have the courtesy (or guts) to include me.” You can’t always win them over, but you can neutralize extreme views by talking to them in advance and then summarizing their views at the meeting in a way that respects them and puts their points in an objective and non-emotional context.
Next, examine the participants and ask these questions:
• Are different cultures, ages, silos, and levels of experience and understanding represented?
• Has the stage been set so that the expectations are reasonable and consistent?
• Is there a clear process for dialog that is understood by all?
• Is there an agenda that includes both what you will discuss and what you won’t?
• Are the roles clear for who is moderator, documenter, time keeper, etc.?
• Is there a clear and shared understanding of the desired outcome?
• Do you have a strategy for managing messenger killers, strong egos, or pontificators?
Use this information to carefully create an optimal environment for collaboration.
Groups like FIRST, ISET, and TCT are taking the right approach. The rest of us, particularly in the business world, must follow these leads, examine barriers to collaboration, and take clear steps not only to improve our collaborations but to teach our colleagues, and young people in particular, the skills necessary to become expert collaborators, too. After all, once the technical collaboration is over, to get innovations onto the market requires additional collaboration with an even wider range of participants, including advisors, competitors, potential customers, and regulators.