The collaborative journey ahead will bring you moments of joyful productivity. Yes, but not only. Collaboration will also mean less structure and less clarity, which can lead to potential chaos and uncertainty.
If collaboration starts with one person willing to open the door to others, it requires from all involved sense of responsibility and knowledge of inner boundaries, as well as a certain number of skills. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Report, agility and collaboration are critical to organisational success. Yet 70% of CEOs say that their organisation lacks the skills needed to adapt.
In this post, my aim is to give you a glance at these particular conditions and skills.
Are you in a risk-averse organisation? Are people afraid to speak? Some organisations offer their employees the right conditions to launch a collaborative project. For others, it is difficult to challenge the status quo and take any bottom-up initiative. If the focus is on individual performance, for example, it is clear that you will be less inclined to call upon collective genius. Why even bother to consult others? It will take you longer, more energy, you may end up in conflicts and you are not sure that the result will be smarter.
If your computer systems are cumbersome, why bother to experiment with new practices that are sure to fail? For example, you may have the best intention of bringing everyone together for your project. However, if you know that poor network infrastructure make it almost impossible to reach anyone outside your geographic boundaries, why taking any risk? Tell me.
A top-down hierarchical culture also makes it more difficult to lead a successful initiative. Why? People have a tradition of playing the passive followers. So they will spend a lot of time watching you, expecting something to finally happen until they see the benefits of contributing. Until then, they will prove to you with a number of arguments that a more active membership is not possible for them. Either they are too busy, or it is not safe, or blah.
In a complex world, no one is able to hold the knowledge required in all circumstances. In order to let everyone contribute whenever needed, your managers have to strengthen their ability to not be in control, not offer up their own views or judge others and be negative. They have to let go more of their power to distribute it with experts and give them the ability and willingness to assume a form of leadership in their relationships with their colleagues, stakeholders and clients.
For instance, they will ask questions and listen carefully, facilitate constructive arguments or give actionable feedbacks. If people in power speak authoritatively or speak first, they do not really open the door to speaking up and contributing. To me, they have a critical role to play to set the tone, walk the talk, say they don’t know and open the door to contributions, or even take risks. They can also develop powerful strategies to make sure collaboration happens, by reinforcing the sense of belonging to something bigger than yourselves and saying things like, “our experts have everything they need so they have a chance to prove us right”.
- Accountability & Conscientiousness
You will distribute the benefits among the members to maintain motivation and enthusiasm, as well as a series of obligations. What you need is from everyone to show their sense of responsibility, a good dose of humility and conscientiousness. For this to happen, it will be important to define some common principles, which will serve as boundaries. They will provide a structure for the expected behaviours. Thanks to them, every collaborator will perform the requested tasks with as much autonomy as possible, while maintaining the necessary interdependence. In case of problems during the project, you will see the importance of these agreed principles. They are your temple keepers and will allow you to aim for agility.
For example, two shared values that impact collaboration are: integrity and benevolence (yes we care about you and what you know or say).
From my experience in various collaborative projects, I understood the importance of one particular ingredient: self-awareness, which is an ongoing attention to one’s self. Understanding who we are, why we do what we do, how we do it, and the impact this has on others. For me, it is key to avoid ending up in escape, freeze or worse burnout. In fact, people who do not understand their emotional patterns can hinder the positive atmosphere through their behaviours. Worse, if they are faced with the chaos and the uncertainty of collaboration, they can totally derail or divert the whole project.
For instance, five common blind spots are: being afraid to ask for help; being insensitive of your behaviour on others; valuing being right above everything else; avoiding the painful conversations; playing the victim and refusing responsibility. Then, five patterns that can destroy a collaboration effort: not being open to feedback; showing duplicity; overstepping boundaries; misunderstanding instead of understanding; focusing on individual genius instead of collective performance.
It is notorious that success in leadership is dependent on a clear sense of purpose. For collaboration, it is the same; every collaborator needs clarity about the shared purpose. Your collaborators will need to get clarification about why this project exists in a first place, and what they are trying to do before the launch. It is all about giving some sense of the challenge, which is part of the framing stage.
Throughout the collaborative journey, clarity achieved via effective communication will be key. For example, people need to understand their roles, your expectations, or how the context is evolving.
By providing clarity, what you want is to help focus attention, reinforce a collective identity and motivate action. However, what you need to avoid is controlling the outcome, while losing a much-needed agility. This is why the next advice is key.
You have to expect unplanned and unexpected contributions that will change your initial scope. You must prepare for the inevitability of change.
A fuzzy purpose will be important to avoid a sense of manipulation. People need to feel that the journey can lead them anywhere else than what the initiator of the collaboration had in mind. If the purpose is too much defined, it is like telling, “You know, I am very clear about what I want to achieve, your contribution will not really count”.
It will also be decisive to boost motivation. Collaborators involved in the collaborative project will achieve more to get to a more ambitious goal than the approximate one set. Finally, a fuzzy purpose will ease the process of connecting individual purposes with the team’s purpose and the higher organisation’s purpose. Identifying the level of interdependence will ensure that people will be more motivated to doing the work.
- Open communication culture
Your attitude will support collaboration or undermine it. This attitude needs to tell, “I want openness, co-creation, growth mind-set, giving up control or letting go, seeing conflict as an opportunity to grow, being accountable”. Members need to perceive your genuine desire to work together and your sincere willingness to learn from each other.
Everyone in the project will have to feel comfortable being vulnerable, admitting mistakes quickly or suggesting stupid ideas. This won’t happen over night, so work hard during the framing stage, focus on developing relationships and quality interactions. Your ability to foster an environment of trust, warmth, respect and psychological safety will be critical here. Otherwise, people will be reluctant to explore, understand and join the collaborative process.
As I mentioned earlier, good relationships are a critical factor. But harmony is not what you want. It often makes collaboration counter-productive in the long run.
Therefore, you will have to stretch your skills to achieve power and love. I do not mean that here you will have to love all the other members to work together and reach ambitious goals. However, you will have to develop a power drive (to defend your positions) and a friendship drive (a need to connect and be in communion with others). In theory, it is simple. In practice, it is difficult because there is always a degenerative side: Love saps power. And power saps love.
To conclude, let me emphasize that in the case of collaboration, the objective is not to learn. Things have to be done smarter and faster, not slower. It is therefore essential, in my opinion, to put the necessary conditions in place and to make sure that your people have some of the above skills before the launch. Obviously, I could write a lot more on this subject which has been at the center of my research for the past few years. But wait, I’m preparing a little book on “co-leaders of the future” which is expected be published in the coming months. In English this time. And obviously, you my dear readers will be the first to know all about it 🙂 In the meantime, if you are looking for training courses or workshops, please feel free to contact me.