Next station: Collaboration

Many people confuse co-operation and collaboration, but there is a key difference between the two, and that is the absence of a formal leader in the latter. For collaboration to be successful, everyone needs to be a leader. This new leadership approach is called “distributed leadership” or “leaderful” (you can read more in this blog post).

The benefits of collaboration over co-operation are many. To name a few:

  • Talents can flourish, we make the most of the expertise, experience, knowledge, and networks of the group.
  • Collaborators feel free to be authentically themselves, more vulnerable and the trust is usually much higher, in the absence of a formal leader. No one is left behind, and each player can bring something of value, observing a decisive shift towards selflessness and belief in others.
  • Finally, as collaborators are much more motivated and committed, we observe an increase in the quality of the outcomes and the impact. Even more telling, collaboration is the only way to open up to what we call “freepossibility” (1 + 1 = 3, and no longer 1 + 1 = 2, like in the case of co-operation). Cross-fertilization leads to infinite possibilities when the number of active players in a given system keeps increasing. And it’s not just the number, it’s also the energy that is bubbling, leading to a more entrepreneurial attitude in other domains of life.

So, yes, collaboration is the way to go! In fact, in our networked world, people beg everywhere for more collaborations to address the many complex problems and challenges of our times, such as planetary emergencies, migration, and health crises. The “why” is clear:

  • For example, a previous Together-Ensemble session on plastics, showed that any action implemented will increase chaos. Unless there is collaboration at every step of the policymaking process, the situation will not improve. On the contrary.
  • In another session on Planetary Emergency, we confronted the views of Western civilisations with Eastern civilisations. We found that without proper listening, none of the measures to accompany climate change will be seriously followed globally. The interests are too divergent on certain subjects.

It is clear, collaboration must become the dominant practice. Yet, contrary to a frequent belief, the collaboration will NOT happen overnight, and to be honest with you, it has very little chance to be successful from the start. It’s a bit like parenthood, or love relationships. In order to master collaboration, you will have to accept a number of failures along the way (in particular if you did not have good role models around you). In fact, when the experience of collaboration is new, a number of barriers emerge that develop frustration and can often lead to unexpected blockages.

Beware of the collaboration vicious circle, which might end in people reluctant to join one of these journeys ever again! (a bit like after a first divorce!). So, my advice today is NOT to treat collaboration in a light way. If collaboration is seen as a productivity frontier, there is a good reason!

I recommend the following support for your collaboration journey:

  • Ask for mentorship: Groups can truly benefit from the presence of a mentor or coach (it can also be a collaborator willing to assume this role), at least during the first critical stages of forming and storming, until the collaborators reach a good level of autonomy. This role will be for example to help the authentic connections, establish the framing, mentor the right behaviours (including healthy conflicts), encourage and assign new roles when need be. Understandably, the role modelling of these principles in the group will have the advantage to accompany a form of stability of the system (norming phase), setting up the limits to ensure a sustainable and as much as possible smooth journey. They are fundamentals to hang on to and will make it possible to secure the players and set the course for innovation, during the performing phase. Especially, as collaboration implies a mastery of certain skills, such as accountability, focus and letting go, which are not always easy for everyone.
  • Live a collaboration experience in a safe space: From my research, I identified that those who recognise the need for training in collaboration are those who in one form or another have experienced it. This reminds me of this quote from Niccolo` Machiavell, “The incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.” As part of my ongoing work, I explored the ways to encourage people to grow out of their comfort zone through experience and through them to the collective missions they will have to colead. Thus I launched a few different experiences in various contexts in which I helped raise awareness on the competency gaps people have to fill at individual and collective level, before starting any real collaboration and ensure the shift towards a sustainable sense of inclusiveness and belonging. The most popular ones are: Together-Ensemble and The Art of Collaboration workshop. Feel free to contact me would you like to find out more about them.
Drawing: Thomas Duval ©

In all cases, do not navigate by sight. Collaboration is far more complex than you think it is. Some of its building blocks are for instance, trust, clarity, frequent & open communication, proper use of collaborative technologies, a good vision and strategic alignment, flexibility, empathy, self-awareness, and a focus on relationships. And even more important, if you are NOT serious with collaboration, and in particular, if you want to manipulate the outcomes, you will do more damages than good, so think twice before embracing this trendy practice without proper guidance.

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