Are there any significant achievements that can truly claim the title of ‘I did this alone?’ Most often, progress, achievement and even meaning are found in effective collaboration rather than the lone individual. Even when it might appear to be the brilliance of one, we invariably find the influence and support of others, even if it’s nestled in the subtleties. The essence of humanity is about ‘us’ and ‘our.’ This humanity defines our achievements and innovations, as well. When we take this into consideration, we unveil one of the basic principles of success: ‘who is in your corner?’ 

The True Value of Collaboration

I have seen the word “collaboration” on the values posters of many organisations. And it makes sense. The world in which we live demands outcomes that can seldom be achieved by one person or one team alone. 

And yet, one of the biggest obstacles within the corporate world is evident in the common phrase, ‘break silos.’ The inability to work together, to share ideas and information, and to jointly challenge each other to become more effective and impactful, hurts organisations. In addition, the new problems of our world need diverse thinking and not group thinking. 

These problems cannot be solved with traditional answers and singular viewpoints. They need thinking that challenges, finds new ways forward, and is stimulated by the divergent thought of others. 

These two reasons and many others, mean that having the word collaboration on your values poster is probably a must. But what’s even more urgent, is to turn the poster into a daily dance – collaboration in action. 

Building Bridges, Breaking Silos: The Path to Effective Collaboration

Why Do Efforts To Collaborate Fail In Organisations?

So here’s the big question. What underpins effective collaboration? Or put differently, why do efforts to collaborate fail? There are many considerations to ponder here. These include competencies, learnable skills, and supportive collaborative systems. But our starting point, I think, is mindset. 

There are three critical mindsets we need to cultivate for collaboration to flourish. 

Value

If you believe that you have the answers and don’t need others, collaboration cannot work. Why collaborate if you don’t see the value the other person can offer? Collaboration is founded on a principle that people matter and that each of us rely on other people. 

When you don’t see the value of another person, you might go through the motions of collaboration such as asking questions and listening, but nothing really changes, because you only see your value, your contribution, your sacrifice. So, whatever the other person says is simply words. When this happens, people disengage. 

Sometimes it’s easier for us to see our own value. Focusing on our own ideas and noticing the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of objectives. When this is the focus, you notice your own preparation, and are aware of your intentions. You also know the experiences and knowledge you have that is supportive of the objective. 

The challenge with this mindset is that all the above may be vague to others in your team and therefore a blind spot, amplified by our own allusions of self-importance. This mindset stops genuine collaboration and hinders the realisation that others may know something you don’t know, have experienced something you have not experienced, and has unique value to add to you as well as the outcome. For some of us, collaboration takes us to deep rooted issues on how we see ourselves and those who occupy our world. 

Responsibility Bias

In Give and Take by Adam Grant, he talks about ‘responsibility bias.’ Responsibility bias is where you over emphasize your contribution to success and underestimate the contribution of others. 

An experiment was held where couples were asked to share the percent of contribution they feel they make towards the relationship. For most cases, when the individual scores of the couples are added together, the score exceeds 100%. In other words, most over value their contribution. 

To create collaborative environments, we need to become intentional about noticing what the others add to the magic and focus more on their value than yours. Remind yourself that everybody is your teacher and that everybody has strengths and cognitive abilities that you don’t have.

When you create the mindset of inclusive value add, you open the collaborative door.

Safety

Collaboration is handicapped when the people who are together don’t feel safe. The lack of safety causes defensiveness, and when you’re defensive, you’re always guarding what you say. Nancy Kline powerfully says…

“The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

There are many things that we do that lower our levels of psychological safety. Sometimes we embarrass people for their ideas, or simply reject them. Sometimes, we create a fear around failure. And who really wants to collaborate when the ‘stick’ is out? 

We also create low levels of safety when validation is low or biased, where others get credit for someone else’s contribution. The bottom line: how people feel directly impacts their contribution within collaboration. 

Linked to safety, is the environment. Environment is the invisible hand that informs behaviour. Some environments are simply not conducive to collaboration.

Years ago I was working with a management team in a leading South African medical aid organisation. The three leaders I was with were bemoaning the lack of responsiveness from their people when it came to collaboration around new ideas and operational efficiency.

 As we dialogued the issue, a somewhat small acknowledgment was made. These three leaders always sat together in the same chairs in the meeting. Their positioning represented a panel type interview. The three leaders and across the table, the rest. This small yet most insightful comment enabled a change to the environment which brought immediate results – so, change how and where you sit. 

When people feel safe, you open the door to collaboration. 

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Perspective

Finally, we need to create a mindset open to perspective taking. Perspective taking is the ability to see more and put things in their rightful place, giving it only the amount of energy it really deserves. Sometimes we give too much energy to something that actually needs to be let go; and other times, we can give too little energy to something that deserves more attention.  

An important perspective to maintain for encouraging collaboration is the feeling of winning. For another to feel like they are winning, requires that you understand what’s important to them. 

“As humans we hate losing even more than we love winning. A perceived loss triggers attempts to re-establish fairness through competition, criticism or disengagement, which is a form of workplace learned helplessness. We need to ask, “How can we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?” 

  • Source Unknown 

Effective collaboration needs to be about ‘us.’ Which means that what you want might not always be what another wants. When this happens, you need to seek to understand what another wants, developing a sense of purpose and if possible, a win-win outcome. But if someone feels the collaboration is lopsided in objective, why would one engage wholeheartedly in collaboration? 

This perspective will lead our collaboration into increased levels of empathy, where we consider the world by attempting to be in the shoes of our collaborative partners. 

When we do, we build trust. And when we have trust, we tend to collaborate. 

Collaboration Is a Way Of Thinking

So, if collaboration is on your poster, perhaps a starting point to gaining momentum in this value is a facilitated workshop that enables all of the above. Perhaps we need ‘conversation before conversion,’ where we refresh our mindsets to what is needed prior to the powerful outcomes of collaboration. That’s part of the mandate of CAFÉ Life. Let’s get the roots going deep so that fruit of collaboration can flourish. 

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Create A Collaborative Work Culture in Your Team

Contact us to explore how we can facilitate and empower collaboration within your organisation through our facilitated, team focused processes.