By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera
As we kick start the New Year, there is a tendency for people to make resolutions. While I like the idea of some time for reflection and goal setting, my approach is slightly different. My question is where are my/our thinking and behavioural patterns outdated and therefore no longer in service of our purpose and the outcomes we want to achieve?
In my opinion, one of the key paradigm shifts that will improve our outcomes is developing our capacity to collaborate. Whether we’re talking about national or international politics, companies within the same or similar sectors, or individuals as part of the couple, it appears that humans, as a species, are often challenged around our ability to collaborate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired to be highly competitive and defend vigorously what we perceive to be ours, but appear less inclined to be collaborative or to even entertain the idea of collaboration.
Here are my 5 keys to building a mindset that is more open, and has a greater capacity, to be collaborative.
1. Build skills at Facilitative Leadership
Whilst many people see that there is a value in being more collaborative, many also see collaboration as being time consuming and ineffective. And, in most cases, they are right. Collaborative decision making can be highly ineffective. For the collaborative decision making process to be effective, it needs to be well led and well facilitated. In this case, the facilitative leadership skills may support a more effective outcome. In fact, the facilitative leader in these situations might act more like a moderator. They control the flow of the conversation, keep people on topic and ensure the quieter and more introverted members are not drowned out by those more extroverted personalities. They also support members to clarify what they are saying. In doing this, the members themselves often gain more clarity as well as deepen their own thoughts and perspectives.
2. Hold the tension of difference (don’t collapse diversity too quickly)
Inevitably, when teams are being more collaborative, a greater diversity of viewpoints and ideas are able to be expressed and heard. Leaders and managers can sometimes have an ‘or’ mindset, which assumes that it must be plan A or plan B that is the most appropriate. A collaborative mindset looks for the ‘and’ solution. In other words, it assumes that there is some wisdom or ‘rightness’ in both plan A and plan B. By clarifying and deepening each viewpoint, it aims to find hidden treasure or wisdom in each of them and therefore develop an even better plan C. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. It means managers and teams have to sit in the tension of the unknown and have faith that at some point in time a ‘plan C’ will emerge from within the tension between the original opposing viewpoints. However, all too often, the tension gets unbearable and teams jump to either A or B simply to relieve the strain of the unknown, but in doing so, we leap to an outcome before plan C has had the chance to emerge organically.
3. Be Deeply Democratic
Deep Democracy is a concept developed by Arnold Mindell. He is a Jungian analyst and the founder of process oriented psychology or Process Work. Deep Democracy involves helping the various parts of a group to come forward and interact with each other, including those parts that have been silenced or seen as disturbing. Compared with conventional democracy, where the majority ‘wins’, Deep Democracy allows the voices of those within the minority to also be heard and valued. In this way, even if an individual’s own idea or suggestion is not the one implemented, they still feel that they have been heard and valued and that any wisdom or innovation contained within their idea is extracted and used.
4. Manage unhealthy competition or Territorialism
For organisations to be successful, it is essential that they foster and develop a strong competitive nature. This allows them to compete successfully in the marketplace and carve out their niche of market share. However, when this competitive culture is not channelled in the right direction or turns in on itself and becomes ‘cannibalistic’, it can reduce the organisation’s ability to be collaborative.
Another way to look at competition is to support it and also find ways to maximise its usefulness. Rather than compete against each other, if individuals and teams compete against their own limitations in how they think, behave and relate to each other, it will create better outcomes. Furthermore, the underlying (subconscious) function of competition is often to experience or reach some level of mastery or excellence. In other words, when individuals and teams are not supported and provided a context within which they can strive towards mastery and excellence in a particular endeavour, that need or drive can morph into behaviours of ‘unhealthy’ competition.
5. Demonstrate trust over time
What can often impair one’s ability or desire to collaborate is a lack of trust or a general skepticism about the good intentions of others. Collaboration is our ability to work together towards a common outcome or goal; it requires individuals to have a win-win approach to the relationship and intent to act in a way that not only serves their own best interests but also the best interests of others.
Building trust requires two things. Firstly, it requires disclosure. This means that you reveal your real intentions and make known the outcomes and what you are thinking in terms of the collaborative relationship. Secondly, trust requires contract. This is simply doing what you say you are going to do and keeping the agreements that you have made. This is true whether those agreements pertain to small or large matters. At the end of the day, trust is earned and built by making and keeping small agreements. If trust is not present in smaller agreements, it means that having trust in more important matters is much less likely. By acting in a trustworthy manner (disclosure and contract) over a period of time, it starts to demonstrate that you are safe to collaborate with. This slow and steady building of trust is important. This is because the process of breaking down those barriers that people have about collaboration, and changing the thinking patterns, belief systems and assumptions that they have about collaboration, can be slow as well.
 Mindell, A. 1995, Sitting in the Fire: Large group transformation through Diversity and Conflict. Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA
 Diamond, J. and Jones L.S. 2004, A Path Made by Walking, Process Work in Practice Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA
From the data at hand it looks like we are coming out of the GFC. There are some sectors that appear to be doing well, the obvious ones being resources and finance. And there are other sectors that are still struggling a bit. Either way one of the big challenges that we all face is to be innovative. The term innovation is linked to creativity and hence it can have connotations of something a bit arty or airy-fairy. For us, when you boil it all down, the essence of innovation is simple- doing more with less.
Doing more with less builds efficiency within a business. Doing more with less allows us to both streamline our business or expand knowing that we have some margin of error. Doing more with less creates new and exciting work environments and minimises the stress its members feel. This leads to a better work life balance, which is one of the big focuses of organisations these days.
In an increasingly competitive market place and as the pace of change only accelerates, the businesses that survive, let alone thrive into the future are the ones that develop a strong ability to learn fast, adapt to market changes and facilitate the challenge of multiple and often competing demands.
Yet given all this, how do we be more innovative. We have found that being innovative is not some magical gift that some teams have and other don’t. Being innovative is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be learned, developed and fine tuned. For this to happen we need to place an inherent value on innovation and creativity. We need to set time and resources aside to invest in this skill development, perhaps even get some coaching around it. And we need to trust that if invest wisely in our ability to be innovative then the return on that investment will add value not only to our people and our products and services, but also to the mark our organisation leaves on the corporate landscape.
To find out more about True North’s THINC innovation program visit this link: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/thinc.php