Collaboration Part 1 – What stands in the way? Matthew Hill

                                    Are we making assumptions and mistakes?

Our many many assumptions only delay the building of effective collaborative structures and getting to positive team collaboration.

The assumptions about collaboration, and, how we should all be able to instantly achieve this nirvana like state, give insights into the difficulties we face, and, they often betray our cultural origins too.

In this, the first of 3 short posts, we will explore the barriers to collaboration in order to confront them, raise self-awareness and, finally, be able to put together a blueprint for effective collaboration across place, time and difference.

Teamwork and cooperation concept

What stops us from working collaboratively?

                                                10 Assumptions and Mistakes

  1. Its all about the goal – Action based organisations or individuals are all about starting fast and ending with the achievement of a goal – growth, profit or the production of a new object etc. Whilst this approach has been enormously effective (with only 5% of the World’s population, the US accounts for 23% of the World’s economy), the magic that creates collaboration happened between the start and finishing lines. We can easily find ourselves looking in the wrong place and focusing on the wrong things.
  2. Nail down the strategy – We are taking a large step closer when we talk about strategy and the HOW? How will we get there? Here, however, the focus, all too often, again, misses out the human, the relational and the emotional. The assumptions made are like an engineer in a factory – building a sausage machine, fill it with sausage meat and casings, and turn it on. We look at process and give emphasis to the technical, whilst again, overlooking the human.
  3. Measurement improves business – You get more of what you measure? Why? Because that is where you put your energy and attention. It is easy to manage activity, and compare input with output – Notice we are back with the sausage machine analogy. This risks drifting into Stephen Covey territory where we are super-EFFICIENT without being that EFFECTIVE. There is a critical difference we must become aware of. You can be driving in a super-efficient way – in the WRONG direction!
  4. Man management will get us there – So we have reached point 4. Are we finally, going to to deal with the emotional human and how we can get them to collaborate? Not quite yet! Historically, humans have been treated as muscle machines; expendable commodities whose freewill must be minimised and whose bodies must be made fast, and, whose minds must be made compliant. Take a moment and consider how obedient are you expected to be in order to continue to receive your pay? It is a little scary. There is an unwritten subtext where you must sublimate much of yourself in order for your face and behaviour to fit in.

I remember my Welsh English teacher, Taff Davies, beginning the year with exactly this metaphor. “What is the key characteristic of an efficient machine?” He asked. Silent running was the answer, he wished to extract from the class.

  1. Privilege – Do you notice who gets promoted? Class based advantage helps promote pale males ahead of others. This happens because of the two confidences – Theirs and ours.

Their confidence is drummed in – Noblesse oblige, duty, leadership, expectation (BTW – This is not a walk in the park – There is a large promise that must be delivered upon by our silver spooned chewing heroes.)

Our confidence comes in the form of preferring to deal with a middle class white male when it comes to anything important. We are ALL compliant in this skewed system.

Society has programmed us to accept a specific and prescribed minority as the dominant leaders in our community. This is historical, political and economic. We have spent much less time, money and energy working to create the conditions necessary for wider, productive and sustainable collaboration.

  1. Me me me – Either from the elite in point 5. or coming from the wide lands around them, the personal agenda of the individual can so easily compete for attention and resources as to undermine the chances of everybody playing nicely, collaborating for something worth achieving, or, the key audience being served at all. Just look at the ego of that person in your own group. You know who I mean.Collaboration - letters written in beautiful boxes on white background
  2. Defensive feelings – It is too easy to get passed people as machines model only to take everything personally. This leads to drama and personal battles that have little or nothing to do with the mission, the team or the service that is to be delivered. – Defensiveness is at the heart of most escalations, team malfunctions and litigation. It is a primal human reaction and will not lead to 1000 create collaborative moments.
  3. The oppressed marginals are included – The opposite of 5., those stuck in the margins have learnt behaviours necessary for them to exist, persist and survive. Their voice is quiet and avoids critical challenge, licenced pessimism or contributing their own innovative ideas. No risk – no punishment. That is the motto of the un-empowered came up with to keep on living.
  4. I don’t do bias – The problem with us humans, is that we think we are objective, intelligent and sophisticated creatures – That we are above the fray. We subconsciously dismiss the views of outsiders, outliers and those not in our gang. And we only vote for our own and take comfort in the tranquil voice of the social leaders as with point 5. We all have plenty of unconscious bias that has been programmed in via parental chat, education, entertainment and, particularly, with every political speech we have heard.
  1. Pleasing people pleases people – We end in irony. Groups comply rather than offer rational challenge for a reason. It is because they wish to enjoy harmony and for each member to be liked.

The assumption is that nice people, doing nice things for the needy is the way to go. It is not.

People pleasers don’t please people. We get nowhere and the wheels eventually fall off the bus. Group thinkers take wild decisions, create unsustainable levels of risk and cannot self-correct.

When we replace groupthink with licenced criticism, we start to create the conditions for GOOD conflict, robust exchange and the possibility of progress. This is challenging in most subcultures, where confrontation is actively avoided (How many times do the Brits say, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry every day?)

Being nice is not always a necessary condition for collaboration.

Conclusion – A raft of assumptions and mistakes stand in the way of forging effective teams, committees and communities that can act with purpose, from a strong based of shared values to achieve worthy and sustainable outcomes.

Next time we look at some exercises that can get us from the 10 assumptions and mistakes mentioned above and move towards behaviours supporting full-on collaborative teams working in a robust, courageous and effective way to fulfil their mandate.

About the author – Matthew Hill is a facilitator, presentation coach and leadership trainer, working with commercial and voluntary organisations to help them operate as robust executive teams, fulfilling individual promise and delivering overall results that are extraordinary.

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Come work with me…

*** SIETAR Congress in Malaga *** – Matthew Hill and Susanna Schuler will be running a workshop on the second day of the 1st SIETAR Spain Congress in Malaga. Saturday, 29th September 2018. After lunch. Do join us if you can…

Matthew Hill – 07540 65 9995

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Cultural Risk Management Part 2 by Glen Burridge: Deadly Assumptions

Now, I hope I started to frame this last time, but let’s take that first assumption and look at some practical evidence of why it needs dispelling. This won’t be the normal size of my blogs. This is just too important an subject. But stick with me….

Assumption No. 1    “This topic has little or no effect on my world: I have more important things to worry about”

This is so big I’m going to break it down into two parts.

Part I: Every Human Grouping Has a Culture

Let’s start with internal culture, the one that exists in every grouping or organisation of human beings on the planet. This is the aspect most people are familiar with.

In the world of business, the evidence of its importance is legion and its consequences run from operational ineffectiveness through to life and death:

  • In a 2008 survey of more than 1500 industry executives, IBM found that roughly half of all projects fail due to “company culture”

http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/bus/pdf/gbe03100-usen-03-making-change-work.pdf

  • Deloitte ‘Core Beliefs & Culture’ survey from 2012 illustrates the power a corporate culture has on how happy and valued employees feel:

https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-core-beliefs-and-culture.pdf

Exc orgs 

  • The Final Report on the Investigation of the Macondo Well Blowout by the Deepwater Horizon Study Group (2011), one of the worst industrial accidents in of recent years:

“It is the underlying safety culture, much of it so ingrained as to be unconscious, that governs the actions of an organization and its personnel. [These are] cultural influences that permeate an organization and an industry and manifest in actions that can either promote and nurture a high reliability organization with high reliability systems, or actions reflective of complacency, excessive risk-taking, and a loss of team situational awareness.”

http://ccrm.berkeley.edu/pdfs_papers/bea_pdfs/dhsgfinalreport-march2011-tag.pdf

We also know that increasing the variety of the people who make up an organisation, in terms of the most fundamental traits, has a positive impact:

Diversity

http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

And you don’t have to take my word for it, listen to what these two men have to say about the topic of organisational culture, who know a thing or two about running a business….

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not be even aware of the extent to which this is happening”

Edgar H. Schein. Renowned American organizational psychologist, Emeritus Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

Peter Drucker. 20th Century business management guru and writer

The ends might be different, but the same undoubtedly goes for the public sector and our governments. Any listing of the largest organisations on the planet,

e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_employers

is dominated by state-driven entities. Just contemplate the complexity and cultural diversity – in every sense – of a collection of several million employees represents for a moment. By any standards, these are equivalent to nation states in themselves. Even a several thousand employee organisation will have its own clans, power struggles and centres, outlying regions, dialects and a clear sense of norms and networks of communication and action.

Part II: When Worlds Collide

For an organisation that remotely cares about its interaction with its operating environment, it’s very tempting, especially for a commercial entity, to simply state that what’s important above all is their relationship with their customer(s). This makes complete sense…..on the face of it, but the correlation between corporate health is mixed, as examples:

The truer reality is any organisation, whether public or private sector, sustains its existence with its overall relationship with its operating environment.

Crudely speaking, it is fed by a demand from within that space, whether it be from a market or a power centre. Its survival may assured through various means: extracting profits, exchanging goods, offering expertise, a social contract, acting on behalf of a governing mandate or through distributing services altruistically, among other things.

Whatever your organisation does, it will inevitably be interacting with others, no matter what your or their motives. And each will possess a culture(s) which will never switch off, constantly interplay and collectively shape a new reality.

The trouble is that if you ask a random person on the street what “inter-cultural relations” are, chances if they have the patience, they’ll figure out more or less what it should mean. However, except for those working in certain fields, it’s far less likely to be something they systematically think about much and there is even less chance they claim it as an area of expertise deployed on a frequent basis.

Even those who are consummate interculturalists most likely don’t name it and will often put it down to “good personal qualities” or the like. The idea that groups they belong to are actively engaged in such issues will take some head scratching. Even though the consequences may be very apparent to them, only if pushed, are they likely to bring the C-word into it. And don’t be surprised if – even if you get here – when they refer to culture, they will be exclusively talking about ethnic or national ones (…we’ll get to that, in a bit).

It’s not that Culture isn’t ever-present or of capital importance, it’s that most people are simply not taught to frame relationships in intercultural terms, which is tragic since its master practitioners literally save the world or, at the very least, your world every day. Each diplomat who recognises that the point being made in a treaty negotiation stems from a deep-seated historical perspective born of an ancient sleight, each business person who realises that a sale needs to occur in a certain pattern to gain trust in this market, each presenter who outlines their arguments in a way which reaches out to a colleague from another discipline…..they are all making the world an easier place to live in and moving forward human progress. Belligerent, selfish or malignant actions taken in the world are, by definition, anti-intercultural in that they drive away mutual comprehension and productive co-existence.

Yes, I told you this stuff was important, didn’t I?

Maybe it is my training as a geophysicist, but I like to think of the inter-cultural relationships acting as a wave-field. Like the sun’s energy that bathes us, culture is something we are constantly bathed in. The spectrum frequencies change slightly with every moment, but it is inescapable and complex, but if you make an effort to understand it, it is something you can harness for all sorts of good.

We’ll get back to what goes into that ocean of waves, but for moment I just make one plea – don’t limit your thoughts on this subject to flags, languages or belief systems. There are complete strangers you can meet from the other side of the world who you will have instant an instant cameradery with, based on affinities that go well beyond those factors. Have a think….

Now, if you still don’t think this subject is of capital importance, take a look at this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

Culture plays a significant and inescapable role in pretty much any one of these effects that warp and shape our activities. Go through any of them in your professional life and see if you can think of an event where you saw this effect in play.

And now, count up the cost…..in money, reputation, uncertainty and RISK.

Billions of $’s in accumulated financial losses have resulted from not adequately addressing for this element of risk, hard-earned standing and reputation has been dissipated and yes, many lives lost. And what’s worst is that it, if deployed, it presents one of the greatest opportunities for all-round gain and it is sitting in plain view to any organisation that decides to engage with it.

That’s where this concept of Cultural Risk Management sits, right under each of the human behaviours that influence the full sweep of your organisation’s operations.

Talk to the AuthorGlen Burridge. For a discussion of the topics raised in this article and associated blogs, please feel free to get in touch with Glen at glen@glenburridge.com or via LinkedIn.