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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*** 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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