Blog Article Collection

Does Collaboration Require Changing the Habits of a Lifetime?

Added on: 5-Apr-17 12:00am

Author: Vivien Twyford

Collaboration is hard. My intuitive response to people who have different ideas from mine is so often defensive, even antagonistic. This means that I block off useful conversation instead of encouraging exploration of our different perspectives.

But habits of a lifetime are hard to change!

The need to change lifetime habits seems to me to be a fundamental challenge for all collaborators. It’s easy enough to go through the initial work of setting up a collaborative frame without realising the need to change ourselves and our way of behaving as part of that.

Recently I’ve had several experiences of helping different groups to establish a collaborative process to tackle a complex dilemma that has resisted solution. The groups have progressed willingly and enthusiastically through initial activities that involve: assessing the context in which they will be working with others, sharing perspectives on the history and relationships involved, and exploring together the implications of undertaking a collaborative process.

They have learned about, and agreed to follow, a guide to collaboration that involves sharing knowledge and building trust and positive relationships.

They have begun to build these stronger relationships through sharing stories about themselves and their relationship with the issue to be tackled.

So far, this is exciting work for most people involved. They are sharing, learning and feeling involved. They are willing to listen to others because others are listening to them. There is a buzz in the room, and a real sense of purpose.

But …. (and there’s always a but) … at some moment something happens to change the frame. Someone says something that raises your hackles; something is suggested that doesn’t make sense; you find someone ideologically opposed to your view; you realise this isn’t a typical working group, it’s going to require a level of commitment you didn’t expect.

Whatever it is that provides the realisation that collaboration is a different way of working requiring a different way of thinking, it’s a jolt and can create a speed hump.

That’s when we need to develop or strengthen our collaborative muscle. That’s when we must use the skills we can all learn and practice through collaborating. We can learn to hold our immediate and instinctive reaction to argue and defend our position. Instead we can stop … take a breath … and ask a question, such as “that’s an interesting perspective and I don’t understand it. Please tell me more.”

It’s hard to do but possible. We can do it through repetition, practice and mindfulness, supported by coaching. In this way, combined with a determination to change ourselves, collaboration can become the habit of the rest of our life.

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